We the undersigned members of the Alma College faculty wish to express our concern regarding featuring Dr. Ben Carson as our speaker the evening before the 2015 Honors Day. We recognize that he is no longer the designated “Honors Day Speaker” and that the College President has issued a statement distancing the college from this particular choice. To a great many students, faculty and staff members, alumni, and friends of the college, however, Dr. Carson’s address is still problematic in that his publicly espoused views are antithetical to the values of Alma College. This choice of speaker seems fundamentally at odds with our commitment to scientific and humanistic inquiry based on evidence and critical thinking, and with the very nature of a college claiming to welcome all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Our position has nothing to do with whether a speaker is liberal or conservative, nor would this be as much a concern if an individual or campus group sponsored the event. We accept that he has his admirers. However, the college itself is sponsoring this event.
It does not take away from Dr. Carson’s impressive earlier career to insist that many of his more recent statements are at odds with our values as an institution. His assertion that Obamacare is as bad as slavery and comparing the United States to Nazi Germany are ahistorical. His labeling the president a psychopath is not just at odds with basic civil discourse in an academic community, but is not supported by any commonly accepted form of psychological analysis, nor is his assertion that homosexuality is a choice based on the supposed conversion of inmates’ sexual orientation while in prison. Comparing the passionate commitment of ISIS fighters with that of the founding fathers of the United States and suggesting that the new Advanced Placement history curriculum could lead one to want to join ISIS are similarly not examples of the critical thinking we seek to encourage in students.
Alma’s mission is centered on promoting carefully considered, logically argued, and evidence-based scholarly work, and artistic creation and performance which showcases the best of the liberal arts: what unites us as humans, not what divides us. A speaker so well known for divisive, incendiary assertions, regardless of occasional efforts later to clarify or apologize for some of them, is wholly out of keeping with our mission, a distraction from our primary focus, and sends mixed messages about our commitment to a diverse and inclusive community.
Mary Theresa Bonhage Freund