Mike Pence’s Selection As Evangelical College’s Commencement Speaker Sparks Backlash

A small evangelical Christian college is getting pushback over its decision to invite Vice President Mike Pence to deliver this year’s commencement speech.

Taylor University, in Pence’s home state of Indiana, has been getting complaints from some students, alumni and faculty since announcing the vice president’s selection as 2019 commencement speaker on April 11.

“This decision doesn’t reassure those with underrepresented voices that they can flourish at Taylor; it leaves them feeling isolated and invisible” wrote Amy Peterson, an adjunct faculty member, in an April 12 op-ed for The Washington Post. “It reads like a deliberate and definitive statement about who we are and about what we think virtue in the public sphere looks like — and, by implication, who doesn’t belong.”

A petition started by 2007 Taylor graduate Alex Hoekstra within hours of the school’s announcement has garnered over 3,500 signatures calling for the invitation to be rescinded.

“Inviting Vice President Pence to Taylor University and giving him a coveted platform for his political views makes our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration’s policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear,” the petition states. 

The petition includes contact information for university President Paul Lowell Haines, as well as other administrative officials, student organizations, and donors.

“As an alumni of Taylor and as a gay man I’m pretty personally injured by the policies of the Trump/Pence administration and I know that a lot of alumni who identify as other minority groups are personally affected by the Trump/Pence administration,” Hoekstra told Newsweek on Thursday.

Pence faced similar protests when over 100 students at Notre Dame, a Catholic university, walked out during his 2017 commencement speech there

It’s unclear how many of Taylor University’s roughly 2,000 students are upset with the selection. According to Peterson, a majority of faculty members at the university oppose Pence delivering the May 18 speech.

As soon as the announcement was made, a professor from the biblical studies, Christian ministries and philosophy department called for a vote of dissent. After some discussion, during which some faculty expressed support for Pence’s presence, comparing him to the biblical figure of Daniel, and others critiqued the decision, 49 faculty voted in favor of Pence addressing the community at commencement. Sixty-one voted in opposition.

James Garringer, a Taylor University spokesman, said Monday in a statement that the school wasn’t reconsidering the invitation.

“Since making the announcement of Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming commencement speech, we have received feedback from people on either side of the issue,” Garringer said. “Taylor University is an intentional Christian community that strives to encourage positive, respectful and meaningful dialogue. We look forward to hosting the Vice President next month.”

The school president, in announcing Pence as commencement speaker, called the vice president a “good friend to the University over many years,” and “a Christian brother whose life and values have exemplified what we strive to instill in our graduates.”

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