Condi Rice, Rutgers University, and Academia Today
What the Condi Rice affair at Rutgers reveals to us about contemporary academia.
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.
The Rutgers College Republicans, the Eagleton Undergraduate Associates, and Greek Life at Rutgers University were among those student groups that petitioned Barchi to denounce the anti-Rice forces for having engendered a “hostile campus environment” on campus. Speaking on their behalf, Donald Coughlan, chairman of the New Jersey College Republicans, wrote that all it took was a “small minority of the student body and intolerant faculty members” to frustrate the desires of an “overwhelming” majority of students that had looked forward to hearing Rice speak.
Not only had Rice’s detractors “protested loudly” from the time that it was announced that she would be the commencement speaker. Not only did dozens of them hold a “sit in” at Barchi’s office. Disgruntled faculty fired off an email to all students urging them to participate in a “teach-in” to rally against Rice.
Coughlan notes that “most students…who do not share the opinions of” these professors and who know them well were “intimidated” by the emails.
A college education is, or is supposed to be, an education into the best of what students’ civilization has to offer, an inheritance, comprised as it is of millennia worth of achievements both intellectual and moral, at once encourages and requires for its appreciation the cultivation of the virtues of head and heart, mind and character.
As the situation at Rutgers clarifies for all with eyes to see, this civilizing mission has been radically turned on its head. Coercion and intimidation, after all, are the tried and true methods of choice of the savage, the barbarian. Infinitely worse, though, is that it is faculty—those entrusted with taming the beast that is the next generation—that have instructed their students in the art of wielding these weapons as they crusade for one cause after the other.
And university administrators cower.
This is the academic world today.