Two weeks prior to its Commencement, Dickinson College has rescinded its invitation to national radio and television host Michael Smerconish to speak at the ceremony.

President John E. Jones sent a message to the Dickinson community on Saturday.

“We hold humility, reflection, engagement and dialogue as the most important values to build understanding of complex issues. As the controversy related to our Commencement speaker, who I have known for many years, developed, I found myself defending concepts that are inconsistent with those values.

“It has become clear that our selected speaker, Michael Smerconish, faced overwhelming opposition from our faculty and students, particularly after recent comments he made. As a result, with the support of our Board of Trustees, I have decided to rescind the honorary degree and invitation to speak at Commencement.”

The controversy erupted when the student newspaper, The Dickinsonian, ran an editorial, “The Class of 2024 Deserves Better Than Michael Smerconish.”

The first-year Muslim-American student wrote that, “In 2004, Smerconish released the book Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety Post 9/11, in which he argues that in order to keep America safe, the TSA should deliberately target Arabs and Muslims for searches because they look like the perpetrators of past terrorist attacks.” He continued to cite examples from Smerconish writings and wrote, “I’m outraged, frustrated, and disappointed. If Dickinson truly loves and values its students, shouldn’t it honor them with someone who reflects that love?”

The comments to the editorial were split.

“Commencement is a time to celebrate the achievements of the graduating class. It is not a time to honor the work of a commentator who has publicly ridiculed student protestors, expressed xenophobic policy endorsements, and campaigned for the death penalty against political prisoners in Philadelphia.”

“I am surprised Dickinson ever chose Smerconish in the first place. I value free speech but a commencement address by someone who has called for unfair treatment of people goes against what Dickinson claims to stand for.”

“Let Michael speak and you will receive a thoughtful speech relevant to the current state of affairs. He is, by far, the most fair and balanced political commentator in the U.S. He will provide an objective speech with critical thinking that the graduating class will appreciate.”

Upon hearing via email that his invitation to speak was rescinded, Smerconish replied in his newsletter and on his SiriusXM radio program on Monday, expressing his dismay at having his reputation smeared.

“On one thing we agree: I would never want to take attention from the Class of 2024, especially recognizing that Covid robbed its members of celebrations when they graduated from high school in 2020. Dickinson was my fifth commencement invitation.

“So what changed?

“In the last few days, some Dickinson faculty and students raised complaints about a book I published in 2004. That’s not a typo – 2004. They were left uncomfortable after a selective reading from my post-9/11 book through their 2024 lens. Signs at a student encampment this week displayed the demand of my cancellation alongside divestment in Israel.

“This should be a cautionary tale for anyone in America who believes in fairness, common sense, the free exchange of ideas, rational decision-making, and the importance of leadership in the face of hysteria.

“Times change, people change, circumstances change. Statements in books written decades ago, if penned by the well-intentioned with a history of tolerance and advocacy of unity, cannot in a just and rational society be the basis for judging someone’s soul or determining their fitness to be part of the national conversation. And it certainly shouldn’t obliterate someone’s lifetime of reputation and performance. Those students who demanded I not speak had better hope that twenty years from now, when they are looking for a job, no one will look at everything they said and did two decades earlier, yanking it out of context and using it as a weapon of personal destruction.”

No word from Dickinson as to a possible replacement for its commencement speaker.

Steve Ulrich is the managing editor of PoliticsPA.

This article was originally published in PoliticsPA.

5 thoughts on “Dickinson College pulls Smerconish commencement address invitation over comments from 2004.”

  1. Do you remember Smerconish’s slavish devotion to his mentor, Arlen Specter? Both of them regarded conservatives like us with contempt. Their highest principle was themselves.
    Just as Specter went Democrat, Smerconish left conservative radio for CNN. And just as Specter was ultimately rejected by the Democrats, now Smerconish is rejected too.
    I love the Karma.
    For all the wrong reasons, Dickinson made the right decision.

  2. The President of Dickinson, in pulling the invitation to Smerconish, said: “ We encourage students to listen and discuss ideas and perspectives that are challenging and force them out of their comfort zone. That is the role of a liberal-arts campus.” So, in furtherance of that value, he won’t allow the students to hear a particular speaker. Duh!

    1. I would not go out of my way to listen to a commencement address by Michael. As a matter of fact there are very few whom I would want to listen to at a commencement. That said, the administration of Dickinson shows its lack of courage that should be the topic of anyone who actually delivers their commencement speech. Decisions to invite a public figure are typically well thought out before the invitation is extended. This action by the administration of Dickinson means that either it lack a sober decision-making process, or a lack of backbone. Discussing how the lack of backbone trumped the process of decision-making a Dickinson would make an interesting topic for a speech.

  3. Dickinson alumnus here—class of 1987. Since when is agreeing with everything someone says or believes a prerequisite graduation speech selection? Smerconish is paid to espouse his many opinions, thus making us privy to them. My point is no one is going to agree with them 100%. Heck, even if the President of Dickinson himself gave a commencement speech there would be things he believes or has even said that someone would find outrageous—you just don’t know it! It’s like the call by the LGBTQ community to boycott Chick-Fil-A…okay, what they say out loud is offensive to many, but how do you know that the CEO of Target or Amazon or whatever has similar beliefs but just isn’t saying them out loud??
    For my money, Smerconish has an incredible knowledge of the heartbeat of what’s going on in our nation, and he bends over backwards in his attempt to be fair and unbiased. He never shies away from the controversial nor the thought provoking. One thing’s for sure, his speech would’ve led to many discussions and/or debates about the topics of the day—hopefully in neutral places and with those who on the end can agree or agree to disagree—a lesson hopefully we all learned in…..I know college!
    Gee, he sounds like the perfect choice for speaker. One that the graduating class would at least remember. I sure as hell can’t remember who mine was….

Leave a (Respectful) Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *