Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rutgers University

Cowards Among the Scarlet Knights

Over the weekend Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be withdrawing as commencement speaker for the upcoming Rutgers University graduation ceremony after students and teachers protested Rice’s selection as speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Even if you didn’t follow the story, you probably don’t need the details filled in: she is among the best possible candidates to give such a speech, but she worked for George W. Bush; end of story.

The graduation ceremony she was scheduled to appear at coincides with the tenth anniversary of my own graduation from Rutgers. That decade has instilled in me a great sense of apprehension any time Rutgers is mentioned in the news. That’s not to say there is no good news coming out of the school; the construction of a new Hillel building is a sign that the Jewish community at the school remains numerous and committed to Jewish life on campus–despite the anti-Semitic harassment they’ve experienced as the school shrugs its shoulders.

The combination of a proud Jewish community and a pusillanimous school administration (admittedly, no different from most liberal arts colleges) has also inspired the Jews at Rutgers to make their voices heard. One of the more famous examples of this took place while I was a student there, in 2003. An extremist Palestinian “solidarity” group was scheduled to hold its annual event on campus. The New Jersey chapter’s leader gave interviews ahead of the event, in which she explained that murdering innocent Jews in Israel was merely part of a resistance campaign and others had no right to judge the methods of the Palestinian group’s protest, as a contemporaneous piece in Haaretz recounted:

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Over the weekend Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be withdrawing as commencement speaker for the upcoming Rutgers University graduation ceremony after students and teachers protested Rice’s selection as speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Even if you didn’t follow the story, you probably don’t need the details filled in: she is among the best possible candidates to give such a speech, but she worked for George W. Bush; end of story.

The graduation ceremony she was scheduled to appear at coincides with the tenth anniversary of my own graduation from Rutgers. That decade has instilled in me a great sense of apprehension any time Rutgers is mentioned in the news. That’s not to say there is no good news coming out of the school; the construction of a new Hillel building is a sign that the Jewish community at the school remains numerous and committed to Jewish life on campus–despite the anti-Semitic harassment they’ve experienced as the school shrugs its shoulders.

The combination of a proud Jewish community and a pusillanimous school administration (admittedly, no different from most liberal arts colleges) has also inspired the Jews at Rutgers to make their voices heard. One of the more famous examples of this took place while I was a student there, in 2003. An extremist Palestinian “solidarity” group was scheduled to hold its annual event on campus. The New Jersey chapter’s leader gave interviews ahead of the event, in which she explained that murdering innocent Jews in Israel was merely part of a resistance campaign and others had no right to judge the methods of the Palestinian group’s protest, as a contemporaneous piece in Haaretz recounted:

The trouble began when a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations decided to hold their annual convention at Rutgers in the second week of October. Last year, the event was held at Michigan University, and the year before that at Berkeley. The host organization was New Jersey Solidarity, which is considered one of the most extreme organizations in the coalition. One of the group’s leaders, Charlotte Kates, for instance, told The New York Post that “Israel is a colonial settler apartheid state” that has no right even to exist, and against which suicide attacks are justifiable. In another interview, with The New York Times, she said: “It is not our place in the United States to dictate the tactics Palestinian groups use in the liberation struggle.” The organization also hung posters around the campus in March that declared: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free.”

There was some protest even outside the student community–genocide is, after all, frowned upon. The group succumbed to internal divisions–apparently in part over an argument about inviting Hamas–and eventually relocated by choice, but the New Jersey chapter tried, unsuccessfully, to hold a new solidarity event on campus. In the interim, led by the Rutgers Hillel, the Jewish community on campus mobilized and held a rally that drew four thousand supporters.

Quite apart from anti-Semitism, my alma mater has been in the news more recently for the horrible and tragic case of the sexual bullying of a gay student who subsequently committed suicide, as well as last year’s scandal over an abusive basketball coach. How I long for the days when Rutgers national-media headlines were more along the lines of Sports Illustrated’s feature on its football program, headlined “Why Can’t Rutgers Ever Win?

I should also note that although Rutgers had its share of bias in the classroom (as does any university), the journalism program I attended was utterly devoid of it. My teachers were uniformly excellent, and I left Rutgers convinced that my decision to attend (I had actually transferred in mid-freshman year) was the right one. I still feel that way, and I have spent my years since graduation recommending the school to anyone who asks my opinion. That won’t stop either.

But I’m left wondering if it’s the same institution I left merely a decade ago. Jewish life continues to flourish at the school. But intellectually, I can imagine parents reading about the Rice controversy and wondering if the professors at such a school can be trusted to impart a passable education. Rice grew up in segregated Birmingham and went on to become the first black female secretary of state. On top of that, she has a well-known expertise in, and passion for, education policy. So you would be hard-pressed to find a better choice for commencement speaker.

