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Controversy Brews at New School Over Pick of McCain as Graduation Speaker

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Students and faculty at the New School in New York City have objected to the pick of Arizona Republican Senator John McCain as commencement speaker for this year’s graduation. We speak with one of the students speaking out. [includes rush transcript]

Students and faculty at the New School in New York City have objected to the pick of Arizona Republican Senator John McCain as commencement speaker for this year’s graduation. Bob Kerrey, the President of the New School and former Democratic senator and Governor of Nebraska, picked McCain to deliver the address. McCain is also scheduled to give the commencement address at Liberty University- the institution founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff have signed a petition asking that the school revoke McCain’s invitation.

  • Brittany Charlton, Vice-Chair of the University Student Senate. Brittany is a first semester senior and will be graduating in December.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in the studio by Brittany Charlton. She is a first semester senior at the New School, Vice-Chair at the University Student Senate. We asked New School President Bob Kerrey to come on the program, but the office declined our invitation. Brittany, welcome to Democracy Now! Why are you concerned about Senator McCain being honored at New School?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: I’m really concerned just in terms of the principles that our university was founded on, and McCain obviously has made it clear through his voting record and even through statements that he has made that he does not necessarily endorse those or share those same views.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the views?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: Just in terms of the New School, I mean, we’re a very progressive university, and that’s really what we’re founded on, and that’s what we’re all taught through our —

AMY GOODMAN: How was New School founded?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: It was founded in 1919 by a group of scholars that came down from Columbia who felt like they didn’t have academic freedom. So, as you can imagine, you know, we’re feeling very impinged upon, having someone like McCain come and get an honorary degree and be our commencement speaker, when it’s sort of an implicit endorsement of him, having him come to the university and have this honorary degree.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how widespread is the feeling about this issue on campus?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: Incredibly widespread. We have over a thousand signatures on the petition, in addition to press conferences that we’ve held, letters that we’ve released specifically from the University Senate, which is very representative of the entire university. So, I mean, it’s very disappointing to have President Kerrey not respond and rescind the invitation.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you oppose Senator McCain? I mean, he is the author of the legislation that was passed that would make illegal the treatment of detainees in any cruel or inhumane way.

BRITTANY CHARLTON: I mean, I don’t think that we’re looking necessarily at the specifics. It’s about his overall career and his stance on choice or on the Iraq war or LGBT issues. I mean, it’s really about his whole career. I don’t think any of us are here, you know, saying that every single action of his has been negative.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t Bob Kerrey, the President of New School, former senator, also on the Committee to Liberate Iraq —

BRITTANY CHARLTON: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: —- which was, of course, for the invasion, something that was a big controversy at the New School -—


AMY GOODMAN: — when students were demanding he either resign from that or resign as president?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: Yes, that’s true.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Any plans in terms of commencement itself, because the President obviously has denied your request? Or has he responded at all?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: He did respond, especially to the letter that was sent from the University Student Senate. He said that he read it carefully and appreciated our response, but that he would not be rescinding the invitation. So, the plan now is really many seniors won’t be attending the ceremony, and in addition to the ones that will be, many are planning to stand up and turn their backs.

AMY GOODMAN: And the President, Bob Kerrey, is he the only one who decides who is commencement speaker? What’s the process?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: There is a pretty democratic process in terms of choosing the honorary degree candidates, and in terms of the keynote speaker, Bob Kerrey did not consult anyone. Really, a group, an executive board on the board of trustees agrees with this decision, with Bob Kerrey, and that decision was made really solely by him.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we thank you for being with us, as we continue to cover college controversies around the country. Brittany Charlton, Vice-Chair of the University Student Senate, first semester senior who will be graduating in December. So, you will or will not at graduation?

BRITTANY CHARLTON: I will not be at graduation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks for joining us.

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