Full disclosure first: In a former life, Condoleezza Rice was a valued colleague who once invited me to lecture to her classes at Stanford University. Not long afterward, her career blasted off. Under President George W. Bush, she was national security adviser and secretary of state, the first black woman to hold either post. Along the way, she also became Stanford’s provost, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Neither is having an enduring reputation as a class act. That reputation is the real reason why Dr. Rice recently withdrew her acceptance of an invitation by Rutgers University to appear as their commencement speaker. The campus controversy made headlines, fanned by the usual cabal of leftist faculty nitwits and student activists who decried her as a war criminal.
Such a dastardly person, complicit in the war policies of a Republican president, was for them obviously unfit to speak at the very same commencement that might have celebrated Tyler Clementi’s graduation. You may remember that Clementi, then a Rutgers freshman, committed suicide in 2010 after being outed as homosexual — a tragic incident that made Rutgers synonymous with cyberbullying.
In the interim, the Rutgers student body, faculty and administrators have apparently learned nothing — and may not even suspect anything. The essence of higher education is educating the mind to make intelligent distinctions, engaging in reasoned discourse among many different points of view, reaching intelligent conclusions and then finding the courage to link reason with action. Or at least that is the theory of American higher education. As shown by Rutgers — the state university of New Jersey — the reality of today’s American campus is rather different.
College and university leadership has been so undercut by the politically correct thought police that most administrators are theoretically qualified to run in next month’s gelding sweepstakes at Pimlico. College presidents in particular owe their exclusive positions and high-six-figure salaries to their prowess in fundraising. In such rarefied climes, controversy might cause wallets, checkbooks and endowments to slam shut. Thus, their working philosophy is that of the 19th-century French politician who famously said, “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” Could the Rutgers community learn something about discrimination from Condi Rice, who grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and remembers hearing the bomb that killed several of her church friends? Maybe — but better to smooth over any remaining controversy.
Faculty committees devoutly believe that principles should govern other people, particularly those who pay their salaries. They agree wholeheartedly with a previous commencement speaker, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” who would surely have pointed out that Gov. Chris Christie needed better principles to avoid the recent unpleasantness with the George Washington Bridge — “Ya know what I’m sayin’?” Worse yet, the collectivist professoriate was perpetuated and advanced by people who studiously avoided military service while burrowing into the securely tenured niches of academe — all publicly funded. Along the way, they acquired a deep-seated and instinctive prejudice against public servants such as Dr. Rice, who took on the difficult responsibilities of war and peace that they avoided. Her greatest potential threat to the Rutgers faculty: The obvious contrast with her plebeian detractors.
Rutgers students are probably no better and not much worse than their contemporaries elsewhere. As charter members of the wired-in generation, their knowledge base is typically a mile wide and an inch deep, with intellects that are more immediate than critical. In Dr. Rice, they might have glimpsed not only a distinguished public servant who triumphed over segregation, but also a true Renaissance woman.
As a White House staffer early in her career, she shocked Soviet officials with her Russian fluency. Her KGB profile must eventually have noted her prowess as a figure skater and an accomplished concert pianist. If you are a student or a parent paying for that student’s education, you might have been even more impressed by another quality that is quickly becoming all too rare in this country. It’s called character — something that parents and families, as well as ministers, priests and rabbis often equate with destiny. In Condi’s case, her character was built-in, not added on. So if you live today in freedom, it is partly because of her.
Since commencements are celebrations of learning, those of us far from the Rutgers campus should remember that education in this country is shaped not only by faculties and administrators, but also by the leaders we put in office and the resources we grant them. So before it gets more expensive than health care and more out-of-control than the IRS, our educational system requires a thorough overhaul, and maybe some adult leadership as well.
Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national security issues.