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Boston University president blasts 'abusive' students who tried to 'cancel' Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav at commencement

Warner Brothers Discovery CEO met with boos at BU graduation
Warner Brothers Discovery CEO met with boos at BU graduation 02:19

BOSTON - The president of Boston University is sharply criticizing some graduating students and says he's apologized to this year's commencement speaker, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who was met with boos and chants of "pay your writers!" at the May 21 ceremony.

There was picketing and heckling at the commencement because of Zaslav's role in the ongoing writers strike. The Writers Guild of America and eight major studios, including Warner Bros. Discovery, have failed to negotiate a new contract. (Paramount Global, the owner of CBS News, is another one of the major studios.)

BU President Robert Brown, who is stepping down this year after 18 years of leading the university, wrote in "BU Today" that a small minority of students were "appallingly coarse and deliberately abusive to Mr. Zaslav."

"They sought to make a statement, out of passionate conviction, but in the moment, they forgot that in a liberal democracy, personal autonomy and freedom of speech come with responsibilities," Brown said. "The willingness to spoil the occasion for these literally thousands of guests to not only make a point, but also literally prevent the speaker from conveying his message, was painful and embarrassing to witness."

Brown said that students who shouted obscenities at Zaslav were "attempting to implement the cancel culture that has become all too prevalent on university campuses." Zaslav is a graduate of BU's law school and was presented an honorary degree.

"The hundreds of virtually identical protest emails we received in my office in advance of Commencement came with an explicit 'cancel' hashtag, indicating an aim to prevent Mr. Zaslav from speaking," Brown said. "The attempt to silence a speaker with obscene shouts is a resort to gain power, not reason, and antithetical to the mission and purposes of a university."  

The choice of Zaslav for commencement speaker, a decision Brown said was made long before the strike began, was a controversial one. Some students turned their backs during Zaslav's address and held up signs.

Hollywood Writers Strike Boston University
People in the audience display signs in support of the Hollywood writers' strike during an address by David Zaslav, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, at Boston University commencement ceremonies, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Boston. Steven Senne / AP

Many BU graduates, like Sydney Shore, were disappointed in BU's choice for their speaker at the 2023 graduation. Both her father and brother are part of the Writers Guild.

"I've been conflicted about it for a few weeks now, given, of course, that I want to support my family and all the writers. But obviously I accomplished something that's important to me so I still want to celebrate my graduation," Shore told WBZ-TV at commencement.

Her father agreed. "I'm here because I'm very proud of my daughter who graduates today, but I am very disappointed in BU and their choice of speaker. It supposed to be a day of celebration and not a day of making a statement," David Shore said. 

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