It was always kind of a long shot, inviting first lady Laura Bush to
speak at commencement.
But what seemed like a good idea at the time for the graduate school of education and information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, turned sour last month.
First, some graduate students protested, saying they weren't consulted and didn't like the choice. So they met with the school's dean, and the Daily Bruin, UCLA's student newspaper, wrote about the flap.
The story quoted graduate students suggesting Mrs. Bush—a former teacher and librarian—lacked sufficient credentials. One accused UCLA of succumbing to "political celebrity."
Those complaints prompted a flurry of angry letters to the editor.
"They're a bunch of elitist, spoiled snots," wrote Debra Riley from Chicago. "Thank you for solving a great mystery for me. I've always wondered where pompous, self-serving, arrogant educators receive their degrees," wrote Michael Hasty of Grand Prairie, Texas.
One UCLA graduate wrote in pledging never to donate another dime to the school.
Two students quoted in the Daily Bruin piece sent a rebuttal, claiming their main points had been lost.
"Throughout this process, neither the dean, the chancellor, the press coverage, nor the ensuing correspondence has focused on what we consider to be the substantive issues: lack of student input in the speaker selection process and Laura Bush's problematic policy stance on issues of teacher education, literacy practices, and funding for education and libraries," wrote graduate students Tara Watford and Estela Zarate, members of a campus group called Students for Democracy.
Asked about the brouhaha, Dean Aimee Dorr said, "I would hope that everyone would understand that a university campus is a place where people are encouraged to speak their mind."
One thing, however, is certain. The first lady won't be speaking her mind to the graduates this spring. She's already booked up.
—Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 21, Issue 25, Page 28Published in Print: March 6, 2002, as Federal File