Thought of Condi Rice in a mortar board has Rutgers profs frothing

 President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006. They were returning from Camp David. (AP File Photo/Gerald Herbert)

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006. They were returning from Camp David. (AP File Photo/Gerald Herbert)

As long as there are college professors, Fox News will never run out of material.

The faculties of Rutgers’ New Brunswick and Newark campuses have called upon the university to disinvite Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker this spring.

Oh, happy day for the Sean Hannitys and Steve Doocys.  Fox News hosts like those two never tire of ranting about left-wing college faculties who “hate America.”

Still, without lapsing into Hannity speak, I gotta say something doesn’t sit right here.

Aren’t college faculties supposed to uphold freedom of thought and intellectual courage? Why are they seeking to block someone from speaking? Is it simply because they don’t agree with the political company she keeps?

Seems likely that some of these same professors get indignant whenever a Catholic university bars a speaker who supports abortion rights or when a college gets urged to disinvite an Islamic scholar because he supposedly “supports jihad.”

Either you believe in free speech, or you don’t. It can’t be contingent on your level of agreement with the speaker. As Justice Brandeis said, the best remedy for offensive free speech is not censorship, it’s more and better speech.

Still, I do see another level to the controversy here.

Rice isn’t just being invited to speak on campus. Giving a commencement address is a singular honor. It tabs Rice as a role model for the class of 2014.

H. Bruce Franklin, an English prof on the Newark campus, put this point pungently (maybe a little too pungently): “What we’re doing is awarding an honorary degree and having a commencement speech from someone who is a war criminal.”

Gee, did I somehow miss that verdict at The Hague? When was our former national security adviser and Secretary of State put on trial and convicted? (Actually, Americans aren’t subject to war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court, because the United States never ratified the statute setting up the court.)

Mr. Franklin and I could probably agree that during the Iraq War the United States did things that violated our constitutional values, as well as Christian morals and common sense. And, yes, Condi Rice was in high office while that went on.

But his rhetoric is over the top, and that rarely helps a case. But I do get why he rankles at seeing his college offer its highest honor to someone he regards as complicit in a dark episode.

Still, the best response is more free speech, not silencing.

Unhappy that Rice is speaking?  Arrange a teach-in on the conduct of the Iraq and Afghanistan war; come up with a plan for a dignified protest at commencement, something that won’t will make the point without spoiling the day for grads and their families.

Anything but this tin-eared, illiberal demand.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal