Biden to speak at Morehouse College commencement, sparking faculty concerns

WASHINGTON — Morehouse College is set to announce that President Joe Biden will deliver its commencement address on May 19, but some faculty members have raised concerns about the decision, according to two people familiar with the matter and an email to faculty members reviewed by NBC News.

“This week, I received an inquiry from concerned faculty about rumors they were hearing about President Biden’s selection as the 2024 Commencement speaker,” Kendrick Brown, Morehouse College’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, wrote in the email to faculty members Friday.

Kendrick said he would convene a virtual meeting Thursday “to extend an opportunity for faculty with different perspectives on the selection of our Commencement speaker to ask questions and make comments.” He said students would also engage with college President avid Thomas.

Kendrick did not respond to a request for further comment, and a spokesperson for Morehouse declined to offer more details.

A Morehouse faculty member told NBC News administrators are believed to be concerned that faculty members will join students in protest of Biden during the ceremony.

The pushback against leadership’s decision comes amid increasing protests on college campuses over Biden’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The protests since the war began in October have already forced Biden, and other top administration officials, to dramatically scale back appearances at college campuses.

Commencement season is typically a time when presidents reach young audiences, and it offers them opportunities to deliver keynote addresses highlighting their accomplishments and the future. In an election year, commencement speeches can carry particular significance.

But Biden’s addresses this year are poised to be fraught, largely because of growing protests over his refusal to call for a permanent, immediate cease-fire in Gaza without conditions. Biden is struggling with younger voters, and recent polling also indicates many Black voters are not enthusiastic about supporting his candidacy.

Speaking at a historically Black college would provide an “opportunity” for Biden, according to the person familiar with the controversy.

The White House declined to comment.

israeli hamas conflict columbia university protest palestinian (Kena Betancur / AFP - Getty Images)

israeli hamas conflict columbia university protest palestinian (Kena Betancur / AFP – Getty Images)

Brown wrote in his email that Morehouse first extended its invitation to Biden in September and that the college would announce him as its speaker early this week.

And, he wrote, “the College does not plan to rescind its accepted invitation to President Biden.” The meeting Thursday “is a forum for discussion and to respond to questions about the invitation that was extended and accepted,” he wrote.

Morehouse, like other colleges, has faced students speaking out about the war in Gaza. In February, the Maroon Tiger — Morehouse’s student publication — reported that a student pulled an Israeli flag down from the chapel and was detained by campus police.

“Students are not in favor of the way in which the United States has handled this situation, and are surely not in favor of the trauma and the pain and the genocide that the Palestinian people are going through — but also that innocent civilians and Israel are going through as well,” Calvin Bell, a Morehouse College student said in February, after the flag incident.

A source familiar with the commencement planning told NBC News: “It’s not been a secret nationwide, if not globally, that there are a lot of concerns … about how the war has been handled and how America and the presidency has been in the war. We’ve heard conversations like that. There’s also plenty of people who are excited to have a sitting president as their commencement speaker.”


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