Editorial, Opinion

BU failed the Class of 2023 with its controversial commencement | Editorial

On May 3, Boston University announced David Zaslav as the headline speaker for the University’s 150th Commencement address. 

Zaslav is the president and chief executive officer of Warner Bros. Discovery, but he has recently made headlines in national media for failed negotiations with the Writers Guild of America. The negotiations aim to improve compensation and working conditions for writers across the country. 

Lila Baltaxe | Senior Graphic Artist

Despite the controversy surrounding Zaslav and the heap of bad press targeted at him, the University opted to stand behind Zaslav and maintain his standing as the 2023 Commencement speaker. 

BU’s unwavering commitment to Zaslav only reflects poorly on the University and its judgment. Given that the writers strike officially started May 2, BU had time to scrap Zaslav as the headline speaker before announcing him. They then opted to stick with Zaslav despite the negative reaction from students, faculty and the rest of the BU community prior to commencement.

For a university in the midst of a large change in administration, this does not provide hope for the future of the BU community. 

The affected party of the writers strike includes a large population of young writers recently out of college working entry level jobs in the film and television industry — exactly the demographic Zaslav addressed in his speech. 

Given that, the speech went exactly as expected: Not great. 

Students who were on the fence about attending the hours-long commencement were swayed not to attend their last hurrah at the university simply because of the poor choice of speaker. BU’s tone-deaf decision to stick with Zaslav led to protests and demonstrations before, during and after the ceremony. 

Some students showed up to the ceremony donning signs in protest of Zaslav and his role in preventing writers across the country from being fairly compensated, and rightfully so. 

BU had the time and capability to pull Zaslav as the speaker. A decision to pull him would have made the university look better. It would have been a move of solidarity to show support for the writers — the backbone of the film and television industry — who struggle to make a decent living.

With Zaslav, BU kept the tradition of having a successful alum to motivate the graduates as they embark on the next stage of their lives. However, there were many options that would have been equally as inspiring and significantly less problematic. BU even hosted Bob Woodward, a non-BU college graduate, as the 2022 commencement speaker.

Other schools around the Boston area had commencement speakers students were excited to hear from. Boston College, BU’s Commonwealth Ave. rival, hosted Oksana Markarova — Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States.

When examining BU’s two decisions, one is significantly worse than the other. First, BU’s decision to name Zaslav as the speaker in the midst of the writers strike is bad. However, the University’s decision to stick with him despite the opposition from the community is much worse. 

While some may believe the saying, “any press is good press,” this is certainly not the case for Boston University. The University made headlines across national media for all the wrong reasons. It’s more than just a poor send-off for the 2023 graduates who spent four years of hard work and dedication to be in the position to graduate. 

The self-inflicted controversy BU flung itself into also sets a bad example for the incoming class of 2027. High school graduates want to be proud of the school they committed to for the next four years of their educational journey. With BU’s commitment to such a controversial figure, it’s hard to be proud of the University. 

BU’s poor choice for the commencement speaker only shines a brighter spotlight on the upcoming decisions expected to be made within the next year. Longtime president Robert Brown announced his retirement earlier this year. Although BU hired Kenneth Freeman to serve as the interim president while the university searches for its next leader, the search is still ongoing. BU opened itself up to criticism for every decision they make in the near future.

This editorial was written by Opinion Editor Brett Abrams

One Comment

  1. Stephen H Ring, Law 1977

    Nonsense. Too little time to get A List replacement; all successful leaders and artists come with controversy; this controversy was still incubating, had no outcome; tolerance and liberal arts education require hearing both sides and not jumping to conclusions too early; the message in the speech was unrelated to the controversy ; future Top Tier speakers will shun places that display such juvenile, closed minded and intolerant behavior.