Vice President Mike Pence will not deliver his commencement speech at Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) as planned this Saturday, after the school replaced him with a different speaker in the wake of recent unrest.
The Milwaukee-based Christian college on Thursday announced the change two days after Pence accepted the invitation to speak at the class of 2020 commencement ceremony. Rev. Mark Jeske of St. Marcus Lutheran Church will serve as a substitute speaker.
The decision was made “after further review with careful consideration of the escalating events in Kenosha,” the WLC said in a statement. The city of Kenosha has seen three consecutive nights marked by rioting, looting, and arson, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who had a warrant for sexual assault.
In its initial announcement, the WLC said the college was honored to have the vice president address the graduates and their families.
“While serving and leading, Vice President Pence has done so with an unapologetic faith in Christ, and he advocates for the freedom of religious expression so that ministries like our churches and Wisconsin Lutheran College can flourish within a pluralistic society,” the WLC said, emphasizing that the event was not a political endorsement.
“We recognize that we all have varied ideologies and political viewpoints,” the Christian college said. “Yet, we believe it is possible within our context to leave partisan politics at the door and to celebrate America, our freedoms, Christian servant leadership, and our graduates’ immense accomplishments.”
The plan to feature Pence as a commencement speaker was met with almost immediate criticism from the WLC community. In an open letter to school administrators and the vice president, some 200 students and alumni decried the invitation, declaring it “disrespectful” and “problematic.”
“The mere invitation of a Vice President of an incredibly divisive and controversial ticket to speak in a swing state months before an election is ignorant and deceptive,” the letter read. “Controversial political figures need to stay out of our academic celebrations.”
Earlier this year, Ivanka Trump, senior White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s daughter, was invited to give a commencement address at Wichita State University Tech in Kansas. The school eventually canceled its plans to feature her, after students and professors protested the event.
“Our nation’s campuses should be bastions of free speech. Cancel culture and viewpoint discrimination are antithetical to academia,” Ivanka Trump wrote on Twitter. “Listening to one another is important now more than ever!”