BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Rocky Mountain College has chosen former software company executive Greg Gianforte as the graduation speaker for the Billings school just days after students and faculty at Montana Tech threatened to boycott graduation ceremonies if Gianforte and his wife, Susan, are allowed to speak at Tech's graduation.
Gianforte founded the software engineering company RightNow Technologies and sold it to Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2012. Gianforte is now managing director of the Bozeman Technology Incubator.
Tech students and faculty don't question Gianforte's business and technology skills, but they do question some of his political beliefs. They note the Gianforte Family Foundation has donated money to a Glendive dinosaur museum that holds a biblical perspective that the world was created a few thousand years ago. Professors say those beliefs are in direct opposition to the science taught on campus.
The Gianfortes also are affiliated with Focus on the Family, which Tech English professor Henry Gonshak called "an extremely homophobic organization."
Others pointed out that Susan Gianforte recently spoke against a proposed ordinance in Bozeman that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identification.
"Business owners don't want a non-discrimination ordinance," Susan Gianforte said at a Bozeman City Commission meeting in February. She said they're "afraid of being boycotted, picketed, trashed, sued and otherwise threatened."
Greg Gianforte said he and his wife are not in favor of discrimination.
"At RightNow, we employed gays and we ran a complete meritocracy. This will not be any part of the presentation at Tech. We won't do anything to embarrass the faculty or Butte or Montana Tech."
He said he and his wife plan to speak about their successful engineering careers during Tech's May 17 graduation ceremonies.
"My wife is going to talk about her educational career and as a mechanical engineer, and specifically the uniqueness of being a woman engineer and the opportunities that crated in her career," Gianforte told The Montana Standard. "I'm also an engineer. That's why we have such synergy with the Diggers. I want to talk about a couple of lessons I've learned and provide that advice to graduates to help them find satisfaction and contentment in their work."
Tech Chancellor Don Blakketter says he chose the Gianfortes because of their inspiring business story.
RMC President Bob Wilmouth tells The Billings Gazette he felt Gianforte would be a good speaker for the school's May 3 graduation because business is the school's largest department and everyone is involved in technology in some way.
He said he was looking for a speaker who would give a positive, high-energy message to students.
"We think that commencement is for our students and their families after a job well done," he said. "And we want them to understand that learning is lifelong and that making good, bold decisions in life and reaching for the stars and always going for your dreams is attainable."