Former NJ Gov. Thomas Kean Replaces Condoleezza Rice as Rutgers Commencement Speaker

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Rutgers University announced today that former NJ Governor Thomas Kean, Sr. will be delivering the commencement address at this year's graduation ceremony.

The announcement comes on the heels of former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declining to attend the ceremony amid growing protests from students and faculty.

“Gov. Kean’s career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity, and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies,” Rutgers President Bob Barchi said.

President Barchi defended the original selection of Rice, even after she pulled out on Saturday.  Rice was slated to receive an honorary degree and $35,000 speaking fee for her remarks.

Kean, however, "will not accept a speaking fee," according to a Rutgers press release issued just minutes ago.  He already received an honorary doctorate of laws degree in 1982, his first year as Governor.

Like Rice, Kean is also a politician with strong ties to academia.

After leaving the Governor's office in 1990, Kean began a 15-year tenure as President of Drew University, a small private liberal arts college based in Madison, NJ.

Another similarity with Rice: Kean, also a Republican, was put into an important position of power by US President George W. Bush.

Bush named Kean to co-chair the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission.

That commission produced a report about the terrorist attacks of September 2001 that would prove to be controversial.  The report itself became a best-selling book.

Kean has also had an evolving relationship with New Jersey's current Republican Governor, originally serving as a mentor for the up-and-coming Christie.

Christie nominated Kean to lead the Governor’s "Task Force on Higher Education," which recommended the merger of UMDNJ and Rutgers.

That merger "marked the most significant expansion of Rutgers University in more than 50 years," according to today's press release.

But Christie may have fallen out of favor with the ex-Governor, who is rumored to be upset about a failed Christie power play that targeted his son Thomas Kean, Sr., the Republican Minority Leader in the NJ Senate.

Christie allegedly orchestrated an effort to oust Kean in favor of his close ally, Senator Kevin O'Toole.  But the plan never garned enough votes from fellow Republicans.

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Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.