But she served the Bush presidency when this nation was at war, and that is too much for the academic left. The Rutgers I remember had plenty of acrimonious debate, but that’s far better than to be ruled by heckler’s veto (which was avoided this time, as Rice withdrew so as not to distract from the students’ graduation celebrations, but was still argued for by the professors). I also don’t remember my instructors being such intellectual cowards. Perhaps I just took the right classes. I suppose students just have to hope they do too, though that’s not a line I imagine the Rutgers administration wants to put on a brochure.

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Left-Wing Hypocrites and Condoleezza Rice

The moves by academics and students at Rutgers University to have an invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rescinded might well be viewed as just another instance of a leftwing soft-totalitarianism that attempts to set beyond the pale anyone who does not share their worldview. To a degree this is clearly part of it. Yet, upon scratching the surface of this initiative one discovers a far more unpleasant impulse at work. The academics of the New Brunswick Faculty Council, which has voted to call on the school to disinvite Rice, made no shortage of outlandish claims in their statement, yet they had the good sense not to expose some of the more deeply rooted motives behind their campaign. The same cannot be said, however, for the students who have joined them in their calls.

From the statement released by the faculty council, one would assume that Rice was some kind of hardened war criminal who served in the government of a Third World despot, as opposed to someone who held one of the highest offices in the government of the United States. The statement parrots the usual conspiratorial leftist notions about the Bush administration, accusing Rice of having been complicit in taking America to war on a lie. Furthermore, the statement repeats the accusation that through the war in Iraq, America is responsible for the killing of over a 100,000 Iraqi “men, women and children” and the displacement of millions more. This is a commonly heard figure from the left, but no one knows where it comes from. The actual invasion of Iraq to remove the Saddam regime lasted for just over a month and had a proportionately low civilian casualty rate. Very many more Iraqis, however, were killed during the insurgency and suicide bombings of the factional fighting between Sunni and Shia that followed. But to try and level the blame for this on America rather than with the Islamists who carried out the killings, is itself an expression of the left’s inverted racism that sees non-western peoples as having no agency in their own actions.

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The moves by academics and students at Rutgers University to have an invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rescinded might well be viewed as just another instance of a leftwing soft-totalitarianism that attempts to set beyond the pale anyone who does not share their worldview. To a degree this is clearly part of it. Yet, upon scratching the surface of this initiative one discovers a far more unpleasant impulse at work. The academics of the New Brunswick Faculty Council, which has voted to call on the school to disinvite Rice, made no shortage of outlandish claims in their statement, yet they had the good sense not to expose some of the more deeply rooted motives behind their campaign. The same cannot be said, however, for the students who have joined them in their calls.

From the statement released by the faculty council, one would assume that Rice was some kind of hardened war criminal who served in the government of a Third World despot, as opposed to someone who held one of the highest offices in the government of the United States. The statement parrots the usual conspiratorial leftist notions about the Bush administration, accusing Rice of having been complicit in taking America to war on a lie. Furthermore, the statement repeats the accusation that through the war in Iraq, America is responsible for the killing of over a 100,000 Iraqi “men, women and children” and the displacement of millions more. This is a commonly heard figure from the left, but no one knows where it comes from. The actual invasion of Iraq to remove the Saddam regime lasted for just over a month and had a proportionately low civilian casualty rate. Very many more Iraqis, however, were killed during the insurgency and suicide bombings of the factional fighting between Sunni and Shia that followed. But to try and level the blame for this on America rather than with the Islamists who carried out the killings, is itself an expression of the left’s inverted racism that sees non-western peoples as having no agency in their own actions.

Indeed, the tendency of left-wing intellectuals to operate one impossible standard for western leaders and quite another for those running the kind of regimes that appeal to their own ideological prejudices is hardly a great secret. The Rutgers academics argue that Rice should not be invited because they claim she “participated in political efforts to circumvent the law” and because she does not “embody moral authority and exemplary citizenship.” Yet, the record of leftwing intellectuals who have lined up to cheer on the most brutal revolutionaries and dictatorships is itself long and anything but exemplary. One need not look back as far as Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s apologies for the Soviet Union, or even to Noam Chomsky’s efforts to deny the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Think simply of Judith Butler’s claims that Hamas and Hezbollah are progressives that should be considered part of the “global left.”

No doubt, the academics and students opposing Rice’s visit to their campus would be incensed by such an invitation to any senior figure from the Bush administration, yet Rice holds a particularly reviled status in the minds of the left. The faculty council members were guarded enough not to reference this, the students on the other hand were not and so have ended up unwittingly exposing the whole thing.

