The university invited the former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to speak at their commencement this spring, only to have protests force her to bow out of the event.
Universities are places where the free and open exchange of ideas is central to their framework. Students and faculty having an opinion on Rice and the Iraq War is understandable. The fact that they may have an issue with the Iraq War shows that they are thinking about important things.
Where we are in our politics today, however, is a place where if you disagree, you are not welcome. This is a former national leader, not to mention a woman with an inspiring personal narrative.
What has happened in this instance is not hard to figure out. Opposing viewpoints devolved into polarization, which devolved into blatant disrespect.
The Iraq War was a big deal, and it warrants discussion when someone like Dr. Rice is involved. Those opposed could have simply editorialized that although they welcome her, they have an opposing view on a controversial war. It would have been a way to show class and handle it academically.
But many of the faithful at Rutgers (students and faculty) felt differently. This is how universities wind up with speakers like Bruce Willis, by the way. Better to bring in a non-controversial figure that has no connection to anything you’ve just learned.
Remember, too, that here is a woman that has done all that we would want from a citizen. She built herself up, earned a doctorate, embraced classical music, loves football, and went on to serve her country.
Are we now saying that if a person such as this does not do all that we want that they are not welcome after being invited? Wow. This would be the same article if Hillary Clinton was treated this way - or any other major political figure for that matter.
Rutgers should have been honored that Dr. Rice agreed to speak there, despite misgivings about the war or interrogation policies of the Bush administration. True democracy inspires open debate, not a closed door.
Rice was once provost at Stanford University, and skipping the Rutgers commencement will not dent her armor. An African American woman originally from the south, and a major figure in a party that has not always been warm to such a possibility, is not going to be thrown off kilter by a few heresy hunters at Rutgers University.
The story reminds me of when I once tried to get Tony Danza to speak at an event for an organization that helps autistic children. The organization was on the same avenue where Danza once lived in Queens. It would have been a great fit, and it was a major event (Mayor Michael Bloomberg once spoke at their annual event).
His publicist told me that he was all booked up and to call back in January when they were planning his calendar for the next year. I called in middle of the following January, and they told me that he was again all booked up. “His whole year is already booked up?” I asked. “Someone should remind Tony Danza that he is Tony Danza.”
Some people need to get over themselves. A woman of Dr. Rice’s caliber – despite politics and the results of foreign policy – deserves a little more respect than that.