#NoRice deserves attention from Rutgers
On Monday, April 28, more than 50 students staged a sit-in at the office of University President Robert L. Barchi at Old Queens. Dozens more rallied outside to protest Condoleezza Rice’s invitation to speak at this year’s commencement, including the administration’s decision to award her with an honorary degree and $35,000 honorarium. The students demanded a meeting with Barchi and the administration to determine how and why Condoleezza Rice was invited to speak at commencement. They stayed for more than six hours, demanding a meeting with administrators to address their concerns. But Barchi couldn’t even be bothered to at least feign interest in what they had to say.
There has been opposition to this year’s commencement speaker since the day it was suddenly announced at a Board of Governor’s meeting this past February, but Barchi has done absolutely nothing to address the concerns of students, faculty and other members of the Rutgers community. Putting aside the debate over whether Rice should speak, the fact still remains that Barchi and the University administration are doing a terrible job of handling the situation appropriately.
Monday’s protest have generated mixed reactions, from those who think students went too far to others criticizing them for not going far enough — but the issue here is that they even had to resort to demonstrations in the first place because the University is barely acknowledging them.
Before anyone starts judging protestors (although it’s already too late for that), it’s important to know that this isn’t some spur-of-the-moment delayed reaction to Rice’s invitation. There have been letters and op-eds published here in The Daily Targum from students, faculty and alumni since Rice’s selection was announced. They’ve been organizing for a long time to get some kind of response from the administration, but Barchi has completely ignored emails, phone calls and letters. In fact, Barchi made perhaps the worst mistake possible in this entire situation by sending out a mass email to the Rutgers community last month acknowledging the clear differences of opinion but completely failing to address them at all. He wrote, “My hope is that we can use these seemingly controversial moments to reaffirm our commitment to open and civil discourse.” And yet, he has not met with concerned students to, at the very least, explain his reasoning.
And now we know it’s because the entire process of inviting Rice has lacked transparency from the start.
According to documents recently obtained through the Open Public Records Act, the actual process by which the commencement speaker is chosen was changed in fall 2012, when Barchi first assumed his position at Rutgers. Before, a committee of 20 members decided on the commencement speaker. Now that committee consists of only six members, including Barchi himself.
The interesting thing is that these documents show that Greg Brown, the vice chair of the Board of Governors and a member of the selection committee, has a personal connection with Rice and was strongly in favor of inviting her to commencement. The commencement ceremony is for students graduating from the University, but instead of considering student input, the Board of Governors chose to unnecessarily restrict the selection committee without any representation from students at all.
So the bottom line is this: These students have every right to protest. And just because these protestors are a relatively small group compared to the rest of the student body doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be listening to what they have to say. Especially in light of the administration’s lack of open and transparent communication with the community, we should be commending these students for standing by what they believe in. Now that we have these documents, it seems like there may be more behind this entire situation than the administration is letting on anyway — and whatever happens at commencement, it will be on Barchi and the Board of Governors to deal with the ramifications of brushing aside the student voice.