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Boston University President Robert Brown argued Wednesday that students implemented “cancel culture” and were “appallingly coarse and deliberately abusive” when they heckled Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav during a commencement address earlier this month—where students chanted “pay your writers” during his address in a sign of support for the ongoing Hollywood writers strike.
Brown described students’ behavior as “appallingly coarse and deliberately abusive to Mr. Zaslav” and said students who “sought to make a statement” with their protest “forgot that in a liberal democratic, personal autonomy and freedom of speech come with responsibilities,” in remarks published Wednesday in an op-ed on BU Today, the university’s daily website published by the marketing and communications department.
During Zaslav’s address, Brown said he witnessed students shouting obscenities at the executive, students turning their backs and the students shouting “pay your writers”—behavior Brown said was an attempt to implement “the cancel culture that has become all too prevalent on university campuses.”
Brown also said the protestors seemed “painfully unaware—or perhaps even hostile” to the university’s fundamental value of “respect for the speech rights of others.”
Brown, who is leaving the university at the end of the school year, said he apologized to Zaslav for those students’ behavior.
During Boston University’s May 21 commencement ceremony, student protestors took a number of actions to show their disapproval of the university choosing Zaslav to give the commencement address. At one point, students overtook Zaslav’s commencement address shouting “pay your writers,” a moment that spread quickly on social media. NBC Boston reported other students protested outside the ceremony with signs that said, “No wages no pages,” and with an inflatable rat. But even before the May ceremony, the university’s choice drew protests. The Daily Free Press, the student newspaper, reported several student clubs on campus called for his speech to be canceled before it occurred. Zaslav, a graduate of BU School of Law, is one of many Hollywood executives currently under fire for what the writers’ union argues is a system of chronic underpayment for workers despite high compensation packages for top brass.—. Unionized writers have brought scripted television production to a standstill since their strike began on May 2. Writers are demanding increased wages, and an improvement on what they claim are worsening working conditions in the streaming era, and have said they won’t return to work until their demands are met. The Writers Guild of America, East tweeted after the protest that it was “thankful to all the B.U. graduates for chanting ‘Pay your writers’ at Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav while he delivered the #BU2023 commencement address.”
Zaslav also released a statement after the commencement, saying: “I am grateful to my alma mater, Boston University, for inviting me to be part of today’s commencement and for giving me an honorary degree, and, as I have often said, I am immensely supportive of writers and hope the strike is resolved soon and in a way that they feel recognizes their value.”
Zaslav has the highest compensation of any major entertainment executive, a Los Angeles Times report found. The executive’s compensation was valued at nearly half a billion dollars over the five-year span between 2018 and 2022, the Times reported. In 2021 his earnings totaled more than $246 million, a report from As You Sow found.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav Booed At Boston University Graduation Amid Writers Strike (NBC News)
Hollywood Writers Say The Bosses Make Too Much. This Is What Our Analysis Found (Los Angeles Times)