INDIANAPOLIS – When John Roberts' niece graduates in May from Butler University this May, the Supreme Court chief justice may attend as a relative — but he has been deemed too controversial to take the stage as commencement speaker.
University faculty members scuttled a student-led drive to invite Roberts to speak at the May 8 ceremony, a decision that has disappointed the students and some conservatives on the Indianapolis campus.
"We try to steer clear of political divides if possible," Butler Faculty Senate President Jeanne VanTyle told the Indianapolis Star.
VanTyle says the school has made only two exceptions to its no-politicians rule in three decades: once for Democrat Evan Bayh when he was governor and last year for Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.
"Last year, I watched half of the audience cheer and half of the audience frown," VanTyle told the Indianapolis Star. "That's not what someone's commencement ought to be."
But members of the class of 2010 apparently don't agree and began working toward nominating Roberts at the start of the school year.
Senior Class President Lindsay Rump told the Indianapolis Star that Roberts' niece, Katherine Godbey, even gave permission to use her name when reaching out to Roberts' office, but the faculty derailed the effort, noting that even if Roberts weren't a political figure, he would be ineligible because the university would have to confer on him an honorary degree, which takes several years.
Rump said she wonders if Roberts' conservative views were the real reason behind the rejection.
"I can only speculate that a more conservative viewpoint did not line up well with the university's liberal arts education," Rump told the Indianapolis Star.
Rump, who is an intern for the Indiana Statehouse House Democrats, said she doesn't agree with Roberts politically but was eager to hear from him.
"He is a man that has done everything right as far as his career goes," she told the Star. "It would be great to learn from him."
But on May 8, the class of 2010 will instead be learning from the Rev. Sharon Watkins, a 1975 Butler alumna. Watkins is president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and was nominated four years ago, VanTyle told the Star.
*The Associated Press contributed to this report.