NU Disappoints

From the Daily Northwestern, May 13, 2008 –

The announcement of this year’s commencement speaker has been delayed at the speaker’s request, said University President Henry Bienen on Monday afternoon.”It’s the speaker who doesn’t want it known,” Bienen said. “He has not said to me by phone, letter or any other message as to why he wants to delay the announcement.”

NU selected a speaker to give the June 20 commencement address months ago, but “his schedule is not revealed until a day in advance,” said university spokesman Al Cubbage.

Still, Bienen did provide a few clues to the speaker’s identity. He is male, an “extremely well-known person” and somebody who “doesn’t make a habit” of giving graduation speeches.

“That may be part of the reason, because it’s not someone who does this habitually or at all,” Bienen said. “It’s not my secrecy; I’m just honoring a request.”




After all this hype the cat is finally out of the bag.  Mayor Daly?  WTF?  Bienen made him sound like the effin Premier of China.   The reaction among seniors is clear.  The online version of the Daily allows students to chime in with comments on any story.  The most any story rated this quarter was the Dillo Day lineup at 17.  Now, out of roughly 1200 graduates, 125 have made their feelings known and the list is growing.  By my count the negative reactions outnumber the positives by 122-3.  There are talks of protests, boycotts, turning chairs, booing, etc.  Good thing NU decided to withdraw its offer to the good Reverend to avoid any controversy. 

So I ask you, oh wise ones, are these students crying foul over nothing?


14 Responses to NU Disappoints

  1. lbsmom says:

    Is that the best they can do? You grads deserve better. I recommend San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom whom I heard at a Boalt graduation, & he was terrific.

  2. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Since you asked, yes, the students are overreacting. That’s what students do.

    Who spoke at my college commencement, all those many years ago? I have no idea. What did he or she (more likely he — it was a long time ago, as I’ve said) say? Ditto. In a few years, you might remember that the mayor spoke, but you won’t remember or care about what he said, either. Here’s a hint: It will be a bunch of familiar platitudes. There is absolutely nothing novel to say to a bunch of restless graduating seniors, or at least nothing novel that is appropriate for the occasion.

    It does seem that college students these days fetishize commencement, and load it with expectations of meaningfulness while simultaneously turning it into an undignified circus. There is a commencement speaker arms race, and students seem to believe that the value of their degree, and indeed their own value, is confirmed by, if not established by, the prestige of the bromide dispenser imported for the occasion. It’s all nonsense. Sure, it would be nice if the administration didn’t bring in someone actively evil — when Osama bin Laden gives an address, feel free to boo. But Mayor Daley? Who cares. Get a grip. Be polite, and if you can’t bring yourself to be polite, at least be civil, for crying out loud. In other words, act like a grown-up. Remember (and here’s what the present commencement regime seems designed to make you forget), the world really doesn’t revolve around you and your pals.

    Since I am apparently the only participant in this forum who is neither a college student or teacher, or the parent or spouse of one particular, now tenured college teacher, I will close with my favorite nasty crack about academia, which apparently originated with Woodrow Wilson from his time as president of Princeton: “academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” I know you’ve all heard it before, but it strikes me that it is applicable to controversies about commencement speakers as well. Now feel free to make lawyer jokes.

  3. nobamakoolaid says:

    I would tend to agree with most of what you said. However, I believe President Bienen created this whole uproar.

    First, speakers are normally announced around the January timeframe. If Daly requested to keep it a secret, someone should have informed him that students would begin to ask questions. Certainly they would expect to know more than a day in advance as Bienen suggested in the Daily a few weeks ago. Sure enough, January, February, March and April went by with no announcement. People began to ask questions; not because they were worried about prestige, but because they were naturally curious. Daly should have been announced earlier to avoid this. If former presidents and sitting senators can be announced, why couldn’t Daly be announced?

