The college campus, perhaps more than any other venue, is a place where the free exchange of opposing ideas ought to be welcomed.
Yet it seems that every year around spring graduation time, there is a controversy surrounding a chosen commencement speaker whose well-known ideas or political stands raise objections from some students, faculty members or the general community.
This year such objections are being voiced at the University of North Texas in Denton, where Gov. Greg Abbott has been invited to deliver the keynote graduation address.
Some students, citing Abbott’s “views on inequality” — opposition to immigration reform and gay marriage, in particular, and to Denton’s recent ban on hydraulic fracturing — have asked UNT President Neal Smatresk to un-invite the governor and find a new speaker for the May 16 graduation.
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More than 2,000 students have reportedly signed an online petition supporting that position.
Smatresk has said he will stay the course, noting that the new governor’s visit to the university is one way to “celebrate the success of our institution” in its 125th year.
He added that Abbott’s appearance on campus gives UNT an opportunity to show off some of the great things that are happening at one of the state’s largest universities.
“When you engage the governor in a dialogue about higher education, higher education wins,” he said.
For Abbott’s part, a spokeswoman for the governor said he was honored to accept the invitation.
To demonstrate their displeasure with the selection of Abbott, a conservative Republican, some students have said they will skip their graduation ceremony and others have urged that graduates protest by walking out when the governor takes the podium.
Students certainly have the right to voice their opinions about the choice of a speaker, to boycott their own graduation if they’d like, or even protest by walking out before the remarks are given.
But a walkout during any part of this solemn event would be disrespectful not only to the governor but also to fellow graduates and to those family members and friends who show up to share what is often regarded as one of life’s most cherished moments.
For those who suggest that UNT should not welcome to Abbott because students there hosted one of the largest campaign rallies for his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, last year, it should be clearly understood that the election is over and should have nothing to do with the commencement.
Greg Abbott, who handily won that election, is governor of Texas. Just as any other high-ranking elected or appointed official, he deserves to be given the respect that his office commands.
All that’s asked of the students is that they listen. They don’t have to agree with or even appreciate the message — simply listen, politely and without disruption.
Is that too much to ask of college students who presumably by now have learned to think for themselves and have been prepared to embark on careers in a world where there will always be opposing views?