Haverford Commencement Speaker: Letter a ‘Violent, Verbal Attack’

Robert J. Birgeneau responded tersely to students and faculty at Haverford college who were concerned with his presence at commencement.

Haverford College’s commencement speaker this year is Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Maybe that sounds like an odd match — Berkeley is a research university much larger than Haverford, though both schools are well-respected — but not controversial, right?

Well, no. Haverford has a commencement speaker controversy, the Inquirer’s Susan Snyder reports.

Birgeneau was chancellor of UC Berkeley during the Occupy Cal movement, where police officers clashed with protesters. An initial message from Cal administrators called forming a human chain “not non-violent civil disobedience.”

Fifty Haverford students and professors wrote a letter with concerns over his visit, but said they’d support his speech if he settled nine conditions, including writing a letter with “what you learned from” the police/student clashes. Yes, this is the type of letter college students and professors would send.

Birgeneau’s response was terse and incredible.

“First, I have never and will never respond to lists of demands. Second, as a longtime civil rights activist and firm supporter of nonviolence, I do not respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks,” his letter read in its entirety.

Violent, verbal attacks. In a letter. From Haverford students.

Commencement at Haverford is May 18th.