Graduates ask college to rescind Graham civility prize

A group of Allegheny College graduates are calling on the institution to rescind South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Prize for Civility in Public Life, which the college awarded him in 2013.

In a letter that Dan Donahoe, ’11, sent to President James Mullen, a group of 141 alumni and current students request that “Allegheny College rescind Senator Graham’s award and any and all rights associated with it.”

Donahoe wrote the letter — with the help of Julien Gradnigo, ’10, and Brittany Daniels, ’12 — after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding allegations of sexual assault by then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 27.

Citing Graham’s behavior surrounding the hearing, the letter argues Graham does not uphold the values celebrated by the Civility Prize.

“Let me tell you, my Democratic friends, if this is the new norm, you better watch out for your nominees,” Graham said in an interview the day of the hearing.

The letter argues that statement, along with a number of other statements and behaviors regarding the hearing, contradicts the goals of the college’s prize.

“In these instances, Senator Graham abandoned all sense of decency, opting instead for one of the least civil paths available to a politician of his stature,” the letter reads in part. “When he accepted the National Prize for Civility in Public Life in 2013, Senator Graham spoke as if he were incapable of being anything but civil,” but “did the exact opposite” on Sept. 27 of goals he mentioned during his acceptance speech.

Donahoe originally posted the letter on Facebook, where 66 people have shared it since Oct. 1, and asked classmates and other alumni for comments and revisions. He said few people have reached out to him with suggestions on how to improve the letter.

Donahoe said he and Mullen have already had a telephone conversation regarding Graham’s prize.

“I know from the phone call that he had already seen the letter (before I sent it to him),” Donahoe said.

The conversation, according to Donahoe, had much to do about how the college should see the Civility Prize after Mullen’s retirement in June 2019.

“He was very proud we were doing something constructive and civil and in the vein of what the award is all about,” Donahoe said. “It was a very constructive conversation.”

Mullen said that, while rescinding Graham’s prize is unlikely, he understands the frustration with the senator’s Sept. 17 comments.

“I believe that to set a precedent of rescinding the Prize in a case such as this could lead us down a very slippery slope. No person who has entered the political arena is without a  moment of incivility — each of our recipients would admit to that. Indeed, those who are students of political history could look at many of our recipients and remember moments that they may have crossed a line — moments that the recipients even regret,” Mullen wrote in an email to The Campus. “But, as you know, our Prize is not focused on identifying incivility. What we honor is the moment of civility that each gave us. That is what we honored when we presented the Prize to Senators Feinstein and Graham.”

Allegheny established its annual Prize for Civility in Public Life in 2011, aiming to “highlight and reinforce the unheralded public figures who advance civility,” according to the prize’s webpage. Since its inception, it has been awarded annually to at least two people, typically from different political backgrounds.

Mullen reiterated the importance of the Civility Prize after the Wednesday, Oct. 24, bomb scares at the homes of Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Time Warner Center, home to CNN’s New York bureau.

“The importance of civility in our public discourse was evidenced again yesterday (Oct. 24) as we watched very disturbing and dangerous events unfold in New York and Washington,” Mullen said. “It is critical that we as a nation end the demonization of those with whom we disagree and find a way to engage in respectful and civil public discourse about important and challenging issues.”

Donahoe said that, while he believes Graham’s actions were not deserving of the prize, he did not intend this letter as a criticism of the senator’s political beliefs.

“One of the key things we’re trying to drive home is this is not a rebuke of Sen. Graham’s politics, nor is it a comment on Judge Kavanaugh’s innocence or guilt,” Donahoe said. “If you’re getting an award for civility, you should represent that. Sen. Graham had an opportunity to do just that during the hearings, and he really did the opposite.”

Most recently, the Prize was awarded to Texas Reps. Will Hurd and Beto O’Rourke for broadcasting their discussions during a lengthy road trip to the District of Columbia after winter weather forced the cancellation of their flights.