To my friends and colleagues, faculty and staff, and affiliates of Webster University:
On Monday, the announcement was made that former Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond has been selected as the keynote speaker and honorary degree recipient of Webster University’s 2011 Commencement Ceremony.
A summary of his voting record:
In June of 2007, he voted YES on declaring English as the official language of the US government.
In June of 2006, he voted YES on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
In March of 2005, he voted NO on shifting $11 billion from corporate tax loopholes to education.
In May of 2001, he voted NO on funding smaller classes instead of private tutors.
In October of 1997, he voted YES on ending special funding for minority & women-owned business.
In September of 1996, he voted NO on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation. He also opposed adding sexual orientation to the hate crimes bill.
Now as a generally liberal university with a lot of strong activists, it is easy to see why we would be opposed to Bond’s selection. His voting record does not encompass the vision and values of the University. He opposes promoting acceptance and understanding of diversity within the United States. He also opposes funding for minority and women-owned businesses; Webster University was founded in 1915 by the Sisters of Loretto, so we are therefore a women-founded business. And his opposition to providing additional funding from corporate loopholes shows how little he cares for the future of the next generation.
From the stance of a liberal university, selecting Bond to speak is an outright problem.
Just today I met with Dr. Beth Stroble, President of the university. Though our impromptu meeting was brief, I made her aware of the students’ concern, to which she was very empathetic. I explained how his voting record does not reflect that of the university, and that the student population was upset that he would be addressing us.
She then explained to me why he was selected as the keynote speaker:
To start off, his voting record played no part in his selection. Former Senator Bond was selected based on his advocacy for the military (which is a major part of the Webster culture, though not necessarily on the home campus) and his expertise on free and fair trade and relations with Southeast Asia. Please read this selection from the news release about his selection:
“As a U.S. Senator from 1986 to 2010, Bond built a reputation as a statesman who fought for a strong U.S. military, improved care for veterans and men and women in uniform, and, in his role of Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, reformed the nation’s intelligence community.
Bond is an expert on Southeast Asia and recently co-authored The Next Front: Southeast Asia and the Road to Global Peace with Islam. The book outlines the smart-power strategy that he believes America must use to inspire the people in Southeast Asia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, to reject Islamic extremism. Using a smart-power strategy instead of military force, Bond says, gives America the best and perhaps last chance to defeat radical ideologies that too often result in terrorism.
Because Webster University is a global university with a widespread outreach, this will be the focus of Bond’s speech. Dr. Stroble informed me that, upon his selection, she requested that he address the global mission of the university.
In other words, Bond is not pushing his political agenda.
Past commencement speakers have been Nancy Pelosi and Former President George H.W. Bush. Both of these figures, plus Bond, are all politically biased, but none of them were selected for that reason. Pelosi was chosen as a representation of women in leadership, as she was the first woman to become Speaker of the House. She was not chosen because of her liberal stance on most political issues.
Though I am still opposed to Bond as a speaker for our Commencement, I now understand why he was chosen.
I am reaching out to everyone with two simple calls to action:
The first is a call to reform the selection process of future Commencement speakers. There was little consideration on the students’ perspective, despite commencement being a milestone event for the students. We must stand to allow students to have a voice in the selection process to prevent further upset by the students.
The second, should the students as a whole decide to protest, is to demonstrate in a peaceful, responsible manner. Getting erratic over this situation would not only damage the reputation of the University, but of the students as well. We want to show future members of the Webster University community that we continue to be motivated and outspoken, but with dignity and respect for those around us. This is the culture of Webster, and to demonstrate in any other way would be hypocritical and defeats the purpose of the original cause.
So while we should still make our point clear that we do not approve of Kit Bond speaking at our Commencement ceremony this year, we must remember to go about this the right way, the responsible way, the Webster University way.