Former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice is withdrawing from the Rutgers University commencement ceremony.
Her invitation by the school’s board of governors had sparked protests from faculty and students, and now Rice has decided not to speak to avoid creating a distraction.
In a statement to be released this morning, Rice says,
Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families. Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.
I am honored to have served my country. I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy. But that is not what is at issue here. As a Professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as it’s former Provost and Chief academic officer, I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way.
Good luck to the graduates and congratulations to the families, friends and loved ones who will gather to honor them.
Opposition to Rice had focused on her support for the Iraq War and Bush policies in the War on Terror. Rutgers faculty at the New Brunswick campus approved a resolution calling for Rice to be disinvited, citing her role in the Bush administration’s alleged “effort to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction.”
Protesting students had occupied the office of the president the other day, with signs reading “No honors for war criminals” and “War criminals out.”
Rice’s withdrawal comes after protests of her invitation to speak at the University of Minnesota recently and her placement on the board of the file-sharing firm Dropbox. Other figures who run afoul of campus orthodoxy, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Charles Murray, have been disinvited from speeches over the last few weeks.
In a statement when the controversy first erupted, Rutgers president Robert Barchi said, “We cannot protect free speech or academic freedom by denying others the right to an opposing view, or by excluding those with whom we may disagree. Free speech and academic freedom cannot be determined by any group. They cannot insist on consensus or popularity.”
Barchi had adopted a different tone this week: “I frankly wish from my point of view that this whole affair was not here right now because it’s distracting from what great things we’re doing as a university. . . . It does have us, for better or worse, right in the crosshairs right now.”