Condoleezza Rice backs out of Rutgers commencement amid student, faculty protests


Condoleezza Rice issued a statement to decline her invitation to speak at Rutgers' commencement. In the statement issued this morning, Rice said she informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she was declining the invitation.

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

Rice’s statement comes after more than 100 students interrupted a senate meeting yesterday to talk to Barchi after he failed to show up when more than 50 protesters staged a sit-in last Monday, occupying his office in the Old Queens building.

Barchi released a statement informing the Rutgers community of the University's decision after Rice's post.

"While Rutgers University stands fully behind the invitation to Dr. Rice to be our commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree, we respect her decision not to participate in the upcoming Rutgers University commencement, which she clearly articulated in her statement this morning," Barchi said in the statement.

Rice was scheduled to be paid $35,000 and awarded an honorary degree at the upcoming May 18th commencement ceremony.

Carmelo Cintron, media spokesperson for the anti-Rice protest, expressed his pride that the efforts of the protesters were finally yielding results.

“We are very pleased and happy that all our actions and pressure as the University community have led to our ultimate goal which was to not have a war criminal speak at our commencement and be honored at our University,” said Cintron, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

He said although he has no idea what alternative Rutgers has for a commencement speaker, the students have a meeting scheduled with Barchi and Interim Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, Gregory Jackson for Monday at 8.30 a.m.

Cintron believes given the advancements of not having Rice speak is a huge gain, and plenty of speakers will be willing to speak at the University’s commencement.

A similar sentiment was echoed by Robert Boikess, a member of Rutgers University-New Brunswick Faculty Council.

Boikess said the council’s reasons for rescinding Rice’s invitation was the same as the one she stated for backing out: “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.”

Boikess, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, said however, he is not satisfied with the University’s response to Rice’s statement.

“We can’t seem to understand why the University stands ‘fully behind’ the invitation, and why are they not willing to admit they made a mistake,” he said.

He believes it should not be very difficult for Rutgers to get a replacement.

“Well I think we should be able to get a speaker, we got it last time so late into the game … we have $35,000,” he said. “I hope everyone in the University community learns from these events.”

Following the University’s announcement to invite Rice as the speaker on Feb. 4, Rutgers faculty council had urged the Board of Governors to rescind Rice’s invitation.

The council stressed that under President George W. Bush, Rice played a prominent role in the 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, according to a previous article in The Daily Targum.

Rice, however, defended her position in this morning’s post.

“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,” she said.

Another article suggested that selection process for 2014 commencement speaker Rice was hidden from the public and may have been biased by a personal connection with the former Secretary of State.

At yesterday’s senate meeting, Felicia McGinty, vice chancellor of student affairs scheduled a meeting for next Friday to meet a student representative of the protest.

"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 said in the University's statement.

In her statement, Rice said being a professor for 30 years, she understood the importance of commencement and was unwilling to detract from it in any way. She congratulated the graduates.

“Good luck to the graduates and congratulations to the families, friends and loved ones who will gather to honor them,” she said.

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