Johns Hopkins administrators scrambled Thursday to find a commencement speaker to replace Dr. Ben Carson, who stepped down from two engagements because of backlash from recent comments he made about same-sex marriage.
Carson was scheduled as the commencement speaker for Hopkins' School of Medicine and School of Education on May 23 but voluntarily stepped aside.
"The dean and his staff will work their contacts to identify a noteworthy speaker and are confident that one can be secured reasonably quickly," university spokesman Dennis O'Shea wrote in an email.
Kim Hoppe, a medical school spokeswoman, said a search had begun for a speaker, but did not provide further details.
Carson's withdrawal came less than a week after medical school dean Paul B. Rothman chastised the noted neurosurgeon for comments he made comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality and pedophilia. The rhetoric sparked criticism from faculty and students who petitioned for his removal as commencement speaker.
Once known mostly for his medical gifts, Carson has become more vocal about his political and social views as he prepares to retire in June. He first made news when he criticized health care reform at the National Prayer Breakfast.
He has apologized for his words on same-sex marriage but still says marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Meanwhile, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus of the American Academy of Physician Assistants has gathered more than 1,200 signatures on a petition to have Carson removed as a keynote speaker at the group's conference next month.
What Carson said does not represent good professional conduct, said Travis Sherer, past president of the caucus, who started the petition, and the AAPA should not "give a platform to somebody who compares gay people to criminals."
Robert Wooten, chairman of the academy's board, wrote to members of the caucus, calling Carson's words hurtful.
"I assure you that we are carefully considering your viewpoint and, as always, we value your candid feedback," Wooten wrote.
One public relations executive said it is too soon to tell if Carson's recent actions will hurt his image.
"Dr. Carson will always be viewed as one of the world's great surgeons," said Brent Burkhardt, executive vice president public relations for TBC Inc., a Baltimore advertising and marketing firm. "Whether his recent statements, which I and many others don't agree with, are good for his image really depends on what he wants to do in the next stage of his life. I don't think we have those answers at this point."