Jeh Johnson Withdraws as Vassar Commencement Speaker After Protests

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has withdrawn from being the next commencement speaker at Vassar College following protests over his enforcement of border laws under former President Barack Obama. It is only the latest example of rising intolerance on our campuses. This commencement was particularly poignant because his father, Jeh Vincent Johnson, (who passed away last January) taught at the college from 1964 to 2002 and designed buildings on campus. Indeed, a building designed by his father is supposed to be dedicated as the Jeh Vincent Johnson ALANA Cultural Center.  That is amazing family connection to Vassar and a wonderful moment of celebration. Moreover, Secretary Johnson is widely respected in Washington as a moderate figure, who is one of the few leaders who has been able to bridge our political divisions.

Instead, the predictable cancel campaign was launched. Vassar’s campus newspaper, The Miscellany News, declared on Feb. 16 that “For many students—particularly the graduating class—the selection of Johnson as this year’s commencement speaker was perceived as a strikingly tone-deaf blow to Vassar’s integrity and community values.” It added that  “students of color feel especially impacted by Johnson’s policies.”

A partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, Johnson opted out in the face of the rising anger. In a statement, he declared that he would not be able to celebrate his father and the close connection to Vassar: “In my public life I managed many difficult and contentious issues. In my private life I do not seek to be the object of controversy or speak at a commencement where students will object to me.”

We have previously seen similar efforts to cancel speeches by former government leaders ranging from James Comey to Jeff Sessions to Michael Pence.

This is a huge loss for Vassar not just in the cancelling of an important address (and the celebration of an incredible African American family tied to Vassar) but also for the exercise of free speech on campus. It shows the same intolerance for dissenting views that has narrowed the range of acceptable speakers across the country.


116 thoughts on “Jeh Johnson Withdraws as Vassar Commencement Speaker After Protests”

  1. Today’s radical Dim students are an unprincipled mess. I call them the Compassinazis. Full of sanctimony and precious little doubt as to their righteousness they strike out as spoiled children against anything or anybody they deem unvirtuous. Can’t wait until the backlash against campuses begins.

  2. I happen to like Jeh Johnson from what I’ve seen on his television appearances. What happened here doesn’t seem to be an infringement on free speech where a speaker is shouted down but the practice of free speech by those protesting his appearance. I can’t wait until the next time someone on the right gets challenged so Turley can go back to insinuating it only happens to those poor abused right wingers, skinheads, and neo-Nazis.

    1. Perhaps harassing Johnson so that he can’t speak doesn’t constitute a Constitutional breach in a technical sense, but note that people are increasingly asking themselves why institutions which enjoy massive direct and indirect subsidies from the Federal and State governments but which can’t guarantee that a former HHS Secretary (or similar dignitary) can speak on campus should continue to enjoy those subsidies. You might want to start thinking about the fire that your ilk is playing with when you declare public goods to be under and subject to your narrow ideological litmus tests.

      1. As I read the story, Johnson withdrew after students voiced their opinion. Isn’t that how the process is supposed to work. I also think that this isn’t a my ilk issue. A student in Florida that organized a protest against the Republican-backed, “Don’t Say Gay bill” has been indefinitely suspended pending an investigation. His First Amendment rights have been violated and not by my ilk.

        Turley would have you believe that censorship is a one way street. I see it coming more from the right but they do a better job of whining about it.

    2. Enigma, I wasn’t a big fan of his in the past. But I’m looking at him a little more positively now. No body’s perfect.

  3. if you Vote Democrat…you support Cancel Culture! The only time they don’t…is when it is them…like Andrew Cuomo or Jeh!

  4. The white liberals prefer ice crime eating doddering fools

    Hey Jeh…you OWN the radicals…your former BOSS BUILT THEIR HATRED for the USA!

  5. do you people realize that the leftist are training their terrorists? This is Fascism
    In simplest terms, fascism refers to a specific way of organizing a society: under fascism, a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people in that society, and allows no dissent or disagreement.

