It appears that commencement speaker
mania has begun this spring.
For its graduation ceremony on May
14, Rutgers University at New Brunswick has chosen to invite a
speaker that some consider nothing short of evil, inappropriate,
and ultimately, unqualified. In response, members of the Rutgers
faculty council have demanded that the university rescind its
invitation because its hosting this particular speaker would essentially destroy the institution’s reputation as a bastion
Has Rutgers once again invited
Snooki, or another Jersey Shore washout? No.
Actually, the Rutgers Board of
Governors has unanimously invited Condoleezza Rice, the first female
National Security Advisor; the first female African-American
Secretary of State; the first female, first minority, and youngest
Provost in Stanford University’s history; and a distinguished
professor of political science.
Critics at Rutgers believe that Dr.
Rice’s being a conservative and a former member of the George W.
Bush administration effectively disqualifies her from addressing a
group of graduating college students. They have revealed their utter inability to recognize the value that a woman who has dedicated her life to scholarship
and public service can provide to young people.
According to the faculty council resolution passed in opposition to Dr. Rice’s invitation, “A
Commencement speaker… should embody moral authority and exemplary
citizenship.” Dr. Rice apparently fails on both of these accounts.
Furthermore, according to the opinion of Distinguished Professor of
History Rudolph Bell, one of the invitation’s most vocal opponents,
Dr. Rice simply “brings no positive merit.”
The opposing faculty members have
entirely ignored the core purpose of a university’s inviting a
commencement speaker in the first place: dispensing remarks of some
real value to a group of young people who will soon enter the
workforce. This group of academics has managed to contort
what should be a positive final university experience for students
into one that might conceivably ruin their sense of morality.
It is also shameful that these
faculty members have expressed such indignant opposition to Dr.
Rice’s invitation, but have done no such thing in response to
Rutgers President Robert Barchi’s writing a letter to PresidentBarack Obama requesting that he deliver the university’s 2016
commencement address. Barchi writes in his letter that he “cannot
imagine a more inspirational commencement speaker on this important
day in the history of Rutgers.” It is quite ironic that the
academics who disapprove of Dr. Rice’s invitation because of her
defense of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, ostensibly have no issue with President Obama’s defense of drone strikes or
his continued use of Guantanamo Bay.
Thankfully, Rutgers has done what
any institution of higher education should do: firmly defend its
invitation to an individual of Dr. Rice’s caliber.
Rutgers spokesperson Greg Trevor
stated in response to the faculty opposition, “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.” Even Barchi has publicly defended the decision of
the Board of Governors by writing in a letter to the universitycommunity that Dr. Rice is one of the “most influential
intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years.” Most
importantly, Barchi vigorously defends the principles of academic
inquiry, arguing, “Free speech and academic freedom cannot be
determined by any group. They cannot insist on consensus or
Let us hope that as May 14 nears,
Rutgers continues to stand behind its invitation to Dr. Rice.
Raj Kannappan is the Program Officer for Young Americans for Freedom.