Following protests by students and faculty members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has declined to give the commencement speech at Rutgers University, according to a report from The Associated Press.
In a statement, Rice said the invitation “has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”
“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” she said.
Condoleezza Rice added that she is “honored” to have served her country and has “defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas.”
“These values are essential to the health of our democracy,” she said. “But that is not what is at issue here.”
Rice concluded her statement by saying that she understood the purpose of the ceremony, and she is “simply unwilling to detract from it in any way.”
A previous report from The Inquisitr had stated that Rice was going to speak at Rutgers, despite the growing controversy. And at that time, Rutgers President Robert Barchi described Rice as one of the “most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years.”
The Star-Ledger reports that roughly 50 students protested against the decision to let Condoleezza Rice speak by holding a “sit-in inside the campus administration building.” The students wanted Rutgers to rescind Rice’s invitation because of her involvement in the Iraq War and the controversies that surrounded it. Rutgers officials declined to withdraw their invitation, saying the campus welcomes debates on controversial topics.
Some faculty members were planning to hold a “teach-in” to talk about the Condoleezza Rice invitation. In an e-mail to the campus, history professor Rudolph Bell said the event would be “a strong signal that we will not sit quietly while a small group of irresponsible people dishonor our beloved university.”
Condoleezza Rice was slated to receive an honorary doctorate at the ceremony, as well as $35,000 for her speech. In a statement, Barchi said that officials still stood “fully behind” their invitation and the decision to honor Rice with an honorary doctorate.
Barchi added that the officials “respect” the decision by Condoleezza Rice to not speak at the ceremony, since it has been a growing issue for the university.
“Now is the time to focus on our commencement, a day to celebrate the accomplishments and promising futures of our graduates,” the statement read. “We look forward to joining them and their families on May 18, 2014.”
With Rice no longer giving the commencement speech, Rutgers has two weeks to figure out who will be the speaker at the graduation ceremony.