A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the rude and immature treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Brandeis had invited her to participate in and speak at their commencement ceremony, and planned to award her an honorary degree. That is, until an offended student started a petition which ended with Hirsi Ali being disinvited. Her crime? Being an outspoken opponent of Islam. But because Hirsi Ali grew up under Islamic law, I suppose that makes her better qualified than most to know whereof she speaks, but none of that mattered in the end. Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence caved under the protest and canceled her appearance and the awarding of the degree.
Now on to Rutgers University; Rutgers invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver their commencement address next month and be awarded an honorary doctorate degree. Predictably, there have been the usual grumblings and protests from the faculty and students, culminating yesterday with a sit-in by about 50 students outside the President’s office.
Before we go any further, let’s have a look at Condi Rice’s background. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she graduated from the University of Denver in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. A year later, she earned her master’s from the University of Notre Dame, and in 1981 earned her doctorate in political science from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She has been a professor of political science at Stanford University, and in 1987 served as an advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 1989, Condi Rice was appointed director of Soviet and East European Affairs on the National Security Council. President George W. Bush appointed her National Security Advisor in 2001, and in 2005 named her as his Secretary of State. Former Secretary Rice is an accomplished pianist, and has performed with famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma. As if that weren’t enough, she also speaks Russian, French, German, and some Spanish.
So just why, exactly, is there a campus outrage about a commencement address from Condi Rice? According to professors at Rutgers in Newark and New Brunswick, it’s because of her role in the Iraq war, and in the Bush administration’s “torture program.” According to a March 17th article by Christopher Mathias of the Huffington Post, Professor H. Bruce Franklin said, “What we’re doing is awarding an honorary degree and having a commencement speech from someone who is a war criminal.” War criminal? Wait, wouldn’t that put her in the same league with Heinrich Himmler, Rudolph Hess, and Josef Mengele? Or Saddam Hussein, for that matter? Unwise and irresponsible words coming from the professor.
Given the liberal bias, along with complete intolerance of any ideas or thoughts that differ from the radical leftist agenda that’s being promoted on most college campuses these days, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi is to be commended for defending Secretary Rice’s inclusion at the commencement ceremony. In a letter to the Rutgers community last month, Barchi wrote, “We have even heard from high school students who have written to say that they would withdraw their Rutgers applications if we rescind – or fail to rescind – our invitation to her. These are the kinds of exchanges that every great university welcomes. Like all vibrant intellectual communities, Rutgers can thrive only when it vigorously defends the free exchange of ideas in an environment of civil discourse.” He also wrote further, “We cannot protect free speech or academic freedom by denying others the right to an opposing view, or by excluding those with whom we may disagree. Free speech and academic freedom cannot be determined by any group. They cannot insist on consensus or popularity.”
In the 1973 film and subsequent television series The Paper Chase, about first year law students, Charles Kingsfield, the brilliant contract law professor said that each student entering his class had a skull full of mush, but by the completion of his class, he would have them thinking like a lawyer. I wouldn’t think it inappropriate to apply the term “skull full of mush” to not only the protesting students, but also the professors who would reject Secretary Rice as a commencement speaker. Is there such a strong lack of conviction about the views they hold that they’re actually afraid to hear another side of things? They have an opportunity to hear from a brilliant, well educated woman with decades of real world experience in both academia and politics. If her political views differ from theirs, what’s the harm to them? She’s certainly worth listening to. Perhaps what she has to say will only reinforce their own views. Or perhaps what she says may cause them to question their views and begin to look at the world in a different light.
So once again, my hat’s off to President Barchi for standing firm and insisting that the commencement address will be given by Secretary Rice. But if things turn sour and it doesn’t happen, look on the bright side… she doesn’t need an honorary doctorate. She already has one she’s earned.