Not holding their tongues: can the commencement speech be saved?

Robert Cole and Jesse Choper quoted in California Magazine, May 28, 2014

“Honorary degrees expose universities to a broader range of objection,” Cole says. “A university may not agree or disagree with a person’s speech, but an honorary degree is an endorsement of that person.” He believes universities should set public criteria for giving out honorary degrees, and steer away from awarding them to people merely because they are famous.

Jesse Choper chalks up a lot of these commencement speech issues to political correctness. “That’s why I’m not a fan,” he says. “I think it’s important to have a variety of views.” To this day, he remembers a small group that tried to hijack a Berkeley law school graduation in the 1990s by hiring a plane to fly a banner over the ceremony to protest the ban on affirmative action. “I don’t think it was effective at all,” Choper says.