Rutgers students frustrated after Rice withdraws as commencement speaker

Student groups at Rutgers University expressed their dismay Monday at the withdrawal of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a commencement speaker.

In an open letter to university president Dr. Robert Barchi, three student groups said they took issue with Rice's decision to withdraw as a speaker amid protests over her previously planned appearance at the school's graduation. The groups also expressed concern that Rutgers is not a place where, "the free ideas and a diversity of opinions are encouraged."

The letter was written Monday on behalf of the Rutgers College Republicans, Eagleton Undergraduate Associates, Greek Life at Rutgers University, and other student organizations.

"The decision surprised many and evoked a wide range of responses on the Rutgers University campus, social media and in the national media," wrote Donald P. Coughlan of the Eagleton Undergraduate Associates.

"An overwhelming number of the students were disappointed in Condoleezza Rice no longer being the commencement speaker after a small minority of the student body and intolerant faculty members at Rutgers University protested loudly over the past month ... A university should be a place where free ideas are exchanged and a diversity of opinions are encouraged," Coughlan said in the letter.

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    Rice withdrew her name as speaker on Saturday following protests from a group of Rutgers University students, who staged a sit-in at a school administration building in New Brunswick last week to protest the school's decision to invite Rice to speak at the university's commencement later this month. Rice made the announcement via Facebook on Saturday.

    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    But several faculty members and students wanted the invitation rescinded because of Rice's role in the Iraq War.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.

    Students who have heard Rice speak during a recent college lecture tour responded favorably to her insight on a variety of issues, ranging from the Ukraine crisis to domestic entitlement spending.

    "Rice’s remarks weren’t controversial. I don’t think people would protest if they knew the things she was going to say," Texas A&M senior Jordan DePuma told Fox News. "Students should let her come to their schools. She has so much wisdom and insight to share."

    Fox News College Associate Jordan Knesek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.