William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, called students "immature" for protesting the original speaker, Robert J. Birgeneau, who bowed out last week.
Birgeneau, former chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, faced criticism for his handling of the Occupy movement in 2011, when he allegedly allowed campus police to use force against protesters.
Dozens of students and three professors demanded that he apologize and meet a series of demands, including a public apology, before speaking. Instead, Birgeneau refused to attend.
"I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau's handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of 'demands,'" Bowen said Sunday. "In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counterarguments."
Bowen also criticized Birgeneau for giving up too easily.
"I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors," Bowen said. "Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today."
Bowen received a standing ovation.
Haverford's commencement controversy was one of several incidents that played out at universities and colleges across the country in recent weeks. IMF chief Christine Lagarde canceled her Smith speech after protests, while former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bowed out at Rutgers.