Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Jon Meachem has been disinvited from headlining a major event at Samford University after vocal students complained at the last minute that he didn't live up the school's religious standards.
Samford's Student Government Association voted for a resolution October 26 demanding that the university cancel Meachem's featured speech at its presidential inauguration ceremony. The next day, President Beck A. Taylor -- who's being inaugurated -- made the awkward announcement that Meachem's talk had been pulled just eight days before the event.
Based on reporting at Baptist News Global, Taylor didn't seem all that enthusiastic about the cancellation.
"President Taylor wrote to the university community Oct. 27 that due to objections, including from 'elements of Samford's Student Government Association (SGA),' Meacham will be rescheduled for a later date, "at a more appropriate time to an event not so closely connected to the symbolism of the inauguration.'"
The "elements" of the SGA referenced by Taylor turned out to be the SGA Senate itself, which expedited and passed a resolution Tuesday night, reported the Samford Crimson, the student newspaper.
Here's what it said:
"The student body of Samford University petitions that the speaker at the presidential inauguration be a speaker that does not reject Biblical principles."
That was reference to an online petition demanding Meachem's cancellation that a student reportedly had started at Change.org. Its complaint: that Meachem had spoken at a fundraising luncheon earlier this month for Planned Parenthood of South Texas, the Crimson reported.
It added that the students stated they didn't object to the planned content of Meachem's speech, only to his past association with Planned Parenthood. The paper cited the website at Change.org:
"Although his plan for this lecture is focused more on social injustices, the problem lies within the beliefs and previous engagements of Mr. Meacham," (the website) explains. "Jon Meacham is significantly involved with the Planned Parenthood organization. He has spoken at their fundraising events, his book is used for the Planned Parenthood fundraiser, and overall, his beliefs and core values do not align with those of Samford University, as it is a Southern Baptist institution. Removing Meacham as an inaugural speaker would "protect the core values and beliefs of Samford University,"
Yes, that was from the students, not the administration. In a bizarre role reversal, the students expressed strident right-wing themes, while both the Baptist news website and the administration pushed back a bit.
The Baptist site suggested that Meachem was not at Planned Parenthood to give a pro-choice speech: "Published reports of the event do not quote him speaking specifically about abortion but instead about the history of division in the nation and how that compares to today. He also spoke at the same event in 2019."
It also quoted a now-removed passage on the university's website which had promoted Meachem as "a skilled orator with a depth of knowledge about politics, religion and current affairs (who would bring) historical context to the issues and events impacting our daily lives."
And the website didn't portend a radical speech: "(Meachem's) lecture will incorporate themes from The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, a #1 New York Times bestseller, which examines the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in U.S. history when hope overcame division and fear."
Just as eye-popping was the email that had been sent to the Samford community, as quoted by the Crimson:
"Although I am disappointed by the narrative that has combined important conversations about pro-life issues and Mr. Meacham's planned appearance at Samford, it is vitally important to me that next week's events unify and draw our community together to celebrate the history and future of Samford University, a place we love and for which we all care deeply," Taylor said in his email.
And the university website says this:
"Samford University's lecture featuring Jon Meacham has been postponed and will be rescheduled. Mr. Meacham, who is a noted historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer, has been invited to our campus to highlight his work in analyzing the current state of civility and discourse in our country. We look forward to hosting him at a later date."
It will be interesting to see if the student body wants to cancel that one as well.