Condoleezza Rice Backs Out of Rutgers Commencement Invitation

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not be the commencement speaker at Rutgers University's ceremony, she announced Saturday. Rutgers students and faculty protested the school's decision to ask her to give a commencement address on the basis of her involvement in the Iraq War. Commencement is May 18, leaving Rutgers officials just two weeks to find a new speaker.

Rice, who had previously accepted the invitation, would have been paid $35,000 for the speech. The school announced on February 4 that Rice would be invited to speak at commencement. Shortly thereafter, the Rutgers faculty council asked the university's board of governors to rescind the invitation, which precipitated large student protests. Nearly 100 students gathered at a senate meeting to question the university president, Robert Barchi, on the decision, and a sit-in of over 50 students in his office was reportedly one of the largest in Rutgers history.

On Saturday, Rice released a statement on her Facebook page in which she formally declined the invitation. The statement reads, in part:

Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families. Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time. ... As a Professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as it's former Provost and Chief academic officer, I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way.

Barchi released his own statement later that day, echoing Rice's sentiment:

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.

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

Despite the short time frame, students and faculty are confident that Rutgers will find a new commencement speaker by May 18. According to the Rutgers Daily Targum, the student protestors have a meeting on Monday with Barchi and other officials to examine alternative speaker options. "I think we should be able to get a speaker, we got it last time so late into the game," Robert Boikess, a member of the faculty council, told the Targum. "We have $35,000."