March 7, 2014
Dear Members of the Rutgers Community,
On May 18, we will welcome former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver the 2014 Rutgers University–New Brunswick commencement address. In recent weeks, members of our University community have engaged in spirited discussions, and faculty, staff, students, alumni, and a range of individuals from across the nation have written both in strong support of, and in opposition to, Condoleezza Rice as our commencement speaker. 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. Our students—like all members of our University community—benefit from these kinds of energetic civic exchanges, and through them learn to develop, articulate, and defend their own values and their moral and ethical positions.
Whatever your personal feelings or political views about our commencement speaker, there can be no doubt that Condoleezza Rice is one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years. She has been on the Stanford faculty as a professor of Political Science since 1981, and she has won two of the university’s highest teaching distinctions. From 1993 to 1999, she served as Stanford’s Provost, the institution’s chief academic officer. In 2001, she accepted the offer to serve in Washington, D.C. as National Security Advisor and later United States Secretary of State, the first woman of color to serve in that role. In March 2009, Dr. Rice returned to Stanford University as a professor of political economy in the Graduate School of Business and in political science and as the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution. Dr. Rice’s success and influence is all the more impressive when considered in the context of her childhood in the segregated South, during the most tumultuous and violent years of the Civil Rights struggle.
As many of you have suggested in your letters and in discussions with me, we live in a time when politics can be deeply polarizing. Like our fellow citizens, you and I—our colleagues—have deep and sincerely held beliefs and convictions that often stand in stark contrast to others around us. Yet, 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. These principles are, in fact, best illustrated and preserved when we defend perspectives that we oppose or when we protect what may appear to be a minority view.
My hope is that we can use these seemingly controversial moments to reaffirm our commitment to open and civil discourse. Indeed, they provide strong evidence of a healthy and engaged University community. I will continue to work with you to guarantee the University remains a space where ideas can be considered, discussed, and debated, a space that embraces and defends civil discourse, free speech, and academic freedom.