  6. The Nazis used cancel culture to solidify power! Allowing these terrorists to win…just empowers them!

    1. You don’t really know much, if anything, about the Nazis or terrorism. The Nazis rose to power by projecting blame onto Jews for Germany’s loss in WW I and by the sanctions imposed on Germany and hardships that followed. After seizing power based on lies, they took over newspapers and radio stations and endlessly broadcast propaganda about Jews being responsible for all of Germany’s financial problems. After they got elected to office, they got the German people mesmerized into believing that Hitler was a powerful leader, ignoring the truth that he was a failed art student, a drifter, he had been imprisoned and had been homeless. Hitler was indeed a talented speaker who was able to stir up patriotism for the fatherland, and part of his message was that Jews didn’t belong in Germany, which rightfully belonged to the “Aryan” race. Hitler did get elected to office, and after he was powerful enough, he started abusing Jews: their children couldn’t attend Aryan schools, Jews were forced to wear the Star of David, Hitler closed down Jewish businesses, and his storm troopers smashed windows and burned synagogues, then it was off to the concentration camps and for 6 million or so, to the execution chambers. Nazis weren’t “terrorists”–they were the lawfully-elected government. The students who didn’t want Jeh Johnson to speak at their commencement aren’t terrorists, either. Objecting to Johnson speaking is not engaging in terrorism. Johnson backed off after learning that his presence wasn’t wanted.

  7. Community values seem to be the values of the subgroup with the loudest mouth. As always, the administration showed to have no backbone.

  8. Vassar lacks values, especially those which pertain to free speech. Johnson’s statement shows him as an honorable man contrasting him with Vassar’s student body, which is not honorable.

    1. he is a DEMOCRAT…Democrats OWN these people! They are just working out who is going to be the socialist Dictator!
      There are no people more hate filled, greedy, lying, cheating, hypocrite than DEMOCRATS!

    2. S. Meyer says, “ Vassar lacks values, especially those which pertain to free speech. Johnson’s statement shows him as an honorable man contrasting him with Vassar’s student body, which is not honorable.”

      Leave it to S. Meyer to make ignorant comments.

      Vassar is a private liberal arts college. The president of the school chose the commencement speaker. The students didn’t want him to be the speaker at THEIR commencement ceremony. The president didn’t have a right to force the students to accept HER choice. It’s the students who paid for their school who can decide whether to accept or reject the speaker. He was invited and the invitation is still open.

      “Vassar lacks values.. “. It doesn’t. It upholds them. You don’t even know what their values are. This is what the president of the school said about the students objections.

      “ President Elizabeth Bradley released a statement on Vassar’s website shortly after The Miscellany News’ press release. “While I continue to believe that engaging in discussion about topics about which we disagree is essential to learning, I recognize that Commencement is not always the right setting for those, sometimes difficult, conversations,” Bradley wrote.

      Selecting the commencement speaker is the explicit responsibility of the Office of the President. The selection is made by the president, with input from senior officers and others. VSA Vice President Ryan Mazurkiewicz ’22 said Bradley approached him and VSA President Gabi James ’22 after hearing about student concerns. Recounting the sentiment that he and James shared with President Bradley, he said, “We’re not thrilled, and this is not who we would have chosen as speaker.” He added, “Other people are significantly more upset than we are. It was a matter of just saying openly and honestly, ‘This is how we feel.’ In terms of the situation being what it is, I would like to give President Bradley credit that she listened.”

      For many students—particularly the graduating class—the selection of Johnson as this year’s commencement speaker was perceived as a strikingly tone-deaf blow to Vassar’s integrity and community values. “

      It was THEIR commencement ceremony. THEY didn’t want him as speaker. This isn’t about free speech. It’s about student choice. Turley as usual is mischaracterizing the situation.

      1. Svelaz, the students managed to hurt the reputation of the school and their life-long reputations. You can continue to write your graffiti on bathroom walls but don’t lecture anyone on any topic. You have been factually wrong on every discussion on this blog.

        Many give you no respect because you have no self-respect. Self-respect and intelligence are beyond your reach.

        1. S. Meyer,

          “ Svelaz, the students managed to hurt the reputation of the school and their life-long reputations.”

          No they didn’t. Even their school AND Jeh Johnson respected the students disagreement.

          Keep in mind this is a speaker for THEIR commencement ceremony. A speaker they DIDN’T choose.

          It’s a private college whose PAYING students don’t want him as speaker.

          YOU have been factually wrong many times because of your poor reading comprehension skills. Here you’re displaying it in all its glory.

          Do the students have to listen to a speaker they didn’t choose for THEIR Commencement ceremony at a school THEY paid tuition to? How is that an attack on free speech?

