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Pediatric Neurosurgeon Ben Carson To Speak at Alma

President Jeff Abernathy addresses the scheduled campus talk by Dr. Ben Carson.

Dr. Ben CarsonGuest Speaker: Dr. Ben Carson
8 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dr. Benjamin Carson, emeritus professor of neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where he directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for 29 years, presents “Take the Risk: A Rational Approach to Taking Risks” at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, in the Hogan Center. Dr. Carson, author of several books on leadership, is known for his successful separation of craniopagus (Siamese) twins. Ticket information to be determined.

Statement by President Jeff Abernathy

In recent weeks Alma College has heard from many alumni, students, faculty and friends who are concerned about the invitation we have extended to Dr. Ben Carson to speak on campus at the start of our annual Honors Day celebration.

Many have asked why we would invite an individual who has repeatedly made statements contrary to our college’s values, statements that disparage many in our community and world. Others, while acknowledging that the college has a long history of supporting speakers and perspectives with which they disagree, note that Honors Day has always been a time to celebrate the achievements of our students. They fear that the controversy surrounding Dr. Carson’s remarks will undercut this commitment. We recognize that many who care deeply about the mission of Alma College hold these concerns.

On the other hand, we also have heard from some who have indicated that they welcome the opportunity to hear from a prominent physician who came from humble beginnings to achieve success as a neurosurgeon. They want to hear his story.

In response to the feedback we have received, we want to provide the following context for our invitation to Dr. Carson and to our continued commitment to it.

Alma College first extended an invitation to Dr. Carson to speak in 2012. We thought then, as we think now, that his inspiring life story as a surgeon and Michigan native, his history of groundbreaking medical achievements, and his ongoing commitment through the Carson Scholars Fund to rewarding academic excellence and improving K-12 science education were all worthy of celebration. We encourage those who are unfamiliar with this part of Dr. Carson’s work to investigate it further. He has an important and compelling story to tell.

While Dr. Carson’s commitments prevented us from extending a contract to him in 2012, we were able to do so the following year. A late schedule change deferred that talk to the 2015 Honors Day event.

In the years since our invitation was first extended, Dr. Carson has become better known to many for the comments he has made on subjects outside his area of medical expertise. In part this is because he has given strong indications of his intention to run for the U.S. presidency in 2016. While such ambitions inevitably shift the focus from his research to his politics when he speaks, they are not in themselves problematic. Alma has regularly invited politicians to speak on campus, and we believe that engaging with political leaders is part of our mission to prepare graduates who lead purposefully.

In recent years Dr. Carson has frequently expressed his personal opinions in ways that disparage and insult members of our local and national community. Certain of these comments have been deeply offensive to many and are inconsistent with Alma College’s commitment to non-discrimination, tolerance and respect for human dignity. We wish to be clear that Alma College does not endorse these opinions. They are contrary to our values.

Dr. Carson’s remarks have led some to ask that we withdraw the invitation we have extended to Dr. Carson to speak. We have chosen not to do so. Alma College, first and foremost, is an educational institution that values diverse opinions. We are preparing graduates who think critically and who, when they leave Alma, will live in a global society where not everyone shares the same values and beliefs. Secondly, we believe that withdrawing our invitation would risk giving credence to ideas that are contrary to our college values. History has shown that withdrawing invitations, rather than combating ideas, frequently gives them a broader stage: it allows them to circulate without giving their speaker the responsibility of articulating and defending them, and without giving opponents the opportunity to question the claims made.

Rather than disinviting Dr. Carson, Alma College will host him as a guest speaker. In lieu of an Honors Day keynote, the campus will acknowledge the concerns we have heard by working to assure that this year’s Honors Day events include platforms to engage multiple voices in a balanced dialogue. We are in the process of evaluating ways to incorporate public civil intellectual discourse around this year’s Honors Day celebration, and as soon as these events are scheduled, we will communicate this information with the community and post it on our website.

Story published on December 12, 2014