Duquesne University law students were circulating a petition last Friday protesting a decision to bar politicians from speaking at the law school’s commencement exercises this spring according to a report on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s web site.
The law dean, Donald J. Guter, proposed sending invitations to Senators Barack Obama from Illinois and John McCain from Arizona and Rep. John Murtha from Pennsylvania. Obama and McCain are expected to contend for the presidency in 2008 and Murtha has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.
University president, Charles J. Dougherty said that the proposed speakers were inappropriate because their political views might offend people, and that their beliefs might not be compatible with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Duquesne is a Catholic university.
In a letter to the university’s administrators Dougherty said that he has two reasons for disapproving the invitations to the politicians. “First, I believe that a high profile partisan political figure is inappropriate for a commencement speaker. Anyone of that description, including all three proposed, is sure to offend large numbers in the audience.”
This he said is true “Even if a speaker steers clear of political content,” he wrote and continued on by saying that “it makes a political statement that we provided them an occasion and a platform — and one in which there is no possibility for dialogue or the expression of alternative points of view.” it makes a political statement that we provided them an occasion and a platform — and one in which there is no possibility for dialogue or the expression of alternative points of view.” Dougherty stressed that the university didn’t object to inviting politicians and others to discuss controversial issues, but thought that forums would be a better venue as they allowed different viewpoints to be aired.
The second reason, he wrote “is the likelihood that some or all of these politicians have taken public positions on issues in opposition to Catholic church teachings.”
He wasn’t sure that this was true of the prospective invitees, but said it was a possibility and another good reason to avoid having politicians as commencement speakers.
Mr. Guter was puzzled at the president’s actions as he felt that the potential speakers views on issues like abortion wouldn’t be mentioned in their remarks to the students and that last year the university heard from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
One of the students who disagreed with Dougherty’s decision was Michael Qautrini the school’s Student Bar Association president who told the Chronicle “I find it ridiculous,” Mr. Quatrini said. “Barack Obama wouldn’t be there to discuss gay marriage or any social policy the Catholic church is for or against. Graduation speakers are there to give us guidance and inspiration, and it seems crazy to pass up the opportunity to have someone of their stature here.”
What Quatrini and Guter fail to note is that as a Catholic school they have an obligation to ensure that the church doctrine is not directly called into question. By inviting speakers that oppose the Church’s teachings on abortion, gay marriage and other issues they could be seen as endorsing these opposing viewpoints. Also even is the speakers steer clear of social and political issues, students frequently turn commencement exercises into a platform to express their displeasure with the politicians.
Just last year Senator McCain was heckled at the commencement exercises at the New School in New York even though he wasn’t giving a political speech.
Instead of the criticism being heaped on him, President Dougherty should be commended for trying to retain the integrity of Duquesne and what the school stands for.
You can show your support for his decision by sending him an e-mail today.