Student protestors interrupt senate meeting to question Barchi on Rice’s invitation
Nearly 100 students gathered Friday, May 2, at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus during a senate meeting to question University President Robert L. Barchi and protest against Condoleezza Rice’s invitation to speak at this year’s commencement.
The senate meeting was Barchi's first public appearance after today's panel to address the academic advantages of the Big Ten Conference was cancelled. Barchi and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany were scheduled to headline the panel at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 2.
Many of these protestors had occupied Barchi's office for more than six hours last Monday, but when Barchi failed to show up, they decided to disrupt the senate meeting to get answers for their questions.
“We visited you on Monday and got no response,” student protestors said in unity as the question-and-answer segment began. “[You] denied us access to the bathroom and threatened us with suspension and arrest … Now we’re here for those answers.”
President Barchi explained that he attended a meeting on Monday with presidents of the Association of American University in Washington, D.C.
“I think everyone around here knew where I was,” he said. “There was no secret. It’s been that way for six months… It was impossible for me to speak with you on Monday.”
Barchi said he witnessed the war in Vietnam firsthand and understands people’s concern regarding the Iraq War issue. He encouraged students to understand other people’s points of view.
“I was also deeply concerned about the weapons of mass destruction, and I thought we would find them,” he said, adding that he had lost friends in 9/11.
Yet he only wished to discuss future commencement speakers and not the Rice invitation.
“I do not have the authority to rescind that invitation,” he said.
He reminded students that Rutgers University Student Assembly, a student-elected government organization on campus, had actually voted to endorse Rice’s invitation.
Protestors demanded that Barchi schedule a meeting with them no later than Tuesday, May 6. They argued they have been trying to meet with him the entire year and have been denied each time.
Students wanted to know if Felicia McGinty, vice-chancellor of student affairs, who was present at last week’s protest, actually delivered their open letter to Barchi as she promised to do. Barchi responded that he would have to discuss the issue with her.
McGinty, who was present at the meeting, did not comment.
Each person was limited to one question without follow-ups, and those who attempted to follow-up were declared out of order by the chair and asked to go to the back of the line.
During these moments, students snapped their fingers in approval of their questioning peers and burst into standing ovations multiple times.
The students hoped to come to one of three conclusions: the rescinding of Rice’s invitation, the revocation of Rice’s $35,000 honorarium and honorary degree, and if Rice has to stay, then the allowance of equal time and honor for another speaker chosen by Rutgers.
Protestors asked why University officials refused to give them access to a bathroom in Old Queens at last week’s rally. Barchi claimed that Old Queens is an old building and that students could have left and walked across to Winants Hall.
As Barchi walked out of the meeting, he was followed by chants of “Cancel Condi” and “Barchi says stay back, we say fight back”. Students followed him upstairs in the Rutgers Student Center, shouting “Shame, shame, shame!”
At this point, McGinty scheduled to meet with Amani Al-khatahtbeh, a representative of the protest, next Friday, May 9.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and former opinions editor at The Daily Targum, expressed disappointment in the administration’s actions thus far.
“It is unfortunate that our administration has been stalling as long as possible to speak with the students before Condoleezza Rice’s commencement speech on May 18th and taking actions that directly harm students in order to undermine their efforts,” she said.