May 9, 2014

Editorial: A college closes its ears

The headline in the newspaper said, “Condoleezza Rice backs out of Rutgers commencement,” which is mostly true.

She had been invited to speak and declined. But “chased out” would have been closer to the truth than “backed out.”

Rice was secretary of state under George W. Bush. Critics insist she was more than a little complicit in America’s involvement in the war in Iraq. So some students and faculty members didn’t want to hear what she would have to say.

Some staged sit-ins and openly protested her scheduled appearance on their campus in New Jersey. Maybe they were afraid she would foment a declaration of war with neighboring New York. Whatever the reason, they didn’t want to listen to her.

The resistance may have been in part because she would have received an honorary doctorate, as is the custom with distinguished speakers on notable campuses.

We could understand someone who is opposed to a celebrity speaker’s politics being riled over the university doing something that could give the appearance of condoning her stance.

What we don’t understand is not wanting to hear the person out. Maybe she’d be discussing the controversial war; maybe she’d be discussing other topics of interest to a college community.

In any case, she is an extremely intelligent and accomplished woman who has traveled in the highest circles in international diplomacy. She would undoubtedly have a lot to say that would spark useful thought.

We were wondering who else the Rutgers students and faculty would decline to invite or refuse to listen to. 

Does the institution want to leave the impression that in order to gain access to the podium at a mass gathering at Rutgers the speaker has to embrace a particular philosophy? That only certain ideologies are open to consideration?

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