Rutgers Governors Nix Faculty Presentation on Rice Choice

By Briana Supardi

The Rutgers Board of Governors will not allow Rutgers Faculty Council, who opposed having former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice serve as the university’s commencement speaker, to present a petition at the Board’s monthly meeting today (Tuesday, April 1), so the faculty organizers are turning to the web.

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Condoleeza Rice will give the Rutgers University commencement address.

The faculty, who want the board to rescind its invitation to Rice, has created a Sakai-based website to generate debate. The site is open to all views and opinions, including those who support the decision and those who oppose it.

“The site is dedicated to academic freedom in the wake of the Board’s refusal to hear the voices of over 350 faculty members who oppose that decision,” the site announced.

The Rutgers Faculty Council has criticized President Barchi’s March 7 letter to the Rutgers community, in which he cited the protection of free speech and academic freedom in defense of the university’s invitation to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak at this year’s commencement.

However, many faculty members criticized his notion of free speech and academic freedom, and some considered it “total nonsense.”

“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,” the President’s letter stated. “Free speech and academic freedom cannot be determined by any group.”

The Rutgers Board of Governors unanimously approved her nomination in February, and named the former Secretary of State as one of its graduation speakers. Rice will also be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the May 18 commencement ceremony, campus official said.

In an article published by NJ.com, university spokesperson, Greg Trevor, said the Board of Governors made recommendations for commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients, and all approved Rice’s selection on Feb. 4.

“No one objected her coming to Rutgers to speak,” said faculty member, Robert Boikess, who is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “The only objection is her coming to commencement.”

In a resolution that denounced the decision to invite Rice to commencement, the faculty cites her involvement in the decision to launch the second Iraq War as well as her association with the Bush administration’s torture policies. The faculty argued that Rice fails to fit the criteria of an honorary degree recipient.

Newark and, recently, Camden Faculty members have also passed a resolution opposing the selection of Condoleezza Rice. Camden Faculty passed the resolution just yesterday, having initially supported her invitation.

Rutgers University explains on its Office of the Secretary of the University website how and why it offers honorary degrees. “Through this major public action, the university is able to acknowledge worthy individuals of national and international acclaim whose accomplishments support the ideals of the university and serve as an example for our students, alumni, and society.”

The Rutgers University Guidelines on Honorary Degrees lists the criteria. A nominee:

1. Must evidence outstanding achievement in the humanities, arts, or sciences, or in a profession: in government, public affairs, education, or religion; in industry or commerce; and society.

2. Must evidence distinguished service and performance in his or her accomplishments that support the ideals of Rutgers and serve as an example to our students, our alumni, and society.

3. Must evidence in his or her life a commitment of service to humankind.

The faculty being critical of Rice’s selection said the selection contradicts the university’s criteria on honorary degrees. According to a letter from the New Brunswick Faculty Council Executive Committee in response to Barchi’s letter sent on March 7, “Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals not simply because they have an inspiring life story, have held high office, or have had many achievements; but also because they serve as moral exemplars.”

The faculty said Rice’s war record has “gravely damaged the moral standing of the United States.”

One faculty member, Mark Killingsworth, an economics professor at the university, said “My ideal person would not be someone who drove us to war. She was an active participant in the administration’s efforts to mislead the American people in the existence of weapons of mass destruction, which caused the war and costs so many lives.”

Over 350 Rutgers faculty members from the New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden campuses recently signed a petition to urge the Board of Governors to reverse its decision on Rice’s invitation and awarding her with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Andrew Shankman, Rutgers-Camden’s Director of Graduate Studies and an associate professor of history, and Adam Scales, Camden law school associate dean, wrote in Star-Ledger op-ed column,”To disinvite Rice undermines the idea of Rutgers University as a place where all claims can be considered and interrogated, wehre thoughtful intellectual conflict is welcome, and where engagement, not excommunication, is at the core of what we do.”

The Board of Governors has refused to let the faculty present their petition at its April 1st meeting. President Barchi also declined the faculty access to the university-wide email list, which he used to send his March 7 letter to the Rutgers community, according to a letter written by faculty members Rudolph Bell, Francois Cornilliat, and Uri Eisenzwig.

The decision to not allow a faculty presentation contradicts the statements Barchi made in his March 7 letter in defense of free speech and academic freedom.

In response to what the faculty letter classifies as the President and Board’s “unilateral actions”, members of the faculty have created a Sakai website, called Rice@Rutgers?, to serve as a forum open to all opinions regarding the Rice controversy. The site encourages all members of the Rutgers community to join in and express their views on the situation.

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