          1. Svelaz, you have a terrible reputation, so you shouldn’t be talking about reputations.

            The problem with your complaints about my facts is that you deny them even though I provide you with government documents proving what I said is true. You don’t even bother to read the documents. Instead, you continue with accusations that the other is lying.

            Even when I provide those documents with the operative phrases quoted and the links, you still can’t admit you are wrong. With one CDC memorandum, I posted the same things along with its quotes several times, and you still refused to accept the quoted material as existing.

            The proof is contained in the following response I provided you and the surrounding responses. To date, you have lied about the subject matter, but you can’t lie about something that is in black and white.


  9. The problem is not with the students protesting Jeh Johnson from speaking. The students should be free to express their opinion, though I would disagree with it. The problem is with this college administration, and apparently most others, acquiescing to the demands of the most intolerant segment of the college community. I say acquiescing by not responding in support of Mr. Johnson, tolerance, and free speech. It was an opportunity for the college to discuss and illustrate the meaning of free speech and tolerance rather than demonstrating the burgeoning effectiveness of intolerance and the threat of disruptive behavior.

    1. JCP,

      “ The problem is with this college administration, and apparently most others, acquiescing to the demands of the most intolerant segment of the college community. I say acquiescing by not responding in support of Mr. Johnson, tolerance, and free speech. ”

      Let’s keep in mind that this was a speaker for a commencement ceremony. Not a debate forum or a speaking event.

      There is no problem with this college administration at all. Vassar is a PRIVATE college which is supported by paying students. To “acquiesce” is the wrong word. It should be to honor the student’s choices. They are the ones paying the school. They get to decide what they want in regards to THEIR commencement ceremony.

      The majority of the graduating class did not wage Jeh Johnson as speaker of their commencement ceremony. And Johnson gracefully acknowledged their point. He was invited by the school president, not the students.

      If they didn’t want him as speaker for their commencement ceremony they had every right to say no. They stated their reasons and both the school president and Johnson acknowledged the student’s objection. This wasn’t some radical group of leftists or a bunch of crazy liberals. It was a student body recognizing who he was and pointing out why he was not a good candidate for THEIR commencement ceremony.

      Turley has mischaracterized these issues often as attacks on free speech. He’s trying to drum up a narrative about free speech that is in reality not as big as he wants us to believe.

      1. Svelaz,

        You make a good point. I can’t help but think that Turley sees the hand-writing on the wall- he will heckled when he is invited to speak publicly at colleges and law schools. He realizes that he will be regarded as a sell-out for having been in the pay of Fox News and legitimizing some of the worst rage provocateurs in the business by appearing on their programs and remaining silent about their false narratives.

        Turley has made his bed.

        1. Jeff,

          In case you didn’t see this news elsewhere: New York state Judge David B. Cohen has denied Fox News’s motion to dismiss Smartmatic’s defamation suit against the network.

          We both know that Turley isn’t going to say anything about it.

          1. It’s rather humiliating for Turley to have to acknowledge that the network for which he is employed is being sued for “advocacy journalism” of the worst kind, that is, spreading fraudulent narratives. If only I was a student in his law class. I would ask him point blank why he is self-censoring about these defamation lawsuits. We know why, but I would like to watch him squirm.

            As these cases proceed to trial, every day of his silence adds to his shame for ignoring the repercussions and accountability of Trump’s/Fox’s Big Lie. Despite his best efforts, Turley’s good name and Fox’s deplorable reputation will forever be associated.

            1. “every day of his silence adds to his shame “

              This is the envious silverman who wishes he had the smallest fraction of Turley’s intelligence and abilities. It also represents a person who has little respect for himself or others.

  10. I think it is time that these small-minded ignorant brats are put in their place. It’s too bad that the universities, for the most part, are now run by older versions of the same sort of willfull hubristic brats just several decades older. Where are the adults in the room?

    1. Alma asks:

      “Where are the adults in the room?”

      They are languishing in jail awaiting trial for storming the Capitol.

  11. This man is pretty middle of the road guy. I’ve heard him a couple times expressing his opinion on topics and he’s always been reasonable.

    They should publish all the names of the students who refuse to have guests speakers on campus. This way potential employers will know what their getting themselves by hiring one.

    1. Or just not hire Vassar grads. The intolerant group and weak administration are hurting the more tolerant students.

    2. if he worked for Obama…he hates America…like these people!

      if you Vote Democrat…you Hate America…. how many examples do you need? You mean he was only 95% left?

