This past Saturday, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement backing out of her planned appearance at the Rutgers commencement May 18th.

The reason given was that she didn’t want to distract from the celebration that the commencement would represent.

Her appearance was being protested by a group of about 300 members of the student body and faculty – saying, in effect, that she should not give the address and receive an honorary degree, branding her a war criminal. According to the group, her complicity in agreeing with former President George W. Bush’s Iraq War policy made her an unacceptable candidate to deliver the address.

In her 3 paragraph statement to the university, according to this, she stated:

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

"I am honored to have served my country. 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," she said. "As a professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as (its) former provost and chief academic officer, I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way."


In accepting her response, University President Robert Barchi issued this statement:

"While Rutgers University stands fully behind the invitation to Dr. Rice to be our commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree, we respect the decision she made and clearly articulated in her statement this morning," Barchi said. "Now is the time to focus on our commencement, a day to celebrate the accomplishments and promising futures of our graduates. We look forward to joining them and their families on May 18, 2014."

Barchi at the time of the appointment felt that inviting Rice was the right thing, given what he called the approval of 90 to 95% of the alumni – saying, “we have those numbers.”

However, one member of the faculty against her giving the speech felt that the protests had the desired outcome.  Rutgers Professor Robert Boikess has this to say about Rice's decision

“This shows that faculty and students really do have influence,’’ Boikess said. “I think because everybody spoke up, we got the right outcome. I think we will be better in the long run because of the way this came out. People got engaged, people thought about things. I think that's really what we're all about. In that sense I agree with the (Rutgers) president that all of this discourse was good. And it's especially good because it came out right in the end.’’

But did it “come out right in the end?”

She’s a product of the segregated South during the Civil Rights struggle – and has overcome many obstacles – eventually achieving the honor of becoming the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. She’s also had a distinguished academic career as well.

Whether or not her speech would have been inspiring, we’ll never know. Generally that's what commencement speeches are supposed to do.

It's truly sad that someone who’s had such a distinguished career as Secretary Rice won’t be heard because of the protestations of a very loud and vocal minority who wish to silence discourse.

How do you feel about Condoleezza Rice’s refusal to give the commencement address at Rutgers?