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Condoleezza Rice declines to speak at Rutgers after student protests

By Kristina Sguelglia, CNN
updated 2:01 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
The founders and co-chairs of the Bill &amp; Melinda Gates Foundation gave the commencement address at Stanford University on June 15. "Even in dire situations, optimism can fuel innovation and lead to new tools to eliminate suffering. But if you never really see the people who are suffering, your optimism can't help them. You will never change their world," Bill Gates told students.<!-- -->
</br> The founders and co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave the commencement address at Stanford University on June 15. "Even in dire situations, optimism can fuel innovation and lead to new tools to eliminate suffering. But if you never really see the people who are suffering, your optimism can't help them. You will never change their world," Bill Gates told students.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rutgers' president 'stands fully behind the invitation' but 'respects' her decision
  • Protesters allege the destruction in Iraq and 'torture tactics' for gathering information
  • Rice calls invitation 'a distraction for the university community at this very special time'
  • Some are upset by the protests and want Rice to come, student news editor says

(CNN) -- Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of state announced on Facebook Saturday that she would not be speaking at the Rutgers University commencement this year, following student protests against her appearance.

The students made accusations against her in connection with the war in Iraq.

"Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families," Rice wrote.

"Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time."

In an open letter to the president of the school, printed in the student paper The Daily Targum on April 30th, "Rutgers Student Protestors" cited "destruction" in Iraq "at the hands of the Bush administration."

"Rice signed off to give the CIA authority to conduct their torture tactics for gathering information from detainees as well," the letter continues. "These are clearly human rights issues. By inviting her to speak and awarding her an honorary degree, we are encouraging and perpetuating a world that justifies torture and debases humanity."

In 2009, a Senate intelligence report said that Rice approved waterboarding in the questioning of a suspected al Qaeda leader. Rice was National Security Adviser at the time.

In publicized minutes of the February New Brunswick Faculty Council Meeting, Robert Boikess presented and moved for adoption a Resolution in Opposition to Condoleezza Rice as Commencement Speaker.

"Everything started blowing up when faculty council released their opposition," the editor in chief of The Daily Targum Alexandra R. Meier told CNN Saturday.

In an article published Monday, Lin Lan, a staff writer for the school paper, called the 50 plus student sit in at the President's office one of the largest sit ins in Rutgers history. Police, Lan wrote, were called to the scene after a glass door was shattered.

In an article published in the school paper Friday, staff writers Lan and Lidia De Los Santos said nearly 100 students gathered at the student center during a senate meeting that day to question the university president.

President Robert Barchi posted a statement Saturday on the school website in response to Rice. "While Rutgers University stands fully behind the invitation to Dr. Rice to be our commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree, we respect her decision not to participate in the upcoming Rutgers University commencement, which she clearly articulated in her statement this morning."

Rice wrote Saturday "I am honored to have served my country. I have defended America's belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy. But that is not what is at issue here. As a Professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as its former Provost and Chief academic officer, I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way."

"We did not see this coming at all" the Meier told CNN Saturday night.

She said that the feeling on campus is not one of relief.

"From my personal social media people are upset that the protest led to her declining her invitation...and I have seen a petition to get her back."

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