A former Rutgers University football player who was paralyzed while making a tackle in a game will speak at his alma mater's commencement ceremony after he claimed the university rescinded the initial invitation.
"Eric LeGrand will speak at our commencement and personally receive his degree from me as a representative of the Class of 2014," Rutgers University President Robert Barchi said in a statement.
LeGrand told the Courier News he was contacted Saturday by Rutgers and offered to give the commencement speech. He said during a follow-up conversation Monday, Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann told him the school had changed its mind. By Monday afternoon the university announced former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean as the featured speaker at the May 18 commencement.
“It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker. We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate," Barchi said in a statement.
"Eric holds a special place in the hearts of Class of 2014 and the entire university community. We are thrilled that he will be joining us on stage to make this special occasion even more memorable,” he said. LeGrand, who has regained movement in his shoulders and feeling throughout his body after being paralyzed while making a tackle in 2010, earned enough credits to graduate with a degree in labor studies.
The university was forced to find a replacement for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after she announced Saturday she would not speak at the school's ceremony as previously scheduled following protests from a group of students who staged a sit-in at a school administration building in New Brunswick.
The school's Board of Governors voted to pay the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and national security adviser $35,000 for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony, where she was expected 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But several faculty members and students wanted the invitation rescinded because of Rice's role in the Iraq War.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 its invitation.
Barchi and other school leaders 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 groups in March.
Rutgers spokesman Pete McDonough told the Courier News that Barchi selected Kean as the speaker after consulting the university's Board of Governors and without input from faculty or students.