Today is Commencement. Congrats to the members of the class of 2015!

UrsulaBurns_thumb2In the spirit of Robert Gaudino and “uncomfortable learning,” let’s send off the graduates with one last fact that is both undeniably true and deeply troubling:

Ursula Burns, the Commencement Speaker, would not have been chosen if she were not African American.

Since this true claim will give our liberal readers the vapors, let’s take it one step at a time.

1) Ursula Burns is an immensely talented and successful business executive. You don’t climb the greasy pole at a Fortune 500 company without being extremely smart and ambitious (and lucky). Kudos to Burns for her many successes!

2) Williams never selects a Commencement Speaker whose main accomplishment is business success. Here is a listing of the speakers of the last 50 years. There is not a single speaker whose main/only accomplishment is in business. (Counter examples welcome!) The main categories are politicians/writers/academics.

3) There is nothing wrong with Williams not choosing business executives for Commencement Speakers. Maybe Williams thinks (wrongly) that executives make poor speakers. Maybe Williams does not value and/or want to honor success in business. Maybe Williams just values other things more. Whatever!

4) If Williams never chooses business executives, and then chooses Ursala Burns, we can conclude that Burns was chosen for some reason other (or some reason in addition to) business success. That reason is almost certainly the color of her skin (and maybe her gender).

This is the sort of truth that no Williams faculty member or administrator will ever say, which is why we have EphBlog!

Quibbles and Complaints:

1) This conclusion would be falsified if Williams started to select speakers whose main/only accomplishment was in business, perhaps because of the increasing financialization of the trustees/college. Who wants to make that bet? Not me! I wager that, for the next ten years, there will be no non-black, non-alum business executive chosen as Commencement Speaker.

2) What about business executive Michael Bloomberg from 2014? Bloomberg was also mayor of NYC. Williams often has prominent politicians as speakers, including former NYC major John Lindsay in 1970. In other words, Bloomberg would have been chosen even if he were not a success in business.

3) What about Clarence Otis ’77, speaker in 2009? It is true that Otis’s main/only accomplishment is in business, but, first, he is also black! And, second, he is an alum. If Burns were an alum it would be hard to know if her skin color or her alumness was the key factor.

4) Surely there must be other business executives chosen over the last 50 years! Nope. Look at the list.

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