Last week, Condoleezza Rice declined an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University.
Why, you may ask?
A vocal faction of the Rutgers student body and faculty took issue with Rice’s support of and involvement in the Iraq War. Students went so far as to stage a sit-in at one of the university’s administrative buildings.
Let me get this straight: A well-educated, exceedingly cultured, highly successful black woman, who once served as provost and chief academic officer of an Ivy League institution, is not welcome on a college campus?
On paper, Rice is a leftist’s dream.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1954, Rice has spoken openly about her family’s journey from the Jim Crow south. At just 19 years old, she graduated cum laude with a degree in political science from the University of Denver, and she went on to earn her Ph.D.
Meanwhile, Rice spent many years straddling the worlds of academia and politics – rising through the ranks at Stanford University while working in various capacities with both Republican and Democratic administrations before becoming the first black woman to serve as national security advisor and secretary of state.
So what’s the problem?
Rice’s politics simply aren’t welcome on Rutgers’ campus.
Just three years ago, no one so much as made a peep when Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of reality TV fame was offered $32,000 to speak at the Rutgers commencement ceremony. Polizzi’s drunken antics, as chronicled on MTV’s "Jersey Shore," apparently are not nearly as offensive as Rice’s ideological viewpoints.
New Jersey Gov. Christie speaks with Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, center, and Jenni "JWoww" Farley, cast members of MTV's "Jersey Shore," on the boardwalk where he took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony to reopen the beach in Seaside Heights, N.J., on Friday, May 24, 2013. Credit: AP
Colleges pride themselves on tolerance. As the self-proclaimed hotbed for the free flow of ideas, universities are supposed to support the exchange of ideas. As it turns out, however, that free flow of ideas pertains only to those who prescribe to a particular school of thought.
I graduated from New York University last May. From 2009 to 2012, NYU’s commencement speakers came right off the progressive assembly line, with Hillary Clinton, Alec Baldwin, Bill Clinton, and Sonia Sotomayor addressing the outgoing class.
In 2013, I was treated to the ramblings of attorney David Boies of Bush v. Gore and Perry v. Schwarzenegger (i.e. the case that overturned California’s Proposition 8) fame. After a promising start to the speech, in which Boies reminded us all that no one would actually remember what he said, the lawyer descended into a diatribe about how marriage equality will one day be known as the paramount civil rights issue of our time. Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, a commencement address was simply not the time or place for such a speech.
If you’re interested, you can watch the Boies address via ABC News below:
When Boies was first announced as the 2013 commencement speaker, many of my fellow classmates protested his selection – not because of his ideology but because he didn’t have the name recognition of speakers past. This year, the university has selected newly appointed Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to address its outgoing students.
Clearly, NYU isn’t concerned about the optics of consistently selecting speakers from the far left of the ideological spectrum. And I can speak from experience when I say NYU’s small but mighty population of conservative and libertarian students respected Boies’ right to speak openly about his opinion. After all, his speech has provided me great material.
Likewise, there are students on the Rutgers campus who understand the value of being exposed to ideas contrary to their own. Those students have openly expressed disappointment in Rice’s decision not to speak at commencement.
As both a professor and government official, Rice is also keenly aware of the importance of an open dialogue.
“I am honored to have served my country,” Rice said in a Facebook post about her decision not to speak. “I have defended America's belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy. But that is not what is at issue here.”
In reality, America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas is exactly what is at the heart of this issue. Until colleges and universities allow for the open discussion of any and all ideas – without fear of repercussion – these institutions will have done their students and this country a real disservice.
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