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Barchi weighs in on Bill Moyers as Rutgers' commencement speaker

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Bill Moyers was announced as the 2016 commencement speaker by the University on April 6, but immediately received backlash from students hoping for another figure.

On April 6, the University announced Bill Moyers as this year’s commencement speaker, disappointing students who believed President Barack Obama would be the 250th anniversary speaker.

Following the announcement, students took to Facebook with complaints, and a petition began circulating online. The petition, “The Class of 2016 Demands a new commencement speaker,” garnered 100 supporters in one day.

“I spent nearly $100,000 on my education here and I would like my send-off to be memorable,” wrote School of Arts and Sciences senior Carly Grossman on the change.org petition.

In an interview with The Daily Targum on Tuesday, President Robert L. Barchi said the Senate Committee started late with the commencement process this year. 

“You can’t start this process two months before graduation and expect that you’re going to get the result you would like to have if you did it two years before graduation,” Barchi said. “That is not in any way to denigrate Mr. Moyers. We were lucky he was there at such short notice.”

Commencement speakers should normally be invited two years before graduation, Barchi said. First, the Senate Committee must gather, discuss, evaluate and rank nominees in a list that is sent to the Board of Trustees, who then begin inviting speakers in the ranked order. 

But this year, the Senate Committee presented the list to the Board of Trustees in January. By then, Barchi said most big names on the list were either unavailable or too expensive.

Bill Moyers was invited in February. He cost the University $35,000 to speak, the same price the University paid for Bill Nye to speak last May. 

“Remember that the administration didn’t suggest (Bill Moyers). We didn’t get that list until the beginning of the new year this year,” Barchi said. “So late went from being late to really late in my mind and I think in the mind of most people considering the invitation.”

Barchi said he is excited to hear Moyers speak at commencement.

“I think you’ll find him very insightful. He’s a man who’s won numerous numerous awards and honorary degrees … and has seen an incredible amount in this country and around the world,” he said.

The process of the Senate Committee choosing the commencement speaker was created after the No Rice protests in 2014 and a push for reform from students, faculty and staff. 

Barchi said the Senate Committee tries to gather a broad range of speakers to cater to a younger audience. The senate's willingness to invite a range of varying speakers has not been deterred by the No Rice Campaign, he said. 

"The list didn’t look conservative to me. (But) it wasn’t terribly polarizing in the names that were there. It was a very reasonable list," he said. "I would’ve liked to have that list two years ago."

Editor's Note: President Barack Obama accepted Rutgers' invitation to speak at the University's 2016 commencement on April 14, 2016. 

Avalon Zoppo is the managing editor of The Daily Targum. She is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science. Follow her on Twitter @AvalonZoppo for more stories.

Avalon Zoppo

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