SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Rather than having outspoken war critic Cindy Sheehan as the featured speaker at Drury University convocation, the university also has invited a military officer to join a discussion of dissent.
Planners of the event said adding Col. Michael Meese to the event in April 26 was simply part of the process of putting together the convocation, titled "Liberty and Security in a Post-9/11 World." It was not a reaction to criticism the university received for inviting Sheehan to speak, they said.
"I'm very OK with the program we've laid out. It will make it a better day," said Steve Mullins, co-chair of the convocation. "There was no arm-twisting."
Joan Collins, head of the Peace Network of the Ozarks, said the timing of adding Meese, deputy head of the social sciences department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, to the event was "curious." However, she said, it will provide a better opportunity for the audience to hear both sides.
"What (Sheehan) has to say is very important," Collins said, "and I'm sure she'd like the chance to talk to someone in the military about it."
Mullins and co-chair Regina Waters, both professors at Drury, said a few members of the board of trustees and some alumni had sent e-mails saying they didn't want Sheehan on campus, although they wouldn't identify them.
"We started hearing concerns from the start that the program was out of whack, unbalanced," Waters said.
Some messages attacked Sheehan as well.
"They say she wasn't a patriot, she hates her country and was strengthening the terrorists," Mullins said.
Because the Student Union Board had chosen Sheehan, student representatives were asked if they wanted to keep her as a speaker or retract her invitation, Waters said.
Sarah Jenkins, Student Union Board coordinator, said the students discussed the e-mails and opinions but she hasn't heard many complaints about the schedule change.
Meese is the son of Ed Meese III, the U.S. attorney general during the Reagan administration. He was contacted in September and agreed to come to the convocation, but he said he wasn't confirmed as a speaker until Jan. 26.
"I agreed to do it, recognizing that I would likely be juxtaposed from Cindy Sheehan, on the same day, even if it was not on the same platform," Meese wrote in an e-mail to the Springfield News-Leader from Iraq, where he is stationed.
University administrators could not say why it took so long to confirm adding Meese to the program.
Charles Taylor, dean of the college, said the Theme Day portion of the series has always been a work in progress.
"The process changes over time," Taylor said. "We've never had a single speaker for the day."
While Meese has never met Sheehan, he said in a telephone interview with the News-Leader from Baghdad that informed dissent is not unpatriotic.
He said there is sympathy for Sheehan, whose son died while serving in Iraq, and he's not opposed to appearing with her.
"If I can go into a combat zone," he said, "I can go on stage with Cindy Sheehan."