I now speak in defense of the behavior of my students – the minority who protested and the majority who did not. On the surface, some of the tactics of the protest were rude, noisy, and disrespectful. Less obvious, however, was the self-restraint that prevented the protestors from behaving in a fashion that would have shut down the commencement or made it impossible for Senator McCain or me to continue. Though many in the audience – including Senator McCain and I – were offended by the heckling, at no time were we in danger of not being able to proceed. By the end of the program, we had awarded five honorary degrees and graduated 2,630 students in The New School’s 70th Commencement ceremony.
More importantly -- and also lost in the charges and counter-charges -- is this fact: student protests are a necessary and essential part of democratic free expression. Did we not love the brave and disrespectful students at Tiananmen? Did we not applaud the determination of the student led movements that helped bring down the dictators that ruled Eastern Europe in 1991? Have we forgotten the critical difference students made in reversing an unlawful election in Ukraine or in driving the Syrians from Lebanon or who still seethe in discontent under the religious law of Iran’s mullahs?
So, let's see. The students are to be commended because they didn't upend the ceremonies or prevent McCain from speaking. Talk about low expectations. Then, we should embrace student rowdiness because....well, because students have been important in the overthrow of noxious dictatorships. So Sen. McCain is comparable to noxious dictatorships? And what's so special about students anyway? Sometimes they're on the side of liberty and sometimes they're on the side of the dictators (as they were in the 1979 Iranian Revolution).
Better to say that they just acted immaturely.