Controversial commencement speaker won’t attend Haverford ceremony

The former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, has declined the invitation to speak at Haverford College’s commencement Sunday.

Robert Birgeneau notified college officials Tuesday that he would not visit the private Quaker school campus to receive an honorary degree.

Selection of Birgeneau as an honoree proved controversial as members of the Haverford community expressed concern his role as chancellor at Berkeley when, in November 2011, campus police used force to break up a a nonviolent protest.

 

The protest followed the Rutgers University dispute over the choice of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as its commencement speaker.

Asking Birgeneau to take greater responsibility for the events, graduating senior Ian Gavigan signed on to a letter with four dozen other Haverford students and faculty.

“I’m hopeful that the college will kind of stand up for its ideals of pacifism, nonviolence, activism, etc.,” he said.

Birgeneau, who previously apologized for the incident, had said he will not respond to lists of demands.

Birgeneau has a distinguished record for increasing accessibility to higher education for minorities. But Maud McInerney, chair of the English department and a Berkeley alumna, still opposes honoring him at commencement ceremonies.

“That event having occurred quite recently did not taint Chancellor Birgeneau’s previous record, but changed the way that we should think of him in the moment, now,” she said.

Last week, Rice turned down the Rutgers invitation to speak because of the student protests over her role in the Iraq War planning and other policies of the George W. Bush administration. 

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