Ted Turner declines college’s honorary degree following protest

ST. PAUL (AP) — CNN founder Ted Turner declined an honorary degree Wednesday from Macalester College, following students’ accusations of racism because of his ownership of the Atlanta Braves and the team’s “tomahawk chop.”
Students said they were not trying to block Turner from speaking at the May 17 commencement. About 125 students and members of the American Indian Movement gathered Tuesday to use Turner’s scheduled appearance to ask administrators to add an American Indian speaker to the ceremony, allow future seniors to vote on graduation speakers and start an American Indian studies program.
“We can’t sit by and let this happen,” said senior Eric Lehto of Grand Rapids, Minn. “At Mac there are three pillars: internationalism, multiculturalism and community service. We need to uphold those.”
Also being awarded an honorary degree at the commencement is U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, a 1961 Macalester graduate and former college trustee.
“It has come to my attention that my selection has generated controversy on campus, and I do not want to detract from the recognition your institution will bestow on the Secretary-General. Therefore, it is appropriate for me to decline your invitation at this time,” Turner wrote to the college Wednesday.
In his defense, Turner wrote that Turner Broadcasting has created “a series of original dramas, special news reports and a book in honor of the rich heritage of Native Americans.”
College President Michael McPherson wrote a letter to students, faculty and staff describing Turner’s decision.
“As a result of the comments made about our decision to invite Mr. Turner, we have all gained a keener insight into the concerns many in the community have about Native American issues on this campus,” he wrote.
He said he will “strongly recommend” that an American Indian receive an honorary degree next year. He also said he will ask the college’s provost and special assistant to the president for diversity and campus community to meet with faculty to discuss the American Indian issues in the curriculum.
American Indian groups in recent years have protested sports mascots and team nicknames connected to their heritage, including Turner’s Atlanta Braves. Protesters find the Braves’ “tomahawk chop” and fans’ loud mock-Indian chanting offensive.