A commencement speaker on Sunday blasted college students as “immature” and “arrogant” for protesting another speaker who then decided to withdraw.
William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, used his commencement speech at Haverford College outside Philadelphia to criticize students who campaigned against Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.
Birgeneau is among several commencement speakers who canceled their appearances this spring amid student protests.
More than 40 students and three professors had protested Birgeneau’s invitation to speak, objecting to his handling of a 2011 incident at Berkeley in which police used force at a student protest during the Occupy movement. The group wanted Birgeneau to apologize, support payments for victims and write a letter to Haverford students explaining his position on the events and “what you learned from them.”
Birgeneau, who was also supposed to receive an honorary degree from Haverford, refused those demands and others in a terse email.
Bowen chastised students in his speech for driving Birgeneau away, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of ‘demands,'” Bowen said Sunday. “In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counterarguments.”
Bowen also said Birgeneau had “responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protesters. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”
He called Birgeneau’s withdrawal a defeat for the school.
His remarks drew a standing ovation.