New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson was all set to be the commencement speaker this year at Barnard College in New York. Then the White House called and humbly suggested a replacement: President Barack Obama.
The college quickly accepted the offer, bumped Abramson entirely and announced that Obama will receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction at the commencement ceremony. The award is the school’s highest honor.
Barnard president Debora Spar had previously told students that she was “certain that … graduates will be energized by [Abramson's] words and personal story.”
In her statement announcing President Obama’s replacement of Abramson, Spar wrote, “No doubt, the President’s words will make this year’s Commencement truly unforgettable.”
The three most recent commencement speakers at the all-female Barnard have all been women: Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, actress Meryl Streep and Hillary Clinton.
Considering the recent controversy surrounding an administration proposal to require religious employers to cover contraception services in their health care plans, the announcement that the president was courting female voters isn’t surprising,
Unless, of course, you talk to Columbia University students.
“I can’t even [believe] this fuckery,” one Columbia alum wrote in an online comment on the story in the Spectator. “Why does the president consistently turn down speaking at Columbia?”
Columbia University, the president’s alma mater, is the parent university of Barnard College. Female students can also attend Columbia University, some students pointed out.
“As a graduating senior [at Columbia] who will have to listen to some random dude at commencement, all I can say is WTF,” another wrote at the Village Voice.
Columbia students had spent over a year working to bring the president to their school’s commencement, even organizing a letter-writing campaign called The POTUS Project.
A Columbia senior named Amanda Cormier said the incident “seems like a slap in the face to all” involved with that effort. “It just seems sort of a coy way of Obama saying he didn’t really enjoy his time at Columbia, especially because of the efforts that have been made to get him to speak at Columbia.”
The planned speech is part of an increased effort by the Obama administration to focus its attention on female voters after a string of developments regarding contraceptive policy.
First, the administration issued a rule requiring that health insurers pay for contraceptives without collecting co-payments. That rule, which affected some religious organizations, was later revised slightly.
Then, the president placed a personal phone call to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who testified in support of the administration’s contraceptive policy.
Fluke attracted particularly intense criticism from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who called her a “slut.” Limbaugh, who also suggested that Fluke distribute videos of herself having sex in exchange for using government-funded contraception, apologized for his comments yesterday.