Choice of Commencement speaker prioritizes ties to business
On April 3, it was announced that Charlie Ergen, the former chairman of Dish Network Corporation and EchoStar Communications, will deliver the Commencement address to the Class of 2012.
With this announcement, the university continues its three-year run of bringing figures in the business world to campus for Commencement (Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, spoke in 2010, and Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, gave the 2011 address).
We as an editorial staff are extremely disheartened by the university’s choice to consistently cater to only one portion of the student body.
In an editorial written last year (“University should look outside business realm for Commencement,” 4/21/11), we urged the administration to select a speaker from outside the business world in the future to ensure a diversity of perspectives.
By bringing Ergen to campus, however, the university has clearly decided to prioritize its ties to the business world.
In doing so, the administration has emerged as an entity completely out of touch with the needs and wants of the student body.
Was this decision motivated by the potential for future donations? Are we solely interested in marketing ourselves as a business-friendly university?
In a key election year in a swing state, would it not have been apt to bring a political speaker to campus?
There is no doubt that Ergen is qualified — he co-founded a small company and transformed it into a hugely successful business.
Nevertheless, a Commencement address should speak to all of the students, not one portion of them.
We are not just business students.
We are future doctors and lawyers, politicians and academics.
We are future journalists and artists, scientists and teachers.
There was a time in Wake Forest’s recent history when we treasured this interdisciplinary, liberal arts perspective that makes this university the distinct intellectual breeding ground it is.
In the recent past, the university has hosted such varied speakers as former first lady Barbara Bush in 2001, John McCain in 2002, Michael Bloomberg in 2003, Colin Powell in 2004, New York Times columnist David Brooks in 2007 and Vice President Joseph Biden in 2009.
What happened to this diversity in thought?
What are we saying to students not involved in the Schools of Business?
By bringing yet another businessman for the third year in a row, the administration fundamentally undermines its so-called “dedication” to the student voice.
If we look at the 2012 Commencement speakers at Wake Forest’s peer schools, there is a clear dedication to liberal arts speakers at these universities.
Katie Couric will be speaking at the University of Virginia, Michael Bloomberg at UNC Chapel Hill, Sanjay Gupta at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and Jim Lehrer at the College of William & Mary.
So, respectively — an award-winning journalist, the current mayor of New York City, a neurosurgeon and media personality and the executive editor for PBS NewsHour.
Yet, Wake Forest, a top-25 university known for its liberal arts education, is hosting a business figure for the third year running.
It’s clear that the issue does not lie in Wake Forest’s inability to attract prominent and distinguished speakers.
Beyond our history of distinguished Commencement speakers, the university has had a number of notable figures come to campus this semester. For example, Condoleeza Rice is coming to the university next week as part of the “Rethinking Success” Conference.
A host of impressive writers and thinkers participated in the inaugural Words Awake! Conference two weekends ago.
So why is the university unable to feature one non-business commencement speaker three years in a row?
We keep hearing that the administration is an advocate for the students.
We keep hearing that the administration wants to listen to the student body. Yet, they are continuing to ignore a substantial portion of the campus community.
So, when the administration says they want the students to be involved in critical decisions, we ask — where is the evidence?