Schools' Choice of Commencement Speakers Leans Left, Critics Say

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Commencement speeches across the nation this graduation season have been skewed to leftist ideology to such a degree that universities and colleges are jeopardizing their own mission of providing students with a broad education, a conservative group charges.

Commencement address speakers likely to appeal to conservatives were outnumbered by a seven-to-one ratio in a Young America's Foundation (YAF) survey, based on the U.S. News and World Report ranking of the nation's top 100 colleges and universities.

YAF officials said there has been "a long history of shunning conservative policy makers on commencement day."

"There's been a consistent choice of speakers who tilt heavily to the left," spokesman Jason Mattera said in an interview. "This is not just aberration for 2007, we've been doing this study for 14 years."

The purpose of the survey, he said, is to encourage institutions of higher education to provide their students with a wide range of ideas instead of maintaining a narrow focus on Democratic party officials and liberal activists.

YAF did not want to dissuade universities from inviting liberal speakers, but argued that there should be balance, consistent with the principles of higher learning, Mattera argued.

The YAF report names as "flagrant violators" such schools as Yale, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Northwestern, and Tulane. Mattera said they have had an almost unbroken cycle of liberal speakers in recent years.

Those schools, he noted, have hosted speakers including PBS host Bill Moyers, actor Robert Redford, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, President Clinton's Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, also a Democrat.

YAF acknowledged that those same universities do occasionally host Republican commencement speakers. Former Secretary of State James Baker addressed the University of Pennsylvania this year, while Yale hosted New York Governor George Pataki in 2002.

But even where they do, Mattera said, they go for moderate Republicans - "not someone who gives a compelling alternative view on topics like global warming, illegal immigration or abortion."

Cybercast News Service contacted several of the universities mentioned in the survey, but none responded apart from the University of Pennsylvania, whose spokesman Ron Ozio said only, "We have nothing to offer."

The American Association of Colleges and Universities also did not respond to queries.

The YAF survey names a "parade of liberal politicians" who have given addresses at top schools in recent years, including former President Bill Clinton (University of Michigan), former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), Senator Chuck Schumer (SUNY Stony Brook), New York Congressman Charlie Rangel (New York University) and, Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer (University of Maryland).

A handful of colleges and universities did buck the trend this year, YAF noted.

David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, spoke at Wake Forest University and Vice President Richard Cheney delivered the commencement address at Brigham Young University. The graduating class at Liberty University heard from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) while Republican 2008 presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addressed Regent University.

The survey also notes that some schools offer separate functions for homosexual students, at which YAF said participating students "will don rainbow-colored tassels and purple caps as part of lavender' ceremonies."

Schools holding such separate ceremonies include Princeton, UCLA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Iowa State University, it said. Mattera said that in "catering to special interest groups," the schools were dividing rather than uniting students.

( Correspondent Evan Moore contributed to this report.)

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