Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided not to participate as the speaker for Rutgers University’s commencement ceremony after students began protesting the invitation earlier this year based on Rice’s involvement with the Iraq War.
It’s no secret that Americans today tend to be less supportive of the war in Iraq than they were back in 2003, and that decline in support has caused some serious negative backlash for Rice.
The students asked that she be disinvited to the commencement ceremony and also showed disapproval that Rice was expected to get an honorary doctorate at the May 18 ceremony.
Students at Rutgers University protested against having Rice speak at their commencement ceremony because they felt it would show support for torture tactics and other human rights issues.
“Rice signed off to give the CIA authority to conduct their torture tactics for gathering information from detainees as well,” said an April 30 open letter to the university signed by “Rutgers Student Protestors.” “These are clearly human rights issues. By inviting her to speak and awarding her an honorary degree, we are encouraging and perpetuating a world that justifies torture and debases humanity.”
Rice took to her Facebook page to explain that she would no longer be attending the ceremony because she didn’t want a time as joyous as this to be plagued with controversy and possibly more protests.
“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for graduates and their families,” Rice wrote on her Facebook page on Saturday morning. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”
Rice made it very clear, however, that she still stands behind the decisions she made when she was secretary of state.
“I am honored to have served my country,” Rice added. “I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy.”
She went on to wish the graduates the best of luck and extend her congratulations to the students and their families.
While the group of protestors, roughly more than 50 students who were involved in a student sit-in, was happy to hear the news, officials at the university were left feeling a little disappointed.
The freedom of speech is supposed to be a right that every American citizen enjoys, but Rutgers President Robert Barchi felt as if this controversy stifled that freedom.
“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,” Barchi said in a public statement back in March. “Free speech and academic freedom cannot be determined by any group. They cannot insist on consensus or popularity.”
He recently released another statement admitting that the controversy was distracting from what was supposed to matter most for the soon-to-be graduates.
“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,” he said. “… It does have us, for better or worse, right in the crosshairs right now.”
Rice will not collect the $35,000 she was going to be given in exchange for delivering a speech at the ceremony.
The university said it will do its best to announce a replacement soon.