As is the case with most conservative speakers at those pesky liberal bastions (aka colleges), the choice of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as the University of Georgia's commencement speaker has inspired a "reaction that ranges from surprise to infuriation," the Red and Black reports. "Many would consider him a divisive figure because of his voting record and the past allegations of sexual harassment with Anita Hill," said a psychology professor.The President of the University of Georgia defends the choice to invite Justice Thomas:
The speaker announcement caps a year of sexual harassment scandals on the Georgia campus (three professors have resigned since September because of sexual harassment complaints). But it also comes at a time when faculty members believe the school has made progress on the issue. "What a slap in the face this is to everyone who has been working to bring to light the realities of sexual harassment at [the university]," said the women's studies director.
Clarence Thomas: Suitable speaker at UGA? Yes
By MICHAEL F. ADAMS
Published on: 04/25/08
The University of Georgia has never had, and will never have, I hope, a political litmus test for the speakers who appear at commencement or other events. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has been generous and gracious with his time and in his support of UGA. In 2006, he spoke at the Blue Key banquet here and received the Blue Key Service Award. At the invitation of Dean David Shipley, he spoke at the School of Law's commencement ceremony in 2003. He has lectured in both the law school and the Honors program, and has given hours of his time in his Washington office to talk with UGA Foundation Fellows.
He has been very helpful to UGA law students who have aspirations to clerk in the Supreme Court. He has also joined me in Sanford Stadium to cheer on the Bulldogs.
As a native Georgian, Justice Thomas has honored his home state with his service on the Supreme Court, and we are honored that he accepted the invitation to speak at commencement. He is welcome on this campus anytime, as is any other sitting or former justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The tradition of free and open discourse on a university campus is one of the fundamental tenets undergirding all that we do in academe. It is important for our students to hear a wide variety of voices and reach their own conclusions about the important issues of the day. Last year, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer participated in the three-day retrospective on the 30th anniversary of the inauguration of Jimmy Carter. Just last month, we welcomed five former secretaries of state for a round-table discussion sponsored by the School of Law and the School of Public and International Affairs; two of them served Democratic presidents and three served in Republican administrations.
On a single day in April 2006, we hosted former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, who participated in the dedication of the Coverdell Center, and former Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat, who was campaigning for the presidency.
The roster of recent commencement speakers demonstrates a variety of points of view, as it should. We have hosted Georgia governors of both parties; Ted Turner; Time Magazine Editor in Chief John Huey; U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm, Zell Miller and Saxby Chambliss; U.S Rep. Sanford Bishop; and Clark Atlanta University President Walter Broadnax.
At a large academic institution, opinions will always differ regarding the choice of commencement speaker, but each of us should remember that graduation day is a day for the students, those who have completed their academic work and are looking forward to careers or graduate school.
Commencement is truly a grand, celebratory occasion at the University of Georgia, and our focus on May 10 in Sanford Stadium will be on the accomplishments of the 4,000-plus bright undergraduates who will graduate that morning.
Michael F. Adams is president of the University of Georgia.