NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma's choice of CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria to headline the university's commencement ceremony this spring has left some students upset.
OU officials announced Zakaria will deliver the commencement address at the ceremony May 10. The announcement comes less than a year after CNN suspended Zakaria for plagiarism, prompting some students to question whether Zakaria is an appropriate choice for the ceremony.
Zakaria was suspended last August from the network and from Time magazine, where he serves as editor-at-large. The suspensions came after he admitted to improperly using portions of a story from The New Yorker for a column published in Time.
Zakaria, who hosts the CNN program “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” was later reinstated to both positions after the two organizations conducted internal reviews and concluded the incident was an unintentional error.
Senior Doug McKnight said he plans to skip commencement because Zakaria will be speaking. Several members of his extended family had planned to fly in from New Jersey to see him graduate, he said. Instead, he said, they'll likely go out to dinner to celebrate.
“I don't think I can go hear him talk to me about integrity and professionalism,” McKnight said.
McKnight said he was particularly disgusted with the announcement since it came two weeks after he attended a seminar for his senior capstone project in which the issue of plagiarism was discussed.
During the seminar, a faculty member talked to students about the gravity of the issue of plagiarism, and made it clear to them that they wouldn't be able to graduate if they were caught doing it, he said.
McKnight said he's called OU President David Boren's office to ask why Zakaria was chosen. So far, he hasn't gotten a response, he said.
In a statement, Boren said Zakaria was an important figure and commands wide respect for his coverage of global issues.
“Fareed Zakaria is truly an educator,” Boren said. “He uses his forum through the public media to educate a worldwide audience about the important issues we all confront and how we can work together to meet them.”
OU spokeswoman Catherine Bishop said commencement speakers are chosen by a committee that includes students, faculty and staff. The committee assembles a list of possible speakers, which then goes to Boren, who makes a final decision.
The final decision is based on the speaker's availability and “the speaker's ability to talk to our graduates about the world in which we live,” Bishop said.
Bishop said she had heard from a number of students who were pleased with the choice to bring Zakaria to campus, and said he would be donating the honorarium for his appearance to OU's study abroad scholarship program.