Corruption evident in Rutgers administration's selection process
On May 3, Condoleezza Rice broke national headlines upon rescinding her invitation as the Rutgers Class of 2014 commencement speaker. Via a Facebook post at 8:47 a.m., Rice noted that the invitation "has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time," and, indirectly referencing the #NoRice student protest, stated, "I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way."
Immediately after Rice's press release, Rutgers students flooded Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and other social media platforms with their perspectives on Rice's decision. Across class years, many students held mixed reactions to Rice's decision. Proponents of #NoRice congratulated the campaign, noting the power of student activism against an unflinching University institution. Meanwhile, Rice's advocates feared that her resignation was a faux pas, which would dampen Rutgers's reputation in the coming years.
But despite the importance of Rice's history with military aggression and violations of international laws, her image as a national political figure has overshadowed a major issue at Rutgers University: the clear administrative corruption within the Rutgers commencement speaker selection process. As various online news sources have revealed, the current administrative government has failed to uphold the democratic regulations necessary for the Rutgers commencement process.
Originally, Rice was invited to speak at the commencement ceremony for the class of 2013. According to nj.com, this was done through the proper democratic and bureaucratic process. "[Rice] was first nominated, through the usual Rutgers process of asking students and faculty for recommendations, in 2012 to speak at the 2013 commencement ceremony," the website claims, which culminated in a commencement invitation after "Rutgers' six-member honorary degree committee reviewed the nominations." Originally, Rice's 2013 invitation was created democratically, using the University's pre-existing commencement system in order to draw on Rice.
However, according to several emails obtained through the Open Public Records Act, Rice's 2014 invitation directly bypassed these regulations and forced through a second invitation without democratic consultation. In New Brunswick Today's breaking article, "Under Pressure, Condoleezza Rice Backs Out of Rutgers Graduation Speech," editor Charlie Kratovil reveals that the University disregarded the honorary degree committee in its entirety in order to secure Rice for 2014. Rather, Kratovil reports that "Rutgers quietly invited her to speak at the 2014 ceremony," according to official emails which date Rice's invitation for April 29, 2013. "Rice accepted the invitation on June 2, 2013," Kratovil states, "months before the annual honorary degree committee was even formed." By late April, the University had made a decision to invite Rice, without utilizing the democratic powers within the commencement address. Indeed, the University bypassed the honorary degree committee, and the necessary student-faculty bodies for confirmation, in order to immediately secure Rice.
However, this issue reaches the very top of the current University administration — indeed, this invitation was made with full disclosure towards Barchi. According to University Secretary Leslie Fehrenbach, Rice's invitation required approval from Barchi for its final confirmation. After discussing the negative fallout from the national Mike Rice basketball scandal, Fehrenbach notes, "... when things calm down I will have Bob [Barchi] approve it and we will agree on a time to send it." Inherently, through his approval, Barchi was aware of the invitation created without the honorary committee's approval.
The handling of Rice's invitation presents a bureaucratic sloppiness and an inability to properly and respectfully handle pressing issues. Rice's invitation bypassed serious University regulations, and failed to account for the dynamic voices of the school's students and faculty.
Rice's undemocratic invitation is not an isolated incident, and to claim such would be a serious misreading of the Barchi administration's history within this University. Throughout the past two years alone, the administration has consistently displayed an inability to properly control, handle, and discipline its own institutions. Within the course of the past two years, Rutgers has found itself on the national stage in disgrace, through scandal after scandal. The Rice basketball scandal, for instance, demonstrated the Barchi administration's incompetence in fully protecting student athletes from abusive coaches. This was confirmed by Barchi's introduction of Julie Hermann, an athletic director who is known for harassing players and creating "mental cruelty" which is "unbearable," according to one former player.
At a University Senate meeting last Friday, more than 100 students angrily told Barchi, "[You] denied us access to the bathroom and threatened us with suspension and arrest." Many of these students were left in physical discomfort during their sit-in protest at Old Queens — which was weaponized in order to remove students from Barchi’s office.
This inability to properly control the University institution — and greet protesters with basic human needs — demonstrates an inability for administration higher-ups to properly handle their University's basic needs.
Many years ago, President John F. Kennedy once remarked, "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names." Indeed, while mistakes may be overlooked and forgiven in an institutional context, an unhealthy pattern of ineptitude quickly becomes unforgivable within University structures. Again and again, the Barchi administration has given Rutgers students the perfect justification to "never forget their names."
Philip Wythe is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English with a minor in political science. Their column, “Nothing, if not Critical,” normally runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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