Friday, June 10, 2011


It’s commencement season. That means graduates throughout the Southland are often being treated to the predictable pop-cultural prattle of various commencement speakers.

After perusing lists of graduation presenters throughout the nation, it seems one could do a lot worse than the mostly profession-based speakers at UCSD ceremonies. One name, however, stuck out as indicative of a trend away from serious scholarship in our institutions of higher learning—David Alan Grier.

For those unfamiliar with today’s pop-cultural icons, Grier (or DAG) is a fairly articulate actor, comedian, and graduate of Yale Drama School who will be addressing some 1000 students of Thurgood Marshall College this Saturday.

Grier’s professional credits range from serious drama (David Mamet’s “Race”) to crude humor that inhabits the cultural wasteland between R-rated and NC-17. The comic’s “Phat man” character can be counted on to push the envelope of bad taste, doubtless under the brain-dead assumption that humorous skits highlighting social dysfunction (especially in the black community) have no negative effects.

Grier’s “No Child Left Behind” video is a prime example of the sophisticated corruption pioneered by Calvin Klein that combines images of children with adult sexual content that could arguably be called soft porn.

Grier is best known to the general public for his expletive-filled rant against two “Dancing With the Stars” judges after he was eliminated from the competition. An obscene comment about Sarah Palin also tarnishes DAG’s resume, as well as the following depraved remark about McCain’s handling of Palin as his running-mate: “John McCain, your pimp hand has gone soft.”

After perusing Grier’s Internet reflections, a few serious, I have little doubt that his diploma-day ruminations (and especially his selection as speaker) will do more to destroy than to improve the lives of African-Americans.

Grier’s role as commencement day speaker is unfortunately consistent with the half-century decline in academic standards recently asserted by UC Santa Barbara Professor Philip Babcock and UC Riverside Professor Mindy Marks. The principal evidence for this regression is evidence of a huge decline in study time for full-time students “from twenty-four hours per week in 1961 to fourteen hours per week in 2003.” .

The researchers considered various explanations for this data (like shifting school demographics and better technology) but found an erosion in academic standards the most compelling explanation. The tapping of David Alan Grier for commencement duties is at least corroborative anecdotal evidence for their hypothesis.

By contrast, State Senator Bill Emmerson encouraged graduates of Mt. San Jacinto College to work hard and set challenging goals within a difficult and competitive environment—all in about 635 words. No harm there.

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