Jon Meacham is a biographer who has tackled many prominent people as his subjects, including Andrew Jackson (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize), Thomas Jefferson and George H. W. Bush. He was invited to speak at Samford University in a series of events to celebrate the inauguration of Beck Taylor as president. But Taylor withdrew the invitation because Meacham has spoken at some fundraising events for Planned Parenthood.
More than 1,000 people signed a petition calling for the invitation to be withdrawn. The petition said that Meacham’s “beliefs and core values do not align with those of Samford University, as it is a Southern Baptist institution. Mr. Meacham is involved with raising money in support of an organization that does not value life in the same way the Christian faith does. As Samford is the top-ranked Christian University in Alabama, the invitation for Mr. Meacham to speak is not only disappointing, but alarming for the future of Samford.”
Taylor wrote to Samford students and faculty members to explain his decision. Taylor noted “the vital importance of free expression and civil discourse in an academic community like Samford.” But, he said, “It has come to our attention that Mr. Meacham has previously spoken at a Planned Parenthood chapter event. Some in our community have assumed erroneously that Samford’s invitation by extension endorses any perspectives or viewpoints Mr. Meacham may have about the sanctity of life and abortion rights. I can assure you that no such connection should be inferred. Mr. Meacham is not planning to discuss these issues in his remarks. Although I am disappointed by the narrative that has combined important conversations about pro-life issues and Mr. Meacham’s planned appearance at Samford, it is vitally important to me that next week’s events unify and draw our community together to celebrate the history and future of Samford University, a place we love and for which we all care deeply. Unexpectedly, Mr. Meacham’s planned lecture has become a divisive issue, one that takes attention away from our opportunity to celebrate Samford. I regret that this has happened.”
He said inviting Meacham to visit “at a more appropriate time to an event not so closely connected to the symbolism of the inauguration seems to me to be a wise path forward. Therefore, my office will reach out to Mr. Meacham to schedule a date in the future when he will come and talk with our community.”