The Secular Promise Not Fulfilled at Rutgers - The Part-Time Critic

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Secular Promise Not Fulfilled at Rutgers

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Hey part-timers, it's the Part-Time Critic with a few confident, but lightly held thoughts for you. CBS News is reporting that Condoleezza Rice has declined her invitation to speak during the commencement ceremony at Rutgers University. The board of governors agreed on the invitation, but vocal protests from faculty and students has led Rice to choose not to speak. CBS quotes Rice saying, "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."

Isn't the secular university supposed to be an environment of tolerance and diversity? Isn't the promise of allowing all viewpoints supposed to lead to dialogue and understanding? What does this episode tell us about the state of the secular promise at Rutger's University?

The good news is the report states this was Rice's decision and not a rescinding of the invitation on behalf of the school. The bad news is that the nature of the protests by faculty and staff led to an environment where Rice felt she would be detrimental to the occasion. To be fair, Rice could have still accepted the invitation and just put up with the protests. That is a legitimate action. Also, it's well within the rights of faculty and students to protest her speaking on campus. That is also a legitimate action.

Photo courtesy of Veterans Today
Rice has the option to decline the invitation and faculty/students have the option to protest, so where is the problem? The problem lies not in what people are "free" to do, but what their conscience should restrain them from doing. Students and faculty are free to protest Rice's presence on the campus because of her involvement in Iraq, but this doesn't mean that they should. Rutgers, like every secular college, tries to foster an atmosphere of diversity, openness to differing worldviews, and tolerance. I believe that protesting Rice's presence on campus to speak at graduation commencement is a violation of the principles of diversity and tolerance. Rice was the former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser of the United States and she deserves to have her voice heard.

On the other hand, Rice was free to decline the invitation for the reasons she stated, but I think her conscience she have restrained her from doing so. I believe that her decision is also a violation of the principles of diversity and tolerance. An atmosphere of diversity and tolerance can function only when two opposing sides are in mutual agreement to not only tolerate each other, but to listen to each other. Neither side here is interested in tolerating or listening. Protesters not only won't listen, but they don't even want her to be present on campus. Conversely, Rice doesn't want to hear the protests and has decided to not even be present. 

The promise of freedom and tolerance at secular campuses will not work without self-restraint and mutual understanding. While each party was within their rights to act as they did, neither was right in what they did. In the end, the promise of the secular University is impoverished and weakened because of it. 

I am curious, will the faculty and students protest the mere presence of everyone who comes to campus and had something to do with the Iraq War? Will they protest the presence of Hillary Clinton because of her vote to authorize it? Will they protest the presence of President Barrack Obama for his involvement with Guantanamo, drone strikes, and the surge in Afghanistan? If the Rutgers football team somehow runs through the entire Big 10 and makes it into the college football playoff, will they protest their inclusion because Condoleeza Rice is on the playoff selection committee?

Both parties have acted within their rights, but their actions have deprived the university and the student body of a unique worldview and voice. The secular promise of understanding and tolerance is not fulfilled because people have been freed to act however they want, it must be worked towards with restraint and sacrifice. The problem lies not in what people are "free" to do, but what their conscience should restrain them from doing. Neither party has worked to fulfill the secular promise.

So what do you think? Do I have good reason for being confident in these views or am I right to be holding them lightly? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments below.

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