Student gov flip-flops on controversial grad speaker

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By Alyssa Foley

The University of St. Thomas is graduating 950 students on Saturday, but the person sending them off into the world is mired in controversy.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is UST’s 2017 commencement speaker. He has been the archbishop of New York since 2009, but previously he was archbishop of Milwaukee, Wisconson. It is Dolan’s actions as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Milwaukee during major pedophile priest scandals that make him a controversial figure.

Briefly, some of the controversy highlights include:

  • Milwaukee was home to notorious priest pedophiles, including Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who a church therapist assessed as having molested up to 200 boys during his 25 years as head of St. John’s School for the Deaf.
  • Rather than investigate priests accused of sexual molestation, the Milwaukee archdiocese reassigned priests to other churches.
  • The Milwaukee archdiocese confirmed that Dolan approved $20,000 payoffs to abusive priests in 2003 to persuade them to leave the church.
  • In a 2007 letter to the Vatican, Dolan requested to move about $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the church’s assets from victims who demanded compensation. His request was promptly approved. The archdiocese filed bankruptcy in 2011.

UST 2017 graduate Christina Cochran started a petition in April to remove Dolan as the graduation speaker, it has gained 139 signatures before commencement.

“A commencement speaker should lend hope and inspire a generation moving forward,” writes Cochran, “Cardinal Dolan’s actions depicted in the news filled me and my peers with dismay and deep sadness, not hope.”

Outgoing university President Robert Ivany has stated that he does not believe the critical view of the protesting seniors reflects the general campus opinion.

A similar petition to remove Cardinal Dolan as a graduation speaker at De Moyne College’s 2015 commencement gained over 600 signatures but was also unsuccessful. De Moyne College is a Catholic university in upstate New York.

Student gov supports protestors…

At the UST Student Government Association meeting on Tuesday, April 25, student senators approved a resolution 13-4 for Cardinal Dolan to “be reviewed and considered for removal” as the graduation speaker, citing concerns expressed by the 2017 graduating class.

“I believe we need a lot more backing than just a petition to try to get him moved out of there,” said UST 2017 graduate Victoria Villareal, who asked the student government officers for their support.

“This isn’t a jury, we’re not trying to decide whether or not he’s guilty or not. This is, do we want someone who has been shrouded with this type of accusations to be our 2017 commencement speaker? Personally, I don’t want anyone who has any ties to covering up anything in any way as our commencement speaker,” said Vice President Hunter Byrne at the meeting, “I would rather just have Dr. Ivany himself be our commencement speaker.”

In the initial roll call, five student representatives abstained from voting. President Diego Lagos called them out for it, “Look, y’all were voted for a reason…Congratulations, you just like, ate a taco and then left.”

One abstaining senator didn’t believe the articles about Dolan they found online, calling it “fake news” while another senator dismissed the controversy as mere allegations. Another senator pointed out that every cardinal in the world is a sinner and the church is about forgiveness. After more discussion and amendments, a second vote was taken and the resolution was approved 13-4.

A student government advisor praised Cardinal Dolan as being “heralded” as a “distinguished” church leader for his “great works” adding that “I would just probably be careful impugning a cardinal that has a very distinguished record.”

…And then backtracks

Before Cochran met with the university president, student government President Lagos vetoed the resolution he pushed his officers to pass.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with it,” Lagos explained at the following May 2 student government meeting, noting that he received “advice” from the student government advisors that influenced his veto decision.

A diluted version of the resolution was reintroduced at the May 2 student government meeting. This time, three student representatives firmly voiced their continued support of the protesting students, the other 13 students despondently voted “nay” in voices that sounded like defeat. It was a complete vote-flip from just a week before.

Some of the nay-sayers were not happy with the new version, preferring the stronger resolution passed the week before. Others noted that they don’t want any more media attention, an article about the protest had been published in the Houston Chronicle that week. Others stated that any resolution they pass is useless because the university administration will not listen and they did not wish to “fly in the face of authority.”


Cardinal Dolan will present the keynote address at the 2017 University of St. Thomas Commencement at 10 am on Saturday, May 20 at NRG Arena, 1 NRG Park.


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