Com­mence­ment Sea­son 2018

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

In 2014, com­mence­ment sea­son stood out for the list of high-pro­file speak­ers pushed off the grad­u­a­tion stage at top-tier uni­ver­si­ties.

At the peak of academia’s podium purges, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State

Con­doleezza Rice backed out of her planned com­mence­ment ad­dress at

Rut­gers Univer­sity amid protests over her sup­port of the Iraq War. The free-speech Foun­da­tion for In­di­vid­ual

Rights in Ed­u­ca­tion took to call­ing the an­nual rit­u­als the “dis­in­vi­ta­tion sea­son.”

Uni­ver­si­ties have got­ten savvier since then. They’ve learned not to in­vite con­tro­ver­sial con­ser­va­tives so they can spare them­selves the shame of grad­u­ates flaunt­ing their in­tol­er­ance in the name of di­ver­sity — bliss­fully un­aware of how au­thor­i­tar­ian they ap­pear.

There’s less mess in 2018. Aca­demics smile and present their pre­dictable pol­i­tics in benev­o­lent style, as your hum­ble cor­re­spon­dent saw first hand last week­end when a univer­sity dean used an oc­ca­sion meant to cel­e­brate stu­dent achieve­ment to crit­i­cize Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to down­size the Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Utah.

The worst part: He got his facts wrong. The dean at­tributed the Bears Ears down­siz­ing to Trump’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency — when it was the Depart­ment of In­te­rior that rec­om­mended the change.

For the sake of fam­ily har­mony, I shall not di­vulge the iden­tity of the rel­a­tive who walked away with an advanced de­gree or the name of the univer­sity. But I will quote one of his state­ments: “Democ­racy de­pends on ed­u­cated ci­ti­zens.”

That’s right, the dean who warned stu­dents about the risk of un­schooled boobs ru­in­ing sound pub­lic pol­icy didn’t get his facts straight.

When I emailed the good dean about his er­ror, he re­sponded, “Thanks so much for this im­por­tant correction. Yes, it was the In­te­rior Depart­ment. Still my main point is valid, I believe, namely that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is sup­posed to pro­tect pub­lic lands and other pub­lic goods.”

Get it? Even when he’s fac­tu­ally wrong, he’s so right it doesn’t mat­ter.

And yet, facts do mat­ter. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama des­ig­nated Bears Ears a na­tional mon­u­ment in De­cem­ber 2016. It was the sort of out-the-door move politicians love be­cause there is no risk at the bal­lot box.

It’s also the sort of Wash­ing­ton-knows-best think­ing that Western­ers have come to ex­pect from belt­way bu­reau­crats, who have no prob­lem with lo­cals hav­ing less say in how land in fly-over coun­try is used.

“The larger over­view is that this isn’t a prob­lem for most Eastern­ers be­cause the fed­eral gov­ern­ment owns very small frac­tions of the land in the East and most of the Mid­west,” noted Todd Gaziano, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the pro-prop­erty rights Pa­cific Le­gal Foun­da­tion.

In both Nevada and Utah, how­ever, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment owns more than half the states’ acreage. Obama’s Bears Ears con­sumed 1.35 mil­lion acres, which is big­ger than the size of Rhode Is­land.

Trump’s down­sized Bears Ears spans 201,876 acres — which makes for a pretty big spread, but not big enough for the dean.

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke rec­om­mended that Bears Ears be down­sized in keeping with the An­tiq­ui­ties Act of 1906. The act called for mon­u­ments to be “con­fined to the small­est area com­pat­i­ble with proper care and man­age­ment” of land based on its value as an his­toric land­mark, pre­his­toric struc­ture or for its sci­en­tific in­ter­est. It makes sense to limit how much land can be put off lim­its by ex­ec­u­tive fiat.

Mon­u­ment sta­tus, Gaziano noted, can mean less land for cat­tle graz­ing, min­ing and roads — en­deav­ors that cre­ate jobs.

“What I don’t think he un­der­stands,” said Gaziano of the dean, “is the im­pact of le­gal mon­u­ment des­ig­na­tion on the in­di­vid­u­als who aren’t em­ployed in Ivory Tower uni­ver­si­ties.”

The only ben­e­fit Gaziano sees in mon­u­ments that con­sume more than one mil­lion acres is “en­vi­ron­men­tal use for gra­nola-crunch­ing back­pack­ers.”

The dean’s re­marks were rem­i­nis­cent of the op­po­si­tion cam­paign to oil drilling in the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, a cause dear to many who never have or never will set foot in the refuge. They throw out words like “pub­lic good” with­out seem­ing to weigh how their good in­ten­tions could short­change peo­ple who ac­tu­ally live off the land. They mean well, and that’s all that mat­ters.

DEBRA J. SAUN­DERS

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