Selection of lawmaker as grad speaker stirs criticism

Associated Press

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. -- St. John's University chose Rep. Mark Kennedy to deliver the address at its commencement next month, drawing criticism from some faculty members because Kennedy is running for election in the area this year.

Kennedy, who graduated from St. John's in 1978, expects to run for re-election in the new 6th District, which stretches across the northern Twin Cities suburbs and up to Collegeville and St. Cloud.

The school invited Kennedy to speak at the May 12 ceremony before the redistricting decision that put one-term congressman in the district.

"We wanted to invite him because he's a St. John's graduate, for one thing," said Michael Hemmesch, St. John's director of communications. "The college's mission also recognizes public service to be a high priority, and we often invite people in public service to deliver the commencement address."


But several political science professors said they oppose the invitation.

"It's a mistake for the university to get involved in a partisan contest," said Bob Weber, a political science professor. "It would've been better had they not invited him, or if they had invited him in a non-election year."

Kennedy may face 6th District incumbent Rep. Bill Luther, if Luther decides to stay in the district.

Kennedy is a Republican and Luther is a Democrat.

In a letter to St. John's President Dietrich Reinhart and to the school newspaper, Luther said he "wholeheartedly supports" the university's decision to invite Kennedy.

"SJU alumni and students should be proud of Mark's service in Congress. I know Mark is proud to be a graduate of SJU," Luther said in the letter.

Luther hopes to visit the campuses of St. John's and St. Ben's in the near future to address students and faculty, said Bob Decheine, Luther's chief of staff.

Hemmesch said the college had no plans to invite Luther to speak in the short time remaining during this school year.

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