Our View – Tom Latham

by Editors

Simpson’s graduating seniors will gather in Cowles Fieldhouse for commencement exercises on May 20, and the speaker? Tom Latham.

Latham is Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District representative that includes Warren County and 27 other northern Iowa counties.

This choice for commencement speaker came as a surprise to many at Simpson. Latham never graduated from college, but attended Wartburg and Iowa State.

His only connection to Simpson is that he had two children graduate from here, one in 1992 and another in 1999.

While Latham does have this Simpson connection, the bigger issue is whether the college should bring someone to campus with controversial political views as a commencement speaker.

According to www.issues2000.org, Latham voted this way on some key issues:

– On two separate occasions, April of 2000 and October of 2003, he voted yes on banning partial-birth abortions and banning partial-birth abortions except to save the mother’s life.

– In December of 2005, he voted yes on making the Patriot Act permanent.

– In September of 2004, he voted yes on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

Right away, this will turn off some listeners at graduation. But whether you are a Democrat or Republican, a speaker with opposite political views to your own, is going to make you catch up on some sleep during that 10 to 15 minute graduation speech.

Really, it could have been Tom Harkin, and that would have made some graduating seniors upset over that selection. But that is why politicians shouldn’t be giving that speech when you are making the jump from little Simpson College into the big world.

A speaker who has controversial views should be left for a Forum event, not a graduation speaker. A graduation speaker should appeal to everyone, not just a portion of the audience. When you bring political views into the mix, let the problems begin.

It not only turns off some students who are becoming alums that may or may not give money, but also parents, grandparents and other current Simpson alums who are currently giving to the college.

In the future, graduation speakers should be someone that can appeal to the audience as a whole – a person from the academic world, former graduates who run a very successful business or have been successful in the world with a story to tell – not politicians.

Someone like Academic Dean Bruce Haddox would have been a great speaker at graduation because he’s leaving Simpson, and going into the world away from Indianola. There are plenty of quality speakers just on our campus. We didn’t have to look that far.

Also in the future, more Simpson seniors should have a say in the graduation speaker. Very few people had a voice in the selection process and to have a speaker that more will want to listen to, it needs to be more of a communal effort.

President John Byrd makes the choice for who will speak at graduation. He receives input from some students, faculty and staff, and takes this choice to the faculty and board of trustees. The board of trustees makes the final decision.

Without more seniors having a voice in the process, this kind of result will probably happen again in the future.

But, this year, those unhappy with the choice will have to settle for Latham. There isn’t much that can be this now, except letting the administration know not to invite politicians to speak in the future.