Condi Rice declines invite to speak at Rutgers commencement

Another shining example of liberal tolerance for diversity of opinions.

Associated Press:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has backed out of delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University following protests by some faculty and students over her role in the Iraq War.

Rice said in a statement Saturday that she informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she was declining the invitation to speak at the graduation.

"Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families," Rice said. "Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time."

The school's board of governors had voted to pay $35,000 to the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and national security adviser for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony. Rutgers was also planning to bestow Rice with an honorary doctorate.

But some students and faculty at New Jersey's flagship university had protested, staging sit-ins and saying Rice bore some responsibility for the Iraq War as a member of the Bush administration. Barchi and other school leaders had resisted the calls to disinvite Rice, saying the university welcomes open discourse on controversial topics.

The news of Rice's decision came a day after Barchi spoke with students protesting Rice's planned speech and told them the board of governors would not rescind its invitation.

In her statement, Rice defended her record, saying that she was honored to serve her country and that she had "defended America's belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas." But she said she didn't want to detract from the spirit of the commencement ceremony.

Barchi said Saturday in a statement that Rutgers stands "fully behind the invitation" it issued to Rice. But he said school officials respect her decision.

This is a classy decision by Rice, who makes a good point about commencement being about the students. Anything that detracts from the ceremony favors Rice's detractors. In essence, by declining to speak, Rice has defanged them.

Of course, the liberals who staged the demonstrations think they've won. But what is it they define as victory? Shutting off debate? Putting their hands over their ears to shut out ideas they don't agree with? Ultimately, it is those who agitated against Rice who are the big losers.

Rutgers is not at fault here. They stood behind the decision to invite her and, unlike Brandeis, who disinvited Aaryan Hirsi Ali, maintained that Rice was welcome even after the demonstrations.

But the demonstrators proved they know nothing of academic freedom and even less about the mission of a university - to facilitate the free exchange of ideas.


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