Condoleezza Rice isn’t welcome to the University of Minnesota to talk about her experience growing up in the segregated South, according to nearly 200 professors and students at the school. Some are calling on campus police to bring Rice in for questioning.
The former secretary of state and national security advisor is supposed to take part in a lecture series about civil rights — a task for which Rice, the daughter of middle-class Alabama schoolteachers who went on to graduate from college at age 19 and rise to the highest levels of the U.S. government, would seem well suited. But Rice’s service in the administration of President George W. Bush has made her a constant target for activists.
Last month, the Faculty Council at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus passed a resolution asking the state university of New Jersey to rescind its invitation for Rice to deliver a commencement speech. Anti-Rice activists also organized a “Drop Dropbox” campaign after the file-sharing site named Rice to its board.
U of M professors and students are following that strategy ahead of Rice’s arrival Thursday. In an open letter, 192 professors condemn Rice as “a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration” who “played a central role in the design and implementation of the Administration’s policies.” The protesting profs go on to say that Rice is welcome to speak on campus elsewhere and at a different event, but not as part of the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Rice is also an accomplished amateur pianist and was a registered Democrat early in her career, but the letter states that her “high speaking fee” is “inconsistent with the civil rights movement’s emphasis on economic justice.” They argue that her presence at the event is “not well thought through.”
The lecture series’ yearlong theme is focusing on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in which Rice will discuss her experience growing up as a black woman in the segregated South.
Meanwhile, students have taken the war on Rice one step further and asking for her to be arrested.
University of Minnesota’s Students for a Democratic Society (UMNSDS) sent a letter to the campus police chief to call on him to increase security as well as question the “truly dangerous” Rice when she arrives.
“From time to time, truly dangerous people do come to our campus,” the UMNSDS writes. “We would like to alert you to the upcoming presence of such a person on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus.”
The letter goes on to provide a description of former secretary of state to help officers identify her as “a 59-year-old African American woman, 5’8″ tall, and will be present on Northrop Auditorium’s main stage at the aforementioned time . . . If you need a picture of her, one will be provided, but it might just be easier for you to access one online,” the group adds.
UMNSDS’s earlier efforts to block Rice from coming to the Minneapolis campus failed. Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota Senate overwhelmingly voted down the group’s resolution to urge the administration to retract Rice’s invitation.
UMNSDS still plans to protest the lecture.
Despite the protests from faculty and students alike, the university is standing by its decision to invite Rice. In a statement last week opposing the UMNSDS resolution, University President Eric Kaler called opposition to Rice “particularly ironic” given the nature of her speech: overcoming the discrimination she experienced in her childhood.
“That Civil Rights Act, and the struggle against racism in this country, has often been driven by powerful words that would not have been heard but for our American tradition of a robust and fiercely protected right of free speech and academic freedom,” he said. “We can’t have true academic freedom at the University of Minnesota by denying a stage to those we disagree with or disapprove of.”
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online