To speak candidly for a moment, Condoleezza Rice is black and she is a woman, yet she is also a Republican. For those on the left, this cannot happen. Rice is a member of a minority group, she is female, one of the oppressed, and such people are neither conservatives nor Republicans, and if they were to unaccountably somehow become Republicans then a party of such bigotry would never elevate her to any real position of influence, but if such a figure were ever to achieve any status, then they certainly wouldn’t have joined anything so odious as the Bush administration. According to left-wing thinking Condoleezza Rice cannot exist, and yet there she is nonetheless, pulling their worldview to pieces. In this respect she has unacceptably transgressed the left’s tribal lines.

The editorial of the Rutgers student newspaper the Daily Targum, which supports the campaign to disinvite Rice, makes the mistake of rather giving the game away by quite openly and repeatedly referencing her background. The editorial asks condescendingly, “Do the positive aspects of her personal accomplishments really outweigh the destruction of war she contributed to during her political career?” That line certainly would not have found its way in there if the school had invited Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. Yet, another opinion piece published in the same paper goes much further, with one student writing that some may wish to overlook Rice’s “behavior” by viewing her “as a powerful woman of color.” No one decent would think for a moment that Rice’s “color” should be used to judge her record, but then the writer dismisses this idea anyway, insisting “Though Rice may have made advancements for black women, they are shallow, even meaningless, when placed side by side with her actions.”

As a clumsy afterthought at the end of the main editorial piece by the students they make the implausible claim; “the point is, we just don’t feel comfortable having politicians as commencement speakers at all.” Does anyone for a moment believe that if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had instead been invited to give the same speech then these same individuals would be expressing such reservations? Quite clearly not.  

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Bought and Paid

While the media was fixated on a health-care vote with a preordained outcome, the New York Post broke a blockbuster story over the weekend:

Anti-Israel, pro-Iran university professors are being funded by a shadowy multimillion-dollar Islamic charity based in Manhattan that the feds charge is an illegal front for the repressive Iranian regime.

The deep-pocketed Alavi Foundation has aggressively given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University and Rutgers University for Middle Eastern and Persian studies programs that employ professors sympathetic to the Iranian dictatorship.

“We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation,” said Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

And remember the much criticized visit of Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? It seems it was a good deal for Columbia University: “In one of the biggest handouts, the controversial charity donated $100,000 to Columbia University after the Ivy League school agreed to host Iranian leader and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to the foundation’s 2007 tax filings obtained by The Post.”

The Iranian regime has gotten its money’s worth. Gary Sick of Columbia chimes in that we can disregard all that “wipe Israel off the map” stuff from Ahmadinejad. The Sick translation of Ahmadinejad’s genocide talk: “What he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to [sic] the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.” Got that?

Other professors from Columbia and Rutgers (which also received funds) are equally forthcoming with propaganda nonsense, enough to make the mullahs proud. This is a scandal of the first order — a financial conflict of interest and an ethical betrayal of the universities’ supposed role as bastions of academic independence and free inquiry. They have instead among their ranks a number of shills for the mullahs, whose leftist claptrap is subsidized by those with an interest in seeing the mullahs’ party line recirculated through American universities. It seems worth taking a look, especially when these institutions receive taxpayer money and their students earn degrees on taxpayer-supported scholarships.

While the media was fixated on a health-care vote with a preordained outcome, the New York Post broke a blockbuster story over the weekend:

Anti-Israel, pro-Iran university professors are being funded by a shadowy multimillion-dollar Islamic charity based in Manhattan that the feds charge is an illegal front for the repressive Iranian regime.

The deep-pocketed Alavi Foundation has aggressively given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University and Rutgers University for Middle Eastern and Persian studies programs that employ professors sympathetic to the Iranian dictatorship.

“We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation,” said Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

And remember the much criticized visit of Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? It seems it was a good deal for Columbia University: “In one of the biggest handouts, the controversial charity donated $100,000 to Columbia University after the Ivy League school agreed to host Iranian leader and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to the foundation’s 2007 tax filings obtained by The Post.”

The Iranian regime has gotten its money’s worth. Gary Sick of Columbia chimes in that we can disregard all that “wipe Israel off the map” stuff from Ahmadinejad. The Sick translation of Ahmadinejad’s genocide talk: “What he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to [sic] the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.” Got that?

Other professors from Columbia and Rutgers (which also received funds) are equally forthcoming with propaganda nonsense, enough to make the mullahs proud. This is a scandal of the first order — a financial conflict of interest and an ethical betrayal of the universities’ supposed role as bastions of academic independence and free inquiry. They have instead among their ranks a number of shills for the mullahs, whose leftist claptrap is subsidized by those with an interest in seeing the mullahs’ party line recirculated through American universities. It seems worth taking a look, especially when these institutions receive taxpayer money and their students earn degrees on taxpayer-supported scholarships.

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