UPDATED: Rice Cancels Rutgers Commencement Speech, Faculty Teach-in Still On

By Elizabeth V Zamora

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not be the speaker at Rutgers University’s annual commencement this month, according to numerous press reports, but a planned faculty teach-in on her record and the university’s original invitation will still take place.

Rice, who served as the former US Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, was a controversial choice to serve as speaker. Faculty and students were critical of her role in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

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Faculty had sought to have her invitation rescinded, while students occupied President Robert Barchi’s office last week to demonstrate their opposition. Faculty planning a Tuesday teach-in on Rice’s record said in an email Sunday morning that the teach-in is still scheduled, though it will now also focus on the university’s decision-making process along with Rice.

Rice announced her decision in a letter to President Barchi, according to NJ.com.

“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” said Rice. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

President Barchi released a letter via email to the university community about two hours after Rice’s announcement.

“While Rutgers University stands fully behind the invitation to Dr. Rice to be our commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree, we respect her decision not to participate in the upcoming Rutgers University commencement, which she clearly articulated in her statement this morning,” Barchi said in his email.

Rice, in her statement, said she did not want to be a distraction.

“In her statement, Rice defended her record, saying that she was honored to serve her country and that she had ‘defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas’ but she said she didn’t want to detract from the spirit of the commencement ceremony,” said the Huffington Post.

The scheduled Tuesday teach-in, hosted by Rutgers faculty members who opposed having Rice serve as the speaker, is still on. According to Franscois Cornilliat, one of the faculty members who organized the teach-in, the event will have a modified focus.

“While we are obviously very glad that Rice has decided not to come… we feel that it is more important than ever to put the whole matter in perspective,” he said in an email.

The modified teach-in will also discuss “what went wrong” at Rutgers, a problem Cornilliat believes was illustrated again by President Barchi’s message addressing Rice’s decision to not attend commencement.

Rudolph Bell, a Rutgers history professor, said in a latter sent earlier this week to the university that “Attending the teach-in will be a strong signal that we will not sit quietly while a small group of irresponsible people dishonor our beloved university.”

Bell was interviewed along with professor Boikess, a Rutgers Chemistry professor and member of the Rutgers University faculty council, for a video posted to the Raritan River Review website by students from an advanced television reporting class.

On Monday, April 28, students protested outside of President Barchi’s University office and later occupied his office with a sit-in. Student’s chanted “Condee lied, millions died” during the protest, according to the Raritan River Review.

Commencement is May 18, which gives the university two weeks to find a new commencement speaker.

“Now is the time to focus on our commencement, a day to celebrate the accomplishments and promising futures of our graduates,” Barchi said in his email. ”We look forward to joining them and their families on May 18, 2014.”

Ariana Cerminaro contributed to this report.

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