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Law School graduation speaker criticized by students for stances

Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 18, 2011

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misidentified U.S. Sen. Rob Portman's previous career experience.

For the second time this semester, the University’s selection of a commencement speaker has created a furor on campus.

Hundreds of Law School students have expressed their opposition to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R–Ohio) as the Law School’s graduation ceremony speaker on May 7. The students have voiced their opinions to the school’s administration through letters and meetings throughout the past week and have communicated their disappointment with the choice primarily because of Portman’s record of voting against LGBT rights.

Despite the students’ concerns, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Portman, a Law School alum, will still be speaking at the Senior Day ceremony.

Third-year Law student Sarah St. Vincent is among the students who have vocally opposed the selection of Portman. According to a press release sent out yesterday by St. Vincent, 298 Law students are voicing their dismay on the issue through a petition. This number includes about one-third of graduating Law students, the press release states.

“Many of us are opposed (to Portman speaking) because LGBT rights are something that we really value,” St. Vincent said in an interview. “For some people, that’s something that affects them very personally. For those of us who aren’t LGBT, it’s an issue of respect for our classmates and their rights as human beings.”

During his time in office, Portman has voted for legislation that would prevent same-sex marriages from being legally recognized.

St. Vincent said students have authored several letters informing administrators of their disapproval, including two letters to Law School Dean Evan Caminker — one from a group of third-year Law students and another from a group of first and second-year students. Students have also sent a letter to Portman requesting he withdraw as speaker, St. Vincent said.

Fitzgerald said Caminker is taking the students’ concerns seriously and has met with a number of them to better understand their complaints. However, Fitzgerald said Caminker is moving ahead with plans to have Portman deliver the Law School graduation address.

Caminker e-mailed members of the Law School community on April 14 concerning the issue and acknowledged the controversy the Senior Day speaker choice has caused.

"All the communication surrounding this issue has been thoughtful, and I respect our students’ conviction and outreach," he wrote. "I truly regret that this issue has caused members of our community distress in anticipation of what should be a celebratory day."

However, Caminker defended the Law School's decision to invite Portman to speak at the school's graduation ceremony.

"The Law School has a tradition of inviting commencement speakers with a range of backgrounds and accomplishments, including leaders in government, public service and private enterprise," he wrote. "We seek speakers who have achieved success and accomplishment in their professional careers, rather than speakers whose views are representative of all or a majority of the students at the Law School."

In his e-mail, Caminker also reaffirmed the school's support of the LGBT community and wrote that preventing Portman from speaking at the ceremony would oppose the University's goal of facilitating a discourse on campus that includes a variety of opinions.

"We are deeply invested in the principle of diversity where a wide spectrum of perspectives is included," Caminker wrote. "The Law School remains steadfast in its commitment to create a supportive environment for our LGBT community, and also to create an educational environment in which diverse viewpoints can be represented. Anything less would undermine the Law School’s core values."