leads to Lipstadt as graduation speaker
By Michael de la Merced
AFTER weeks of petitions and
negotiation, the administration and the Student Speaker
Steering Committee announced Tuesday that Dorot Professor
of Holocaust and Modern Jewish Studies Deborah
Lipstadt will speak at Commencement.
"This was a victory for the entire student body," said
College Council President Christopher Richardson,
who worked with the SSSC in securing Lipstadt as a
speaker. "It upheld an important tradition and bridged a
very serious gap between the administration and
According to University President William M.
Chace the Emory professor will speak not as a
"keynote" Commencement speaker, but as a "contribution
from the Class of 2001 to Commencement."
"That was the understanding I had with the student
committee," Chace said.
- But Tuesday Richardson and members
of the SSSC announced Lipstadt as the "headline
speaker" for Commencement this year. E-mail
announcements sent from the group early Wednesday
morning bore the subject line "We Have a Keynote
Obtaining Lipstadt as a Commencement speaker came
after students expressed concern after the
administration's announcement that no headline speaker
will keynote Commencement. Instead, a new arrangement
would give four honorary degree recipients - South
African Justice Richard Goldstone, Palestinian
Priest Elias Chacour, journalist Charlayne
Hunter-Gault and former chairman of the Board of
Trustees Bradley Currey - time for five-minute
Lipstadt was the historian whose book Denying the
Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, an
examination of Holocaust denial, fueled charges
of libel from British historian David Irving
last year. According to Irving, the book unfairly
denounced him as a Holocaust denier. A British court
favor of Lipstadt in April 2000.
"She's not just a professor," Raghavan said. "She
stands out in the academic world."
"Several students nominated her," Richardson added.
"She fits in well [with the honorary degree
recipients], and she's an impressive figure."
Both sides described the process of obtaining Lipstadt
as a speaker as one of negotiation, with Chace and the
SSSC meeting twice to discuss options available.
SSSC member Stephanie Martin added that the
students' nominations had to fit certain criteria: The
individual must have a connection with the Southeast, be
an expert in his or her field and have some connection to
"We tried to go along with those guidelines as much as
possible," Martin said.
Chace said he told the committee that as long as the
speaker "represented individual excellence" and "moral
strength," he would consider their candidates. He added
that he then decided over the weekend on Lipstadt.
"I could not come up with anyone better from the
committee," Chace said. "
Everyone knows her and
Raghavan said working with Chace to obtain Lipstadt as
a speaker demonstrated the power of collaboration between
students and the administration.
- But College senior Jennifer
Russell, who was on the University Senate's
Honorary Degree Committee, said she saw no extra
benefit in having Lipstadt speak at Commencement.
Instead, she said, it undermined the role of the
honorary degree recipients this year.
"I personally don't see the merit in going to these
lengths to having a single Commencement speaker on
campus," Russell said. "Not that Deborah Lipstadt isn't
but the way I look at it, it takes
away from the honorary degree recipients. We have four of
the highest caliber speakers."
Both Chace and the SSSC said because of time
constraints, Lipstadt would not
receive an honorary degree, as is the tradition
with Commencement speakers.
Richardson said as he looked back on the discussions
between the SSSC and Chace, he saw fault on both sides of
"There have been tragic mistakes for both sides,"
Richardson said. "Students did not submit nominations for
a speaker. But they also never believed that their voice
would be counted, didn't think it was very important. A
lesson can be learned from this."
As a result of those mistakes, Martin said, students
were looking to prevent future problems.
"A committee will be formed to work with President
Chace on the issue of nominating and obtaining a
speaker," Martin said. "Students will have a larger
Raghavan added that the tradition of a main
Commencement speaker - and student input in the
administration - would continue to exist for a long
"A trend has been set such that students will have
involvement until the last day of Emory," he said.
"Previously students never had a voice at all during
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