Founders Day is a tradition at Mercer University, but this years events will be a little different due to some controversy over the guest speaker.
In addition to speaking at the traditional event on Wednesday morning, Mercer alumnus Erick Erickson also will be featured during an afternoon question-and-answer segment. The afternoon session, titled Civility in Politics, derived from opposition to Ericksons scheduled appearance at the Founders Day celebration earlier in the day. Founders Day generally includes a campuswide service, which honors Mercers traditions and history.
Erickson -- a Fox News political contributor, editor of RedState.com and former Macon councilman -- has become known not only for his right-wing viewpoints but also for his blunt opinions. Its those outspoken ideas that had some students and faculty on edge.
Some students expressed their frustration on Facebook, and an opinion piece opposing Ericksons appearance was published in the student newspaper. A group of faculty and students gathered to develop solutions to the controversial choice of speaker.
There was a group of faculty immediately concerned with his invitation to this specific event because its an event meant to celebrate Mercers heritage, founded on ideas of inclusivity, social justice, said Natalie Bourdon, assistant professor of women and gender studies. We did not find Erick Erickson was a good representative or embodies those values that should be celebrated at our Founders Day event.
Some suggested a boycott, but our purpose was not to censor or limit Ericksons ability or invitation to come speak at Mercer, Bourdon said.
So the group recommended the university hold an additional event, during which Erickson could answer questions from attendees, Bourdon said. Both Erickson and the Student Government Association, which hosts the event, agreed.
We felt that (a question-and-answer session) would be most conducive to people learning from Mr. Erickson and getting their questions answered, said Mollie Davis, president of the Student Government Association.
Erickson said he was happy to participate in both the morning event and the question-and-answer segment. As far as the opposition to his appearance, Erickson said someone had mentioned that to him, and theyre as entitled to their opinions as I am to mine, he said.
I am just appreciative that the students thought of me, he said. I became a writer at Mercer, so Im happy to give back. I was very flattered the students asked me.
Erickson said the event is about the university, so he plans to speak about Mercer and the role it has played in his life.
During the second event, attendees will have the opportunity to ask Erickson questions. It seems the opposition mainly centered around Ericksons controversial statements on certain topics and the way he sometimes expresses himself, Davis said. Neither event is open to the public.
Wed like to know why he has done that and learn more about him and how he stands on things, Davis said. A question-and-answer session should provide that opportunity, she said.
Each year, the SGA picks a speaker and makes its suggestion to the university president. Erickson fits the criteria. He is a successful Mercer graduate, and he also was active in student government, Davis said. Past Founders Day speakers include M. Yvette Miller, judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, in 2012 and Sam Oni, the first black student to enroll at Mercer, and Donald Baxter, Onis white roommate, in 2011.
We did not consider (Ericksons) political positions when we chose him, Davis said. We chose him because of his success in his profession and his place among national politics.
The selection has generated a buzz around campus, but thats not necessarily a bad thing, Provost Scott Davis said.
If you cant discuss controversial views on a college campus, where can you? he said, adding that the question-and-answer event will give students a good opportunity to engage in dialogue. I think thats part of the educational process. They can see a wide array of views.
And, while they initially opposed the the Founders Day speaker choice, some critics are satisfied with the additional event.
I am certainly pleased to see there is going to be an alternative venue, where we can have a more productive dialogue, Bourdon said.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.