Rutgers should rescind Rice invitation, honorary degree


Column | Realtalk


You have probably heard by now that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was selected to be the 2014 Rutgers University Commencement speaker. Not only is she getting paid $35,000, but she is also receiving an honorary degree, which is an enormous distinction. If prior to this, you have only heard Rice’s name in connection with her position under George W. Bush’s administration, you may have questions after hearing that the Rutgers Faculty Council denounced her selection on Feb. 28. They urged the Board of Governors to rescind her invitation, citing her war record and the fact that Rice “played a prominent role in [Bush’s] administration’s efforts to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the existence of links between al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime.”

Occasionally, people are willing to overlook this factual narrative in favor of the idea that Rice, as a powerful woman of color, made strides for minorities that are enough reason to discount her behavior. As a minority myself, I disagree with the notion that holding a position in high office makes one impervious to criticism. Though Rice may have made advancements for black women, they are shallow, even meaningless, when placed side by side with her actions. She should be held to the same standard we hold every politician to — “successful” woman of color or not.

I also believe that when faced with facts and quotations directly from Rice herself, there is little else one can do but accept the reality that she was complicit in starting a war that was chaotic and harmful at best. In case this sounds radical, here is a more detailed account of her actions that made students and faculty at Boston College turn their backs to her during her 2006 commencement address.

On December 7, 2002, Iraq delivered a 12,000-page declaration of weapons of mass destruction to the United Nations, which denied that it had any WMD programs. Rice responded by writing an editorial for The New York Times entitled “Why We Know Iraq Is Lying.” A month later, she made headlines after saying, “the problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly [Saddam Hussein] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” As the 2004 election drew nearer, she made bold claims that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were part of the circumstances that resulted in 9/11. She also authorized the use of torture techniques like waterboarding, among several others, which is defined as torture by human rights organizations, intelligence officials, war veterans, politicians and legal experts. As a result of the war, Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated to be close to 500,000, and as many as 2.1 million Iraqis are internally displaced. Nearly 4,500 American soldiers died, and finally, though this pales in comparison with the number of deaths, the total cost of the war was $801 billion.

Rice has expressed no remorse for her actions, despite the fact that Iraq is in shambles after a ten-year-long war. Regardless of what Hussein’s regime was or was not, he was not responsible for 9/11. The U.S’s misplaced aggression and retaliation have caused long-term suffering among people who are far removed from the events that day. To honor someone like Rice, who convinced the American public to back this war and who shares the responsibility for the lives that were lost, is at best embarrassing for Rutgers University. There is a long list of people who are much more deserving of that honor, who are more distinguished, capable, morally superior, intelligent, successful and so on. Despite the fact that a speaker’s invitation has never been rescinded, now would be a good time for the University to prove it is concerned with principle, not precedent.

I personally applaud the faculty council, and now I turn to the student body, and ultimately the Board of Governors, to make the right decision.

Sara Zayed is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column, “#Realtalk,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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