Rice: 'We kept the nation safe'

Outside Northrop Auditorium, about 100 demonstrators carried protest signs and sang old antiwar songs.

But during her 45 minutes on stage Thursday afternoon, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice only fleetingly acknowledged the stir that accompanied her appearance at the University of Minnesota.

Yes, she said, there's still controversy about "things we were involved in. I understand that." But she offered no apologies for her role in the Bush administration's war on terror. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, she said, "we kept the nation safe."

Rice, who is now a professor at Stanford University, was invited to talk about the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as part of the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Her appearance had triggered a campuswide debate after faculty and student activists started a campaign to get her speaking invitation revoked, saying she shared the blame for the torture of detainees and other wartime abuses.

University officials, however, dismissed the criticism as a misguided attack on free speech.

Rice, 59, received a warm welcome from a nearly packed house at the newly reopened Northrop Auditorium. She spent about 20 minutes on her formal remarks, including stories about growing up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., in a middle-class black family that prized education. At one point, she mentioned an aunt who got a Ph.D. in Victorian literature at the University of Wisconsin and went on to write a book on Dickens. Rice paused a beat, adding: "You think what I do is weird for a black person?"

She said that education was the key for her family, and others, to escape poverty.

Her talk was followed by a 25-minute onstage chat with Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School. When he asked if she wished she could "revisit" any actions during the Bush administration, Rice replied: "There are many things I would do differently." She said she would still "take out" Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein but acknowledged "we did a miserable job after … of rebuilding that country." Beyond that, she noted, "history will decide this."

Protesters, who were kept outside the auditorium, carried signs such as: "War Criminals Off Campus" and "Condi Lied, Millions Died." Several demonstrators wore black hoods and orange jumpsuits, and knelt on the grass, posing as tortured detainees.

More than 200 faculty members signed an online petition objecting to "the circumstances" of Rice's visit. "Dr. Rice is welcome to speak on the University of Minnesota campus, but let's not ignore her record," it said. "While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights — the theme of this year's lecture series — is not central to her legacy. Indeed … she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror."

Rice received $150,000 for her appearance, which included the lecture, dinner, reception and a meeting with students. