Over the weekend Barnard College bumped New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson from her spot as 2012 commencement speaker for a better offer—the trump card in the commencement bookings game, some might say: President Barack Obama.
It’s surprised no one that President Obama had zeroed in on the Manhattan women’s college for a spring speech. Facing a slate of pro-life GOP rivals and a Congress thrown into old school culture wars over his contraception-mandating health care bill, the President has publicly allied himself with women’s interests groups.
On Friday, he went so far as to personally call and thank Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student Rush Limbaugh called a “slut” and a “prostitute,” following her congressional testimony. (Eight advertisers, including AOL, have since fled Mr. Limbaugh’s show, and even “nappy-headed ho” spotter Don Imus risked hypocrisy to wag a finger.)
But the announcement came off as a particular slight to the co-eds across the street at Columbia College, with whom Barnard College shares professors, facilities, and the Columbia University umbrella. The Columbia commencement speaking gig is traditionally restricted to alumni, which President Obama actually happens to be.
“I find it both interesting and ironic that Obama, a so-called champion of ‘female empowerment’ has actively pushed aside Jill Abramson–one of the country’s most powerful women, and the FIRST woman to hold such an esteemed position–so that he can further his own political aims,” one Columbia student wrote on campus news blog Bwog. “No Barnard women take any issue with this? You’re all a bunch of fucking hypocrites. Get off my campus.”
Another powerful figure in journalism—Harper’s president John “Rick” MacArthur—is currently scheduled to deliver Columbia’s address. At least one senior was eager to get his or her fellow Lions behind him.
“We don’t want OUR once in a lifetime class day to be full of Obama’s election year campaign rhetoric! We want an AUTHENTIC and GENUINE class day speech from someone who actually has CC PRIDE!!!,” they wrote. “John MacArthur seems to be a cool dude with a long career in journalism. In a sense, MacArthur the writer can capture the essence of our COLUMBIA COLLEGE experience more than what Obama the politician can offer!”
Barnard president Debora L. Spar told The New York Times the apparent outburst of sibling rivalry was mostly just “19-year-olds writing at 4:30 in the morning.”
As for Ms. Abramson, when she was originally booked in early February, Ms. Spar said, “From her early days as a reporter to her current post as the paper’s executive editor, she has been unfailing in her convictions and a true inspiration.” Following Saturday’s White House announcement Ms. Spar added in statement that Ms. Abramson “would be happy to speak at Barnard in the future.”
Until then, disappointed students can catch Ms. Abramson at Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit, hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast this week. On Friday, she’ll be providing her personal take on “the future of feminism” in a panel along side Ms. founder Gloria Steinem and Washington Post deputy politics editor Ann Kornblut, moderated by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who addressed the Barnard class of 2011.