Throughout the Millennial Generation’s academic lives, the education industry – K-12 and higher ed – along with other politically correct institutions have enthusiastically promoted the theories of inclusion, diversity and tolerance. The selection of Gov. Greg Abbott as University of North Texas keynote speaker at the school’s upcoming commencement ceremony is testing the practice of these concepts and so far, one student population gets a failing grade.
An online petition states the following:
The University of North Texas’ student body is made up of students from all walks of life. Therefore, it is pivotal that our keynote speaker be someone who reflects not only our student population but our views on equality and representation. Governor Abbott is an advocate for immigration reform, border patrol, and anti-equal marriage laws. This does not align the spirit of the University of North Texas which prides itself in providing equal opportunities for their students. While Governor Abbott’s story is inspirational, his views on inequality cannot be overshadowed by this. Our Mean Green Pride comes from being heard and respected. Which is why we ask University President Neal Smatresk to find a new keynote speaker for graduation.
The petition calls it “pivotal” for a keynote speaker to reflect not only the student population, but “our views on equality and representation.” It terms the UNT student body as from “all walks of life.” That statement self-evidently acknowledges then that some students likely agree with Abbott’s selection. So perhaps he is representative to some, just not to the right students. But agree or disagree with the governor and/or his positions, that’s not even the point.
This isn’t a public policy forum, it’s not a political debate. It’s a graduation sendoff meant to inspire. And politics aside, Abbott has overcome some difficult circumstances that perhaps an audience mostly born after passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act wouldn’t immediately recognize.
As an arbiter of UNT spirit, the petition stakes out a virtuous stance on equality and representation while seeking to silence an apolitical message from an elected official asked to share a story of motivation, determination and the impact personal responsibility and hard work can have on an individual’s life.
“Mean Green Pride” is nothing more than a tag line, a marketing slogan unless backed by achievement, a concept often lost on the everyone-gets-a-trophy crowd. In the absence of a credible message, being heard is little more than being loud, whining. Respect is something that’s earned. It, too, flows from achievement. It also is a two-way street – something that when shown, is often returned.
And where does anything anywhere suggest anyone on campus has the right to a speaker reflective of his or her views?
Is limited thinking a chronic condition at UNT? Is the campus void of students with the mental acuity to appreciate content from a variety of sources? Some with whom they may share common views, some with whom they don’t? Do students resist contact with non-likeminded parties to ensure their positions face no challenges?
University President Neal Smatresk is standing firm with the Abbott keynote decision.
“He’s a new governor, he’s supportive of higher education,” Smatresk told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Why wouldn’t we want to celebrate the success of our institution in its 125th year with him?
“I was prepared for blowback for whatever decision we made,” he said.
And he’s right. Shutting down the speech of targeted individuals is a trendy campus pastime.
Smatresk told WFAA/News 8 he expected any potential speaker to draw a wide range of reaction. The president described how at least a dozen possible speakers were considered, but that most were unavailable or cost prohibitive. One candidate, Smatresk said, asked for a $500,000 fee and a personal jet flight.
Abbott has no speaking fee as universities now face increased scrutiny over potential costs after the University of Houston’s recent revelation of paying actor Matthew McConaughey $135,000 in speaking fees plus travel expenses along with a $20,250 commission to the booking agency hired by the university.
Wendy Davis spoke at UNT last fall during her gubernatorial campaign. Gen. Wesley Clark was there earlier this year. As with other speakers from a variety of political persuasions, those talks were exclusively about political stances and public policy views. Plenty of students likely disagreed with the positions espoused yet those speakers’ presence went unchallenged.
For all the inclusion, diversity and tolerance we hear called for in today’s world, it would seem it needs to start with each of us.