Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-conservative-pundit, has accumulated legions of right-leaning fans since he stumped at the National Prayer Breakfast in February and, later, began appearing on Fox News Channel. But after Carson delivered widely condemned comments regarding gay people on Fox this week, a group of students at Johns Hopkins, where Carson has worked since 1977, has successfully stopped him from speaking at the May commencement ceremony of the university's medical school. Carson announced on MSNBC Friday afternoon that he would refrain from speaking because he thought the ceremony should be devoted to students, and not the controversy swirling around him:
Carson's withdrawal comes days after he appeared on Sean Hannity's eponymous Fox News show Wednesday night:
Did you catch that? Here's what he said (bolding ours): "My thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."
Understandably, this prompted at least one student club at John Hopkins's medical school to question whether Carson is an appropriate avatar for their commencement ceremonies. Their petition to remove Carson from the ceremony reads, in part:
At the time of his nomination, Dr. Carson was known to most of us as a world-class neurosurgeon and passionate advocate for education. Many of us had read his books and looked up to him as a role model in our careers.
Since then, however, several public events have cast serious doubt on the appropriateness of having Dr. Carson speak at our graduation.
After listing a series of incidents — beginning with Carson's rejection of evolutionary theory on the grounds that it implies a total rejection of "moral codes" — the pitch continues:
We retain the highest respect for Dr. Carson's achievements and value his right to publicly voice political views. Nevertheless, we feel that these expressed values are incongruous with the values of Johns Hopkins and deeply offensive to a large proportion our student body.
As a result, we believe he is an inappropriate choice of speaker at a ceremony intended to celebrate the achievements of our class. We hope the administration of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine will select an alternative speaker that better represents the values of our student body and of our great University.
It's an awkward situation, even after Carson's decision to withdraw from speaking duties. With apologies to Sanjay Gupta, Carson is likely the most high-profile neurosurgeon of the moment, but continues to receive attention not for his medical accomplishments — such as operating on conjoined twins — but his nascent, gaffe-prone political career. (During his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in mid-March, Carson suggested that he was considering a run for political office.) To that end, Carson might as well have dropped out because he's pretty busy, doing hits on cable television with a regularity usually seen by political operatives and seasoned talking heads. With that kind of schedule, who has time to write an uplifting speech — or even deliver one?
Update, 4:00 PM: Johns Hopkins University, in a statement to the Talking Points Memo, is defending its decision to invite Ben Carson to speak at the May commencement ceremony of its medical school:
"Dr. Carson is a distinguished Johns Hopkins surgeon and scientist chosen to speak at the School of Medicine diploma ceremony because of his extraordinary accomplishments as a neurosurgeon and his many contributions as an advocate for education and children," Kim Hoppe, director of communications for the JHU School of Medicine, said in an e-mail. "His personal views are just that, his own. When he speaks about them, he is not speaking on behalf of Johns Hopkins."
The school's statement does not specify whether Carson will in fact speak at the ceremony. We've emailed the directory of communications and will update if we hear back.