    Second, Bienen teased everyone with his cryptic comments in the Daily. Certainly, he raised expectations. Then he delivered well below the bar he had set. To describe the speaker as “extremely well known” is only true if you happen to live in Illinois, which most students at Northwestern do not. He is not extremely well known in most areas of the country. To say that his schedule was only announced a day in advance implied some kind of extraordinary security measures. To say that he doesn’t make a habit of giving commencement speeches was factually incorrect. He gives them every year at local high schools. It appears that Bienen could use a few lessons in public relations.

    I will go to graduation and I will be proud to call myself an alum. I hope nobody does anything stupid. If they do, they will only bring discredit upon themselves and the university. They should all be adult enough to get over it. But, Bienen should have recognized how this could play out and handled it differently

  4. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Most Northwestern students don’t live in Illinois? Northwestern is in Evanston. Evanston, where I live with my family, is in Illinois. This means that even though my wife and I have done our best to convince our children that they are actually growing up in Wisconsin, they live in Illinois, I live in Illinois, and graduating Northwestern seniors have spent the last four years living in Illinois, no matter where their parents may live, or where they spent their school vacations. If Northwestern seniors are not familiar with the colorful, long-serving, Paris-loving mayor of the humungous Illinois city immediately to their south, it is only because, like many college students, they are essentially narcissists, with little interest in the world outside their immediate surroundings.

    Some of your classmates are in the Tribune (a high circulation newspaper published in Chicago, the city just south of Evanston) today, sounding petulant and petty.,0,1022702.story
    Commenters on the newspaper’s website are referring to you as “rich, spoiled brats”, which is unfair, as many of you receive financial aid. (And I’m sure that, present appearances to the contrary, most of you are not spoiled brats, either.) That’s not Mr. Bienen’s fault. If I were a graduating Northwestern senior, I might think about how my classmates could repair their damaged reputation.

  5. nobamakoolaid says:

    Jeff, most students do reside in Illinois, but they do not live in Illinois. I am quite sure that you understand the distinction. When this is all said and done, most will not spend the majority of their adult lives here. As such, they follow most things local with only a cursory glance. If you were trying to refute my assertion that Mayor Daly is not « extremely well known » on a national level, I remain unconvinced.

    And, you are right. Any student acting like an ass is not the fault of Mr. Bienen. I still believe he could have used his position to avert this entire situation.

    As for those who believe NU students are a bunch of rich, spoiled brats – they believed it before this morning’s article, they will believe it tomorrow, and they will believe it next year when a new crop of grads comes along. I am certain there is a great deal of sociological research that could expand one why that is. I don’t concern myself much on how others stereotype me. I know very well that I am on the south end of the monetary scale and I have never had the luxury of being spoiled. Now brat ; that I have been at times, but who hasn’t ?

  6. dspett says:

    With the hope of lightening the mood a bit, I’d like to share with you all the sentiments of a man named DON ALBERTSON, who wrote the following on The Daily Northwestern’s website in response to this firestorm:


  7. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    At least we all know that the singular possessive (e.g. “GOD’S WILL”) is formed by adding “apostrophe s,” not merely an “s”. So we’ve got that going for us.

  8. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Oddly enough, I typed a closed parenthesis in the comment above, and it turned into a winking smiley face. I am unable to explain this. Let me try again — )))

  9. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    This time, no smiley face. Go figure.

  10. nobamakoolaid says:

    I do agree that many students’ reactions are being perceived in a negative light. The article in the Sun Times did not help. I thought it was poorly written and failed to provide context. What did you think of it, David? We all know that perception is reality in these matters. For that reason, upset students would do well to keep their comments within a private forum. I believe the Sun Times article was initiated by the very student made to look like an idiot in the story.

  11. dspett says:

    Couldn’t agree more, koolaid. Our class looks pretty foolish through all this.

  12. lbsmom says:

    The winking smiley face must have been God’s will, Jeff.

  13. laurabethnielsen says:

    Well, skip it — go to WCAS graduation with legal studies (yay!) and skip the big one

  14. […] public links >> bienen NU Disappoints Saved by Lordcolus on Wed 08-10-2008 Goodbye, Henry Bienen Saved by bethgoon on Wed 01-10-2008 […]

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