May 3: Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said today that she would not give the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Jersey this month. Her announcement came after weeks of protests by some students over her role as speaker.
Rice was scheduled to speak at the May 18 commencement, but protesters had argued that her involvement in the Iraq war during the Bush administration should have prohibited her selection in the first place.
Students staged a sit-in last week outside the office of the university’s president, Robert L. Barchi, to protest the decision to invite her. Today, Rice released a statement saying that she did not want to detract from the day’s festivities.
“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” the statement said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”
“I am honored to have served my country,” she added. “I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy.”
Barchi had defended the decision to invite Rice to deliver the address, saying it was important for the university to protect free speech and academic freedom.
“Whatever your personal feelings or political views about our commencement speaker, there can be no doubt that Condoleezza Rice is one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years,” Barchi wrote in a letter to the university community in March.
Students also confronted Barchi on campus yesterday, chanting “Cancel Condi” as he walked out of a meeting.
Rice served as secretary of state from 2005 to 2009. She now works as a professor at Stanford University and is a founding partner at the consulting firm RiceHadleyGates.
Last month, there were protests when the company Dropbox appointed Rice to its board of directors. Protesters set up a website calling her appointment “deeply disturbing”.
A group of faculty members passed a resolution in February calling on the university to rescind its invitation, saying Rice had played “a prominent role in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.
Bush’s administration cited its belief that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s government held weapons of mass destruction to justify the decision to go to war.