NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rutgers University says former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean will deliver the commencement address at this month’s graduation ceremony.
The announcement came Monday afternoon, two days after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had backed out as the speaker. Her decision came after protests by some faculty and students over her role in the Iraq War while she served in the administration of President George W. Bush.
The school’s board of governors had voted to pay Rice $35,000 for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony. She was also due to receive an honorary doctorate.
“I was really upset, I was really excited to have her here. She is a very inspirational person to a lot of people,” Liz Gervais told CBS 2’s Dick Brennan.
Not everyone on the Rutgers campus shared those sentiments.
“I don’t like her political views and I didn’t want her to come to the graduation speech because I feel as a community we are endorsing everything she did,” Junior, Gannet Shalan.
Rice issued a statement saying that she did not want her presence to become a distraction.
“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration. Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction,” she said.
Students staged sit-ins and objected to the choice of the former Secretary of State because of her role in the Iraq war.
“She made the right decision realizing some students would be happier not having her here,” Margarita Rosario said.
However, some students complained that the protestors were in the minority.
“This movement was about, at most, maybe 100 people even less,” Elijah Reiss said, “I think it’s really not a testament to what this university thinks.”
Rutgers officials say Kean will not accept a speaking fee for his remarks. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Rutgers University in 1982.
Kean served as New Jersey’s 48th governor, holding the post from 1982-1990. He also co-chaired the national 9/11 Commission and was president of Drew University from 1990 to 2005.
“Gov. Kean’s career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity, and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in making the announcement.
Barchi and other school leaders had resisted the calls to disinvite Rice, saying the university welcomes open discourse on controversial topics. But he said school officials respect her decision.
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