Rutgers University is not backing down in the face of a faculty eruption over the New Jersey state school’s invitation of Condoleezza Rice to deliver this year’s commencement address.
The Faculty Council at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus is trying to oust Rice, a former secretary of state, national security advisor, and provost of Stanford University, as the university’s commencement speaker because she does not “embody moral authority and exemplary citizenship.”
Taking issue with Rice’s politics and career, professors passed a resolution Friday imploring the university’s Board of Governors “to rescind its misguided decision” to invite Rice and give her an honorary degree. Faculty councils on Rutgers’ Camden and Newark campuses are expected to do the same in the coming weeks.
Rice headed the Department of State in the George W. Bush administration’s second term. The resolution says Rice took part in the “lies” that led to the Iraq War, and says she “at the very least, condoned” such “enhanced interrogation” methods as waterboarding. The professors object to the “heavily political” nature of having Rice speak, French professor François Cornilliat told New Brunswick Today.
Chemistry professor Robert Boikess, who introduced the resolution, told National Review his objection isn’t that Rice is a political figure, but rather that her contentious past might distract from the ceremony. He said he considered it appropriate for Rutgers to invite New Jersey Governor (and University of Delaware graduate) Chris Christie in 2010. Boikess added that the faculty would be “honored” to have a president or former president come to campus.
Rice, on the other hand, is too divisive because of her association with the Iraq War, Boikess contended. “The problem in inviting someone controversial is there’s going to be disruptions of commencement,” he said, pointing to a student walkout when Rice spoke at Boston College’s ceremony in 2006. Rice’s 2012 Southern Methodist University speech drew similar demonstrations.
Rice isn’t alone. Republican commencement speakers frequently draw ire and protests from university populaces. Last year, celebrated Johns Hopkins surgeon Ben Carson offered to withdraw as his own college’s commencement speaker after an uproar over his conservative views.
Opposition to Democratic speakers is rare, if not wholly nonexistent. Democratic commencement speakers including Bill Clinton and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin endured very little pushback.
Republican New Jersey assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini sees the opposition as purely ideological. She blasted the resolution on Rice as “nothing more than a political firestorm fueled by their hatred of an opposing ideology, and President George W. Bush in particular.”
For the time being, the Rutgers university administration is standing firm in keeping Rice.
“Dr. Rice is a highly accomplished and respected diplomat, scholar, and author, and we are excited that she has agreed to address our graduates and guests at Commencement,” said a spokesman.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.