NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University President Bob Barchi issued a statement to the university community on Friday defending the selection of Condoleezza Rice as the 2014 commencement speaker.
"Whatever your personal feelings or political views about our commencement speaker, there can be no doubt that Condoleezza Rice is one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years," Barchi wrote.
President Barchi stated that high school students went as far to threaten withdrawal of their applications if Rice is not uninvited to the ceremony.
The Board of Governors voted on February 4 to name Rice as the speaker, a decision which has generated considerable controversy.
The former Secretary of State would receive $35,000 and an honorary Doctorate of Laws for giving the speech.
But the decision has prompted criticism from many sides, such as the Faculty Council which voted to ask the university to rescind its invitation to Rice, as we reported last week.
The Faculty Council said Rice should not be honored for her role in the Iraq War and the adoption of various torture techniques by the administration of President George W. Bush.
"Condoleezza Rice… played a prominent role in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction," the Faculty Council resolution states.
Several students and alumni also expressed their dissatisfaction with the choice by way of opinion pieces published in the Daily Targum, the university's student newspaper.
"To honor someone like Rice, who convinced the American public to back this war and who shares the responsibility for the lives that were lost, is at best embarrassing for Rutgers University," wrote Sara Zayed, a student columnist for the school newspaper.
Another Targum piece published yesterday took the opposite view.
Its author, Fotios Tsarouhis, wrote, "We fail to live up to our reputation as a historic college of ideas and disgrace the status of our University, and all others as places for free speech and open discourse when we openly and proudly assault a commencement speaker largely based on ideology."
Many other people expressed similar views of support for Rice.
Just over two-thirds (67.5%) of the 4,000+ respondents recent poll on NJ.com indicated they thought Rice should have been selected. 30.7% said she should not have been and 2% said "I Don't Know."
Many commenters on New Brunswick Today's article about the Faculty Council's rebuke of Rice expressed disatisfaction and anger with the council's decision.
President Barchi wrote in his statement on the issue, "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 detemined by any group."
Barchi said he hoped the school "can use these seemingly controversial moments to reaffirm our commitment to open and civil discourse."