WASHINGTON – Wisconsin Lutheran College on Thursday said it is replacing Vice President Mike Pence as Saturday's commencement speaker because of "escalating events" in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Even before the shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday by Wisconsin police, the school's choice of Pence drew complaints from some students and alumni who said it would politicize the ceremony that falls two months before election day.
In a statement Thursday, the school said that after "further review with careful consideration of the escalating events in Kenosha" the board and administration jointly decided to have the Rev. Mark Jeske of St. Marcus Lutheran Church speak instead.
Pence spokesman Devin O'Malley said the vice president "understands and supports" the school's "decision to prioritize the safety and well-being of their students."
Pence "wishes the students well as they celebrate the accomplishment of graduating from college and as they embark on their next journey," O'Malley said in a statement.
Pence mentioned Wisconsin in his speech to the Republican National Convention Wednesday in which he told voters they would "not be safe in Joe Biden’s America."
"The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha," Pence said. "We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color."
The Biden campaign pushed back Thursday.
“With all due respect Mr. Vice President, that violence is happening right now in Donald Trump’s America,” Biden campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders said on a call with reporters. “You own this.”
Wisconsin Luther College had initially defended the decision to invite Pence, saying it was not an endorsement of a political party and “cannot” be viewed as a political event.
“We believe it is possible within our context to leave partisan politics at the door and to celebrate America, our freedoms, Christian servant leadership and our graduates' immense accomplishments,” the statement said.
But more than 100 students and alumni signed an online open letter calling the decision “blatantly inappropriate.”
“The mere invitation of a vice president of an incredibly divisive and controversial ticket to speak in a swing state months before an election is ignorant and deceptive,” the letter reads. “WLC cannot reasonably suggest that this is not an endorsement of any political party or candidate(s).”
Contributing: Elliot Hughes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wisconsin Luther college replace Pence as commencement speaker