Morehouse College faculty votes to give Biden honorary doctorate in split vote

Morehouse College faculty voted on Thursday to confer an honorary doctorate on Joe Biden during its upcoming graduation ceremony on Sunday, for which he plans to deliver the commencement address.

The vote to confer the honorary doctorate was a 50-38 decision, with about a dozen faculty members abstaining ahead of the planned visit, which has prompted protests from some students, faculty and alumni over the president’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Though the decision to host Biden as speaker came in September, it wasn’t until last month that Morehouse announced plans for Biden to both serve as commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree from the historically Black college in Atlanta, in the key swing state of Georgia.

Related: Morehouse students criticize Biden as commencement speaker: ‘A political pawn to get Black votes’

Biden, who is campaigning to win a second term in the White House, is also trying to boost fragile support among voters of color and young voters, two key parts of the coalition that helped him get elected.

Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine — Georgia released a statement last month shortly after the confirmation Biden would appear was made.

“More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children,” the statement said. “More than 77,000 have been injured. Every hospital and university in Gaza has been destroyed. None of this would have been possible without the support and sponsorship of the Biden Administration. Any college or university that gives its commencement stage to President Biden in this moment is endorsing genocide.”

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) and himself a Morehouse graduate, called on the college to rescind the invitation.

Mitchell said last month: “Although I completely understand why Morehouse would normally want the President of the United States to speak at our commencement, our institution would never welcome any and every president to speak. George W Bush would not have been welcome at the height of the Iraq war or in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Donald Trump would not have been welcome at any time.”

Like others, Mitchell specifically referenced Biden’s actions in Gaza as a reason to rescind the invitation.

“Because the White House still refuses to end our government’s military, financial and diplomatic support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s genocide in Gaza, President Biden should not speak at Morehouse’s commencement,” he wrote.

Ahead of the commencement address, Steve Benjamin, head of the White House Office of Public Engagement, met with Morehouse faculty and students for a reported two hours. Some students expressed concern that Biden would use the opportunity to make a campaign speech, instead of focusing on their graduation.

Despite the faculty’s decision to vote in favor of Biden receiving the honorary degree, the school and White House are preparing for students to protest at the graduation ceremony. Thomas has said that he will “cancel or discontinue the commencement services on the spot” if protests were to grow to a point that people were removed from the commencement in zip ties. In a statement last week, he called for protests to remain non-disruptive.

“As we approach our upcoming commencement exercises, I want to emphasize that Morehouse College fully supports peaceful and non-disruptive acts of solidarity that do not interrupt the flow of the honored celebration,” Morehouse’s president, David A Thomas, wrote in statement last week.

“We recognize that wearable accessories of solidarity, such as a stole, cap decor, or collar pin, can be powerful symbols of support for important causes. However, it is essential that we maintain a spirit of peace, respect, and joy during this momentous occasion for the resilient Class of 2024 and their loved ones. We do not want any further attention to be diverted from their long-awaited day of celebration.”


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