Dear President Barchi,
We write to reply to your March 7 defense of the decision to grant an honorary degree to Dr. Condoleezza Rice and to invite her to give the commencement address at the Rutgers Commencement in May.
At the outset, we wish to record our concern that this decision was made in secret — outside of the traditional Rutgers procedures for selecting commencement speakers. Instead of soliciting nominations, the University community was simply informed last November that there was no need to make any suggestions because the decision on who would speak at commencement had already been made. We are concerned that the decision was made in a way that essentially denied free speech and open discourse to the University community.
It could not have come as a surprise that the selection of Condoleezza Rice as our Commencement speaker and the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree would create considerable controversy among students, faculty, and alumni; and result in considerable undesirable attention for Rutgers. Surely we have had enough bad publicity for a while.
In the last 8 years only two universities, the Air University (the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command) and SMU (the home of the Bush Presidential Complex) have awarded honorary degrees to Dr. Rice, despite her prominence. The letter sent to the university community does not explain the reasons for what is an almost singular action by Rutgers. Many people believe that her selection at this time is part of a broader political agenda and will tarnish the image of Rutgers.
The overwhelming majority of the objections are to her selection as the Commencement speaker and the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, not to her appearance at Rutgers. The greatest recognition any university can confer on an individual is an honorary degree — a degree honoris causa (“for the sake of the honor”). The bar for such recognition is, rightly, very high.
Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals not simply because they have an inspiring life story, have held high office, or have had many achievements; but also because they serve as moral exemplars.
Every member of the faculty welcomes the opportunity for discourse, dialog, debate, and the free exchange of ideas. A Commencement speech does not provide any of those opportunities. But you write: “Yet, 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.” No one is seeking to exclude Condoleezza Rice.
Rutgers can be spared two more months of agonizing controversy over whether we should present Condoleezza Rice as a role model for our students and, in the words of the “Guidelines on Honorary Degrees,” officially state that her accomplishments “support the ideals of Rutgers and serve as an example to our students, our alumni, and society.”Rutgers would be spared still more damaging publicity if we could convince the Board of Governors to rescind her invitation to be the Commencement speaker and instead to organize a major forum/teaching event on recent American history to which she and other distinguished speakers could be invited to educate our students and faculty.
The Executive Committee of The New Brunswick Faculty Council
The current brouhaha at Rutgers over Condoleezza Rice brought to mind a relatively old (1991) quote from a well-known liberal attorney, Alan Dershowicz, who back then was so disturbed by the lack of respect for free speech in certain liberal circles he’s on record as saying: “Political correctness is the most serious issue on college campuses. We are tolerating, and teaching, intolerance and hypocrisy” (James Warren, “Drawing Laughs,” Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1991, section 5, p. 2).
Things didn’t change much from 1991 by 2005. Indeed, the intolerance of the ever-so-trendy “politically correct” crowd just seemed to have gotten worse (power may have gone to their heads). That motivated a libertarian syndicated columnist named Nat Hentoff to pen a piece titled “College no place for closed minds” (Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 15, 2005, p. 45). Some of the points he made: 1) even some mainstream educational groups (which Hentoff lists) expressed concern about the widespread intolerance and hostility on many college campuses towards conservative speakers, ideas and values; 2) liberal college professors outnumbered conservative professors by a 5 to 1 ratio; 3) in some classrooms on various college campuses “conservative students are intimidated into silence, ignored or occasionally ridiculed” by narrow-minded liberals; and 4) “indoctrination—instead of free inquiry—…characterizes much of higher education.”
According to an article in Washington Monthly magazine: “62.2 percent of professors self-identify as liberal, compared to 19.7 as conservative….9.4 percent of faculty members say they’re ‘extremely liberal’” (Kevin Carey, “Tenured Moderates,” Washington Monthly, Jan./Feb. 2010, p. 52).
And according to an article in The New York Times: “It’s certainly true that professors are a liberal lot….[A]bout half of the professors identified as liberal, as compared to just one in five Americans over all….[Among academic] social scientists, for example, there were 10 Democrats for every Republican….There’s no doubt that in terms of overall curricular content and campus culture, most colleges and universities do skew more to the left than to the right” (Neil Gross, “The Indoctrination Myth,” The New York Times, “Sunday Review” section, March 4, 2012, p. 12).
Closed-minded, intolerant liberal bigots who believe it’s okay to discriminate against conservatives exist, and many of them are unfortunately found on college campuses, where they are using their teaching positions to try to insinuate their questionable values into their students. Hopefully students are aware of all the one-sided, liberal propaganda they are manipulatively being exposed to. But I fear they are not.
It would be nice to see students pushing for intellectual diversity on their campuses, and maybe even affirmative action for hiring a true minority on college campuses: conservative teachers. Until that happens, liberal college professors will feel free to continue to try to take advantage of their students. That needs to change.