      1. guyventer, QED. The following is a quote from a Quinnipiac poll that was released yesterday which your favorite search engine will easily find. “As the world witnesses what is happening to Ukraine, Americans were asked what they would do if they were in the same position as Ukrainians are now: stay and fight or leave the country? A majority (55 percent) say they would stay and fight, while 38 percent say they would leave the country. Republicans say 68 – 25 percent and independents say 57 – 36 percent they would stay and fight, while Democrats say 52 – 40 percent they would leave the country.”

        1. “Americans say 71 – 22 percent that they would support a ban on Russian oil even if it meant higher gasoline prices in the United States, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University national poll of adults released today. Democrats (82 – 12 percent), independents (70 – 22 percent), and Republicans (66 – 30 percent) all support banning Russian oil.”

          Good, and Biden just signed an Executive Order to ban the import of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal to the U.S.

    3. Ballhere says:

      “They should publish all the names of the students who refuse to have guests speakers on campus. This way potential employers will know what their getting themselves by hiring one.”

      And while we’re at it, let’s publish all the names of those who will not condemn Putin for his war crimes so their potential employers too know what they may be getting.

  12. “Tone deaf blow to Vassar’s Integrity and Values”. What Integrity and what values? They have none. They seem to be more like Harpies, blown in by a storm to wreck havoc and then blowing off to some other site to wreck more pain and suffering. Sounds like Vassar needs the North Winds of the Boreads to blow through and cleanse their campus.

  13. ” It added that “students of color feel especially impacted by Johnson’s policies.”

    That must be because students of color or intellectual vacant, having no ability to understand they way to correct the wrong, is work to write new laws. Actions that will actually advance their visions. Too stupid to understand preventing a person from giving a speech, is lazy and worthless….If, IF they want the changes they give lazy lip service.

  14. When black students in a liberal school cancel a respected black democrat in the Obama administration, it’s possible we have reached peak cancellation. Would they object to Obama speaking?

    1. They will never reach peak cancellation. They’d be left with having to create something of value, which we all know they have not been educated to do. So, to feed their narcissism, they cancel.

  15. Just think: those kids will be our next generation of bankers, doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, and business owners. Going to be good times. 😐 it’ll be a miracle if humanity even witnesses the turn of the next century, and it ain’t going to be because of cataclysmic climate change.

    1. A smattering will become lawyers, judges and politicians, but the bulk will find comfortable spaces within existing institutions from which to enforce ideological conformity as their political officers. They’ll be in the banks’ and law firms’ “human resources” departments and fill roles as “diversity and inclusion officers.”

  16. Yet another example of the closing of the American students’ minds. At least in this case, the college didn’t withdraw the invitation (although they may have capitulated to the extent that they encouraged his withdrawal). This is obscene. College administrations need to step up to the plate and shut down this intolerance of any views these foolish children find “offensive”. Thanks to Jon Turlley for his reporting on this topic.

    1. You cannot possibly be serious. If he hadn’t they would not have relented, up to and including ruination. We have seen it too many times to count at this point.

      And what he did, in common parlance, was, ‘chicken out’. These kids are spoiled ignorant brats, and capitulating to them isn’t going to fix it.

      1. These students are expressing their views, which they have a right to do. I can think of several scenarios that would advance speech on the Vassar campus. The administration could make clear that there will be no heckler’s veto of Johnson and enforce that decree. Johnson himself could offer to meet with the concerned students for a discussion of the issues that concern them either before or after his speech. I have protested the actions of a speaker outside a venue and then attended the speech as a respectful listener, trying to learn whatever the speaker might be able to teach me. Nothing is gained by name-calling against the university or the students. This situation is a missed educational opportunity for everyone.

        1. Maybe you’re the World’s most gentlemanly protestor, but I think we all understand that the play here is to enforce a heckler’s veto and hold the commencement hostage in order to cancel Johnson’s speech. Johnson’s protestors understand his position – i.e., he had a sworn duty to enforce long standing Federal law – but they just don’t care.

    2. Perhaps, and what they are saying is “We’re indoctrinated morons in support of realities we are entirely insulated from, but that feed our egos and well-developed dunning-kruger afflictions.”

    3. “Haha wingnuts, the mayor told the police to stand down so that the protestors can punch you in the face if you speak, but since it’s not the government enforcing a prior restraint on speech there’s no Constitutional right to FREEZE PEACH.”

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