Letters to the Editor: Commencement Speaker

I was very disconcerted to hear that Arianna Huffington was selected as the commencement speaker for 2013. Leaving aside any other considerations of her history and character, Arianna Huffington is unqualified to be honored at an academic establishment for one simple reason: she has been accused of plagiarism several times and has yet to clear her name. This is not a secret; it’s a matter of public record, which the most cursory research will reveal.

Perhaps my objection may seem pedantic, but, as an institution with an Honour Code, one would think that Smith would be more careful to select commencement speakers with unimpeachable academic integrity. It seems as if Ms. Huffington’s celebrity eclipsed the judgment of those who selected her as speaker. Plagiarism and academic dishonesty are serious issues in educational settings, and can only become worse when a school like Smith sends out the message that matters of plagiarism can be overlooked if one is rich and famous enough. I have been TAing at a major university for three years: it’s difficult enough to convince students that plagiarism, and thus the degradation of their education, is not worth it when they see some students getting away with it. When a distinguished college honors a possible plagiarist by inviting her to speak, one can’t help but wonder if Smith College itself is only paying lip service to the ideals of honesty and academic integrity.

Alla Babushkina ’08

I wasn’t exactly thrilled last year when Jane Lynch was chosen to be the commencement speaker for certain reasons, and was even less surprised when the Sophian failed to publish my letter to the editor. But upon hearing that Arianna Huffington was chosen this year, I was downright angry. We consider ourselves a progressive liberal arts college. We have had a long tradition of progressive female speakers since 1971 when Gloria Steinem spoke. Huffington is no progressive.

All that Huffington stands for represents the oppression of workers, writers and women – yes, women. Is the Board aware that she has often been accused of plagiarism? Is the Board aware that Huffington is an extremely wealthy businesswoman who does not pay her writers?

According to Mike Elk, a staff writer at In These Times, Huffington’s choice not to pay her writers, who have a great deal of restrictions and quality guidelines to follow as they produce content, reflects a much larger trend in our capitalist society toward unpaid labor.

Unpaid workers do not have the same rights or benefits as full-time or even part-time employees. They are not entitled to retirement, health care, workers’ comp, unemployment insurance, overtime or even the right to join a union. Many union leaders, in fact, have abandoned the site altogether and encouraged writers to do the same.

Huffington is an “innovator,” for sure. She has created an elaborate system in which the labor force is unpaid and has no rights, yet churns out material from all corners of the Internet to make her a very rich woman. Apparently this is the kind of woman that Smithies should look up to and aspire to be, a woman who has found a way to exploit men and women at no cost.

Hannah Muckler ’14J

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