Congressman John Lewis Declines to Speak at UCSD Commencement

Rep. John Lewis at Supreme Court news conference to call for the reversal of President Trump’s travel ban. Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull. Link to photo license.

Congressman John Lewis has withdrawn from speaking at UC San Diego’s 2018 all-campus commencement ceremony due to concerns with how the UC system treats union workers.

As of Tuesday, all mentions of Lewis’ name were removed from the 2018 Commencement website.

Lewis, a prominent leader during the Civil Rights Movement along with Dr. Martin Luther King, has served in Congress since 1986. In January, it was announced that Lewis would serve as UCSD’s 2018 graduating class commencement speaker. However, in April, AFSCME 3299, the UC system’s largest labor union, voted to authorize a strike from May 7 through 9 due to an inability to reach a contract agreement with the UC. The union also cited concerns with the UC system’s treatment of women of color, who earn significantly less starting pay.

Earlier in May, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris withdrew from UC Berkeley’s commencement following AFSCME’s request. Congressman Ted Lieu pulled out of UCLA Law School’s commencement in May, citing the same concerns, and just five days ago, UCLA alumnus and Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik declined to speak at UCLA’s all-campus commencement.

“I think that John Lewis joining the AFSCME 3299 speaker boycott is a powerful statement because he is standing along with thousands of workers across the UC, a majority of whom are Black and brown, to assert that we will not uplift an institution which continually neglects the dignity of its lowest paid workers, [an institution] which repeatedly chooses anti-Blackness as a means of pursuing profit,” said ASUCSD Labor Commissioner Prajay Lolabattu.

A UCSD Communications statement released late Tuesday confirms that Chancellor Pradeep Khosla will serve as the 2018 Commencement Speaker in Lewis’ place.

Gabe Schneider is the Founder of The Triton. You can follow him on Twitter @gabemschneider.

Update June 6 10:45 p.m.: Information from UCSD Communications confirming that Rep. Lewis withdrew because of a UC-wide AFSCME boycott and that Chancellor Khosla will now serve as 2018 Commencement speaker has been added.