Speech on War Criminals and Academia

by Danny Colligan

Hi, my name is Danny Colligan. I'm a graduate student here at Stanford, and an active member in Stanford Says no to War. First, I want to thank everyone here for coming out to this event.

A disturbing recent trend in American academia is the awarding of prestigious positions and honors to those whose conduct has been truly reprehensible. Most notably, the senior political officials of the previous administration have been embraced with open arms by the nation's top universities. These are the same individuals who were responsible for instituting a lawless torture regime, implementing a dragnet domestic surveillance apparatus, and starting two aggressive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Here are some of the recent examples in which schools have turned into sanctuaries for immoral statesmen. Stanford University, Georgetown University and Texas Tech hired Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet and Alberto Gonzales, respectively, as professors after their tenures in office. John Yoo continues to remain at his post as a law professor at Berkeley. Aside from full professorships, schools seem to be more than willing to dole out other appointments to these former officials. The unusually mobile Douglas Feith was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution before doing a two year stint as a professor at Georgetown University, and is now a Visiting Scholar at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Stanford is a repeat offender in the fellowships category, having also hosted Donald Rumsfeld as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow.

Another way colleges implicitly condone the actions of morally questionable humans is honorary degrees. At one time, the conferral of an honorary degree meant that one had achieved some kind of standing in his or her field, or had contributed in some great way to society. Now it seems that these degrees are mere bribes in order for a school to be able to boast of a recognizable name at a graduation ceremony. By my count, George W Bush has received at least two honorary degrees since September 11th, 2001 -- one from Ohio State in 2002 and one from Louisiana State University in 2004. Truman State University honored John Ashcroft with a 2009 honorary degree. Stanford's own Condoleezza Rice has received many honorary degrees in the past decade -- from Michigan State University, National Defense University, and Boston College, to name a few. And let's not forget Dick Cheney, awarded a honorary degree in 2007 from Brigham Young University.

Speaking of Dick Cheney, University of Wyoming students can now visit the Cheney International Center on their campus as a result of Cheney's 3.2 million dollar donation to the school. Not to be outdone, Southern Methodist University will soon begin construction on the George W. Bush Presidential Center. It boggles the mind that these schools would want to be associated with leaders who oversaw some of the most egregious violations of human rights in American history.

What, then, can we do as university affiliates or community members to reverse this trend of honoring abhorrent politicians? First and foremost, we can pressure our public servants to hold Condoleezza Rice and others accountable for the crimes they have committed. It is hard to hold a faculty position when you are in jail. Second, let schools know that we will not tolerate these hiring and naming practices. Letters to administrators (especially when they involve the threat of withholding donations), petitions and protests send a message that universities' current policies are not acceptable. Lastly, educate others to raise awareness about the issues. Real change doesn't happen as a gift from above, it happens via a critical mass of concerned citizens.

There is evidence that we can succeed. Feith's flight from Georgetown was largely due to concerned faculty outcry. In another success last year, the University of Massachusetts caved into pressure from both inside and outside the university and revoked Robert Mugabe's honorary degree, the first such voiding of a degree by the University. A year before that, Edinburgh University did the same, making Mugabe the first international figure to be stripped of a degree by a British university. With perseverance, I believe we can achieve similar results. We can have real investigations into the past violations of law by our former political officials and prevent our universities from condoning illegal and unethical behavior by politicians in the future.

If you haven't signed the petition to hold Condoleezza Rice accountable at antiwar.stanford.edu, I would highly encourage you to do so. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the event.

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