Source: Bergen Record -
Two days after former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opted not to deliver the commencement address amid a string of protests, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi named former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean as the keynote speaker at the school’s May 18 graduation ceremony.
“Gov. Kean’s career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies,’’ Barchi said in a statement Monday afternoon. “Gov. Kean is a national role model as a statesman who built bridges across partisan, racial, ethnic and ideological divides for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for the people he served. We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address our graduates.”
Prior to Kean’s appointment, several Republican state lawmakers weighed in on the controversy.
“I think it’s a huge missed opportunity and I’m really saddened for the students, the graduates and their families, who would’ve had an opportunity to listen to Secretary Condoleezza Rice,” Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, R-Dist. 11, said. “I just don’t understand the controversy. I understand what they’re saying it is. She’s such a wonderful woman who has been such a wonderful role model to so many young woman across the country of color and of all aspects of life. I’m angry, but I’m also sad.’’
State Senator Joe Kyrillos, R-Dist. 13, called it “an embarrassment to both Rutgers and New Jersey,” adding: “It is a shame that select faculty and students at Rutgers censored her for having views different than their own and goes against everything for which our state university should stand.” His state Senate colleague, Joe Pennacchio, R-Dist. 26, echoed that sentiment, saying Rice “was bullied out of speaking at the upcoming commencement.”
For Rutgers officials, it marks a step forward in the controversy even as different factions on both sides of the issue continued the debate with dueling statements.
Rice announced her decision on her Facebook page, culminating a week in which students twice conducted nonviolent protests on campus and after several faculty groups voiced their protest in the form of opposing resolutions aimed at the Board of Governors’ Feb. 4 decision to tab Rice as commencement speaker.
The protests stemmed from Rice’s role as national security adviser to former President George W. Bush during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In a joint letter, the Rutgers College Republicans, Eagleton Undergraduate Associates and Greek Life at Rutgers University expressed dismay over Rice’s decision to withdraw as commencement speaker after, they wrote, “a small minority of students protested her selection” and said there is concern that Rutgers “is not a place where the free ideas and a diversity of opinions are encouraged.”
“A university should be a place where free ideas are exchanged and a diversity of opinions are encouraged,” wrote Donald Coughlan, a Rutgers student and chairman of the New Jersey College Republicans.
Rice, who was set to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree in addition to drawing a $35,000 speaking fee, said her invitation to speak became “a distraction for the university community” and was “simply unwilling to detract” from the commencement ceremony.
While part of the opposition from Rutgers’ faculty and students stemmed from the believe that university officials breached protocol in choosing Rice, Kean was picked without input from faculty or students, according to Pete McDonough, vice president for public affairs at Rutgers.
“I think we got so surprised by Secretary Rice’s decision that we had to move quickly,’’ McDonough said. “As Dr. Rice was pulling out, Gov. Kean’s name emerged rather quickly as a potential speaker. We actually had some conversations about him introducing Dr. Rice anyhow. So (after Rice’s withdrawal), his name came up, it received general acclaim and Bob just reached out to him. Was there a formal board process? No, but the board leadership was consulted and agreed to it.”
Rutgers officials had previously stated Rice was chosen through a process of the sending the six-person Honorary Degree Committee’s recommendation to the 18-person Committee on Alumni and University Relations and then on to the full Board of Governors. “The process is an open and inclusive process (and) has been in place for many years,” a Rutgers spokesperson said in March.
But while the Board of Governors is the only university body empowered to award honorary degrees, the university president has the authority to appoint a commencement speaker, McDonough said.
“It’s exigent circumstances,” McDonough said. “We certainly weren’t going to sit around and have to convene a meeting and further delay the process for selecting and creating excitement around the speaker.”
Kean, who received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Rutgers in 1982, will not accept a speaking fee, Rutgers officials said. He served as New Jersey governor from 1982 until 1990, and then went on to serve as the president of Drew University in Madison from 1990-2005.
In his letter to Barchi, Coughlin expressed concern that Rutgers faculty had encouraged students “to publicly denounce Dr. Rice and attend the Teach-In Protest.” That teach-in will go on as planned Tuesday evening at the Student Activities Center on George Street in New Brunswick, with Rutgers faculty scheduled to conduct panel discussions on torture, the Iraq War and academic values.