Condi Rice will not be this year’s commencement speaker at Rutgers University after all.
Due to the controversy generated by some students and faculty over Rutgers’ decision to invite the former Secretary of State, Rice decided to back out, explaining that she didn’t want to be “a distraction” at a college graduation.
This whole ugly affair is revealing, not just of the atmosphere of this one institution of higher learning, but of the atmosphere of the contemporary academic world.
It’s true that President Robert Barchi did not succumb to the students’ and faculty’s demands that the school disinvite Rice due to her involvement in the Iraq War. But neither did he utter a syllable’s worth of condemnation of their tactics, proving that, as always, the lion’s share of grease always goes to the leftist squeaky wheel in the world of higher education.
Beyond this, Barchi passed the buck, and actually encouraged the notion that the anti-Rice forces were in the right. Barchi insisted that he hadn’t “the power” to rescind the invitation to Rice—implying, of course, that had he the power, he would’ve done so. Only the Board of Governors, Barchi continued, has that power. “If you want to discuss ways of how we can (choose a commencement speaker) going forward, where we can guarantee that the Board has more input when they arrive at the discussion,” he told protestors, then “I think we can do that.”
Translation: We won’t make the mistake of inviting a Republican ever again.
The notion that, as Barchi suggests, the controversy over Rice reveals that the Rutgers community welcomes a marketplace of ideas, a vigorous exchange over contentious issues, is more than a fiction; it is a lie.
And that is the real scandal that the Rice affair unveils, the dirty secret that academia, the one place in American life where it should be possible to discuss, genuinely discuss, all manner of disputable topics, is nothing of the kind.
The faculty and students of Rutgers didn’t disagree with their school’s decision to invite Rice. They refused it. Between the one and the other lies the difference between civilization and barbarism.
There was no spirited discussion over the administration’s selection of Rice for commencement speaker. Rather, the invitee’s enemies employed the kinds of strong-arm tactics for which leftist student and faculty activists have become known. To see that this is so, we need only consult those of Rutgers’ students who wanted for Rice to speak at Rutgers.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.