Written By: Cole Edwards
Due to overwhelming debate over a scheduled Sept. 11 appearance by Fox News personality Ben Carson at VSU, President William McKinney released a letter stating he supports Carson’s appearance and will not rescind the invitation.
“Our public colleges and universities exist to serve the public good through the free and open exchange of ideas,” Dr. McKinney wrote. “Our purpose should be to keep our universities as open forums where civility, not censorship, governs the means by which we address those differences.”
In 2013, Dr. Carson was hired as a Fox News commentator after serving for nearly forty years as the director of pediatric surgery at John Hopkins, where he was a world-renowned neurosurgeon. He first came into the national consciousness when he criticized President Barack Obama’s health care policies during a speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast.
Recently, Dr. Carson began raising funds for a potential presidential candidacy in 2016.
In his letter, Dr. McKinney stated that overwhelming ticket sales and sponsorships have more than covered Carson’s $43,000 fee and that all additional proceeds will be donated to Valdosta Early College, the university’s collaboration with Valdosta City Schools.
Dr. McKinney also recounted a controversy early in his career at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania involving the placement of a bronze bust of Sigmund Freud with a revolver pointed up his left nostril.
“I believe that all artists, researches, and speakers deserve to be heard,” Dr. McKinney writes, saying he argued in favor of the artist at the time.
Carson’s appearance, funded through the dean of Harley Langdale, Jr. College of Business, was the result of a request from Beta Gamma Sigma, the premier honor society on campus recognizing business excellence.
Dr. Carson withdrew from a commencement address at John Hopkins in 2013 after comments he made over gay marriage caused a backlash among students and faculty. When Dr. Carson was invited to be commencement speaker at Emory University, 500 faculty members, students and alumni signed a letter examining his creationist views.
A segment of the VSU community is uncomfortable with Dr. Carson appearing due to his outspoken conservative views on gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act.
“Like Dr. McKinney, I believe in freedom of speech but it becomes an ethical dilemma for me when a speaker creates a hostile environment for those who are already marginalized by our society,” said Tracy Woodard, director of Women and Gender Studies at VSU.
Dr. Woodard questioned the fairness in certain departments having the funds to have their views aired on campus while other views go unheard because of lack of funding.
“I believe strongly in a just and equitable system,” said Woodard. “When only one side is heard and what is heard is controlled by the dominant group, that becomes very problematic in terms of equality and social justice.”
McKinney said the funds for Dr. Carson’s appearance were privately raised.
“My responsibility is to neither agree nor disagree with their choice of speaker,” said Dr. McKinney.
Across campus, many students voiced support for McKinney’s position.
“I’m fine with it,” said Mikhail Keize, junior mass media major. “Everybody has their own opinions, and you can’t hold that against him.”
Other students feel that disagreement is healthy.
“We need to have a diversity of voices at VSU, so it would be good for people to listen to a viewpoint they don’t necessarily agree with,” said D’ante Gooden, sophomore chemistry major.
Though the event is sold out, additional seating to watch Carson’s address in Jennett Hall, via HD live broadcast, is still available for $10 for general admission and $5 for students and can be purchased online at www.valdostastate.org/BenCarson.
Dr. McKinney reiterated that free speech was at the heart of his decision to allow Carson’s appearance to go on.
“Our responsibility at VSU is not to silence disagreement and dissent, but rather to provide for a safe, open, and public forum in which academic disagreements may be discussed.”