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Rice declines Rutgers commencement invite; says it has become a distraction

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FILE: Condoleezza Rice said she will not be delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University’s graduation ceremony this month, saying the invitation has become a “distraction.”Reuters

Condoleezza Rice announced Saturday that she will not be delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University’s graduation ceremony this month, saying the invitation has become a "distraction."

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,” the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush said in the statement.

"I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way."

- Condoleezza Rice

"I am honored to have served my country. I have defended America's belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy. But that is not what is at issue here. As a professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as (its) 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."

On Monday, roughly 50 Rutgers University students staged a sit-in at a school administration building in New Brunswick to protest the school's invitation to  Rice to appear at the university's commencement.

The school's Board of Governors voted to pay $35,000 for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony. She was going to be awarded an honorary degree.

But several faculty members and students wanted the invitation rescinded because of Rice's role in the Iraq War. Rutgers' New Brunswick Faculty Council passed a resolution in March calling on the university's board of governors to rescind the invitation.

Photos and videos of Monday's protest posted to Twitter showed students lining a staircase leading to University President Robert Barchi's office, The Star-Ledger reported.

Some students held up signs reading, "No honors for war criminals," "War criminals out" and "RU 4 Humanity?" the report said.

The sit-in was one of the largest in Rutgers' history, according to The Daily Targum, a student newspaper. Police reportedly responded to the site of the protest after a glass door was broken and a student cut their hand.

Barchi and other school leaders had resisted the calls to "disinvite" Rice, saying the university welcomes open discourse on controversial topics.

"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," Barchi said in a letter to campus last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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