Forum revokes Mortenson's invitation

By Katherine Schotz

Writer

The University will no longer be bringing Greg Mortenson to campus as a part of the Bucknell Forum’s “Creativity: Beyond the Box” series next fall, and his book, “Three Cups of Tea,” will no longer be the selection for the first-year common reading experience, administrators announced this week. Mortenson’s inability to answer satisfactorily to questions concerning allegations made against his book and his charity made the University doubt Mortenson’s credibility.

Instead, “This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women,” eds. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman will be the reading selection for all first-year students. This book is a collection of essays from different women and men from different fields that reflect on their core beliefs.

Mortenson wrote the New York Times best-seller “Three Cups of Tea” about schools he started in Afghanistan and subsequently started his own charity to raise money for the schools. The author has recently been the center of controversy with allegations accusing him of falsifying the information in his book.

“We have been troubled by the recent media reports about the veracity of Mr. Mortenson’s bestselling ‘Three Cups of Tea,’ the credibility of his claims about his work for children of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the possible illegalities associated with the financial management of his non-profit foundation, the Central Asia Institute,” according to a campus-wide email sent out by the Bucknell Forum Task Force.

The decision not to have Mortenson speak came about as a result of the on-going allegations that Mortenson was lying about his organization, specifically the funding and management of the Central Asia Institute. There was a report aired on “60 Minutes” that called into question the truth behind the book and the charity.

According to an article from CNN.com titled “Montana AG says he is looking into ‘Three Cups of Tea’ charity,” there are clear financial issues. The money raised by Mortenson through his charity was supposed to help build schools for girls in Afghanistan. “However, in 2009, less than half of that money actually went to building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, $1.7 million went to promote Mortenson’s books, according to the institute’s board of directors.”

The controversy caused University officials to reevaluate if he was the best choice of speaker, and now they have decided not have Mortenson speak next fall as planned.

“I think he should be here because of the broader experience of what he did,” John Shaheed ’11 said. “If the book had to be transferred to the fiction section then he shouldn’t come, but because the experiences in the book are in general are true [he should still come].”

The Bucknell Forum Task Force, which made the decision, is composed of Professors Carmen Gillespie, Beth Capaldi Evans, Paula Davis, Joe Tranquillo, Margot Vigeant and Zhiqun Zhu; Michael Davis ’13 and Lindsay Machen ’11; and administrators Rob Springall, Kari Conrad and Pete Mackey, who is the chair.

“The allegations against him cut to the essence of his work–-whether he has done what he claims he has; whether his work has been as impactful as he says it is; and whether, rather than serving the people he champions, he may in some ways have used them for his own benefit,” according to the e-mail.

Mackey was reluctant to answer questions about the decision because he did not want to speak on behalf of the other members. He did comment that a completely separate and independent committee reached the decision for the first-year class not to read the book.

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