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Student and faculty activists are joining forces to pressure the University of Minnesota to rescind a speaking invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is scheduled to deliver an April 17 lecture at Northrop Auditorium.
Rice, who also was national security adviser under President George W. Bush, was invited months ago to deliver a speech on civil rights as part of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ “Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series.”
But the University Senate has scheduled a vote next week on a resolution urging the school to disinvite Rice because of her role in the wartime policies of the Bush administration.
Another of the critics’ objections: her speaking fee of $150,000.
Andrea Cournoyer, a spokeswoman for the Humphrey School, rejected the notion of disinviting anyone. “Rescinding any kind of invitation would be inconsistent with our goal of promoting discussion and dialogue,” she said. The Humphrey School, in announcing the lecture, described Rice as “one of the most influential and powerful people in the world.”
But William Messing, a math professor who introduced the resolution, said he is “cautiously optimistic” it will gain support.
The resolution criticizes Rice for playing “a prominent role in [the Bush] administration’s efforts to mislead the American people …” into the Iraq war, and condoning waterboarding “and other torture tactics.”
Rice, who is now a professor at Stanford University, did not respond to requests for comment. Free tickets to her April 17 lecture, which became available in late February, were “sold out in a day,” according to the university. In addition to her speech, in the newly renovated Northrop, she is scheduled to meet with a small group of students and attend a VIP reception and dinner.
The anti-Rice campaign was started by Nick Theis, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, a revival of a 1960s antiwar group that promotes “liberal and radical” causes. He approached Messing, asking if he would introduce the resolution at the Faculty Senate. Messing agreed; this week, members decided to put it to a vote of the full University Senate, which includes faculty, staff and student representatives.
Theis says he sees the vote as mainly symbolic. “It’s not like it’s going to bind anyone to do anything,” he said. But if it passes, he said, “I thought it would be a very powerful statement.”
Although the resolution doesn’t mention money, critics say the $150,000 fee is troubling. “Such an enormous speaking fee sends an unfortunate message,” said Messing.
Theis, who also is organizing a protest at Rice’s event, said, “That money could be spent on something better than a 50-minute speech by a famous person.”
Cournoyer said that Rice’s fee is being paid by donor funds from the lecture series endowment, established by the late Curt Carlson, and the Carlson Family Foundation.
Rice is no stranger to protests. Earlier this month, the faculty at Rutgers University in New Jersey protested her selection as the upcoming commencement speaker.
In Minnesota in 2009, she was greeted by some 125 protesters outside Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, where she was the guest speaker at a fundraiser.
When asked about the protesters at the time, she said: “I’m glad we live in a democracy.”