Petition Closed
Petitioning President of Benedictine College Steve Minnis

President Minnis of Benedictine College: Remove U.S. Representative Paul Ryan as Commencement Speaker.

Paul Ryan is an inappropriate speaker at a Catholic college.

Letter to
President of Benedictine College Steve Minnis
Paul Ryan the Wrong Choice for Benedictine Commencement
Dear President Minnis,
We are alumni and friends of Benedictine College who believe that the selection of Paul Ryan as commencement speaker sends the wrong message because Ryan’s politics are so far out of line with Catholic teaching. You said “Paul Ryan is a great family man” but his policies are very harmful to millions of other American families.
Ryan’s budget will seriously reduce the significant and necessary role played by the government in the lives of Americans in need. On April 17, 2012 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said that Ryan’s budget “fails to meet the moral criteria” of protecting the poor. On March 18, 2013 the U.S. bishops said “We offer the following timeless moral criteria to guide difficult budgetary choices:
1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects ‘the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.”
Ryan has supported tax cuts for the wealthy and increased military spending while holding the rest of the budget the same. Numerous independent analyses have concluded that his budget plans leave less for social programs.
Ryan has claimed for years that his philosophy is based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand who actually believed that being unselfish and helping others was immoral. It was only moral to be selfish. Throughout her career Rand was openly hostile to religion and the needy. In her novel, Atlas Shrugged, Rand divided society into “makers and takers.” Millionaire businessmen were the heroes and the poor were parasites. Rand strongly opposed government programs to help the poor. In 2011 Ryan said “We’re getting toward a society where we have a net majority of takers versus makers” explicitly echoing Rand’s words. Ryan even requires his staff to read Atlas Shrugged and gave the book as Christmas gifts. Imagine a Catholic giving a book for Christmas that was written purposefully against religion.
While strongly opposing government involvement in society Ryan and Rand both personally benefited from government programs. Rand argued strenuously against Social Security but applied for and received her monthly checks until she died. After Ryan’s father died Ryan’s mother received money from the Social Security Survivor Benefits Program until Ryan was 18. His Social Security benefits were placed in savings to help finance his college education. Yet Ryan now wants to weaken Social Security. He used government student loans to finance college but now he wants to make it more difficult for students to qualify for Pell grants which would force more students into loans. And Ryan has opposed maintaining the current 3.4 percent student loan interest rate; he wants to double the student loan rate to 6.8 percent.
Congressman Ryan has never held a full-time job in the private sector. His only work experience consisted of several part-time jobs as a teen. Ryan was a Congressional staffer before entering Congress at age 28. He currently earns $174,000 a year. After 5 years Ryan qualified for a lifetime government pension that he can get at age 50. And Ryan will also receive Social Security benefits at retirement. The government pays a large amount of the health care insurance costs for Ryan’s family. And even though Ryan called the stimulus bill to fight the recession a “wasteful spending spree” he lobbied for millions of Federal stimulus dollars for his state.
President Minnis, the Ryan budget proposes cuts in several government programs that directly affect your students. According to the Benedictine College website, 100% of the students receive grants with Federal Pell grants ranging from $555 to $5550, depending on income. Seventy-three percent of students take out loans. The average loan is $5,801 and the primary source of loans is the Federal Student Loan Program. Your college receives hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from the Federal government yet you invite a speaker who wants to seriously reduce the programs from which the majority of Benedictine College students benefit and from which Paul Ryan personally benefitted.
Actually, what person in the United States hasn’t benefited from government programs from Head Start to student loans to Medicare and Social Security? Ryan is proposing cuts to Medicare even though he was thankful for how it helped his grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. The problems of the poor today are too large for individuals or private institutions to handle. The national community through the government must play a major role and we all must pay our fair share. Catholic Charities in 2010 received $2.9 billion from the federal government, 62 percent of its entire budget, and certainly could have used more either from individuals or government.
We strongly believe that the selection of Ryan sends the wrong message to Benedictine College students and to the Atchison community. A speaker at Benedictine’s commencement should not be so wholly in opposition to the teachings of Saint Benedict. From chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict “First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself… You must relieve the lot of the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick.”
We believe that a more appropriate speaker should be chosen. We know that, if asked, there are many people who will make recommendations. An excellent alternative was recently recommended by a Benedictine alumna in The Circuit, the college newspaper. Sister Simone Campbell represents a Catholic perspective that seems to be unwelcome at Benedictine College. Her passionate fight for social justice and her organization of Nuns on the Bus was a powerful response to Ryan’s budget and its cruel cuts in many social programs. Sister Simone Campbell, and others like her who adhere to the bishops’ moral criteria and the Rule of Benedict, would be a more suitable Benedictine commencement speaker than Representative Ryan.
Concerned alumni and friends of Atchison Benedictines