Public Health reconsiders speaker

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, famous for its Race for the Cure, has come under fire this week, leading the School of Public Health to reconsider inviting its founder to speak at Commencement.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure, famous for its Race for the Cure, has come under fire this week, leading the School of Public Health to reconsider inviting its founder to speak at Commencement. Photo by Creative Commons.

The Yale School of Public Health is thinking twice about who should speak at this year’s Commencement.

Due to recent controversy surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s announcement last Wednesday that it would no longer provide funding for Planned Parenthood — a decision it has since reversed — the School of Public Health is reconsidering its selection of Nancy Brinker, the foundation’s director and founder, as its Commencement speaker this year. Though administrators and professors declined to comment, Dean Paul Cleary said the school will issue a press release about the decision today.

“The Yale School of Public Health has not rescinded its invitation to Ms. Brinker,” Michael Greenwood, a spokesman for the School, said in a Feb. 3 email. “The matter is under review and a decision will be forthcoming.”

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s largest breast cancer charity, announced in a Feb. 1 press release that it would no longer provide funding to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the largest provider of reproductive services in the nation.

The press release stated that the Komen Foundation was upholding more stringent eligibility standards among recipient organizations in order to “safeguard donor dollars.” In the case of Planned Parenthood, Komen stated that it was withdrawing its support because of the congressional investigation launched in September reviewing Planned Parenthood’s alleged illegal use of federal funding to finance abortions.

In the Feb. 1 press release, the Komen Foundation said the decision was “not about politics” and regretted that the new policies had affected “some longstanding grantees, such as Planned Parenthood.” According to Planned Parenthood, money received from the Komen Foundation makes up 19 percent of its funding.

Criticism of the foundation’s decision mounted from social media, media outlets and politicians built in the two days following Komen’s decision, and on Feb. 3 the foundation announced that it had reversed its decision to rescind Planned Parenthood’s funding. In a statement released that day, the Komen Foundation apologized to the American public and said it did not want its mission to be “marred or affected by politics.”

In October 2011, the School of Public Health extended an invitation to Brinker to be the keynote speaker at the School’s Commencement ceremony in 2012, which she accepted.

But after the controversy over Komen’s new policy erupted, 20 students at the School of Public Health emailed Cleary on Feb. 2 voicing their concern about Brinker serving as this year’s Commencement speaker, according to Connor Essick SPH ’12, one of the students who sent the email. In response, Cleary asked the students to formalize their concern. In their next email, the students sent a list of reasons why they wanted the School of Public Health to rescind its invitation to Brinker, which included their support for Planned Parenthood and condemnation of Komen’s decision to defund the organization.

In spite of Komen’s change of heart, Essick said he and the other students who submitted the complaint would still prefer that Brinker not serve as this year’s Commencement speaker, because the political convtroversy surrounding her would detract from the event itself.

“Even though they reversed their decision, there are a lot of questions out there, so we want to avoid the politics,” said Essick. “Our focus is public health, part of which is women’s rights. We don’t want to bring the politics to our graduation.”

He added that he thinks Brinker should be invited to speak at the School of Public Health in a different venue, rather than at Commencement.

Nine professors at the School of Public Health declined to comment, saying they were waiting for the School to issue an official statement before they expressed their opinions.

In 2009, Brinker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and was named Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations’ World Health Organization in the same year.


  • locnessy81

    I am saddened to hear the Dean of the School of Public Health will not be pulling her as a speaker. I do not believe she represents us as a class, or as a school. I do hope there is an opportunity to speak with Ms. Brinker when she is here, and engage her in a dialogue about the choices of her and her organizational leaders and officers.

    Vanessa Lamers
    YSPH ’13

  • Yaleman

    Issues may come and go, but Ms. Brinker is a hero. She has been instrumental, instrumental, instrumental in saving hundreds of thousands of lives. She should be admired and honored. She can teach us all. Not perfect, but who is?

  • little_mango

    It’s amazing to see how a single decision, exploded by the media, can completely obscure a lifelong devotion to a cause. It is not fair to disqualify this amazing woman who was justly and meritoriously selected as speaker in the first place just because of the fads and issues of the moment, which may be already forgotten by May.

  • Climbing512

    Yes Ms. Brinker has been instrumental and helped saved many lives. However the organization under her leadership has lost sight of its bigger picture in fighting for women’s health in lieu of money and politics. Prior to this recent event, the Susan G. Komen foundation has spent donor funds going after small charities that have used a variation of “for the cure,” filing over 100 lawsuits. In addition, their recent decision to discontinue embryonic stem cell research clearly demonstrates that this organization has evolved from a non-political non-profit to a partisan advocacy organization.

    No one is perfect, but these recent events highlight that Ms. Brinker represents an organization that no longer reflects one of the primary goals of public health in prioritizing health over politics.

  • YLS

    The vitriol toward Ms. Brinker is stupefying and reflects poorly on Yale MPH students. Komen has done more to discover a cure for breast cancer than any other entity in the US. Who can really be monomaniacal enough to condemn the organization simply because it briefly decided not to fund an organization under investigation for criminal behavior?

  • Yaleman

    Still working vigorously toward a true cure; but along the way Ms. Brinker’s drive has increased the abilities to recognize much breast cancer as a chronic disorder, as appropriate with early enough warning. Such management of the chronic order until there is a true cure has proved and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands. That’s the mission. It isn’t always easy to please all the people all of the time. Komen and Brinker may be imperfect, but they are truly heroic. And the best is yet to come. Planned Parenthood will be quite fine; and they will continue to work together. Honor Nancy Brinker and her mission. Just sayin’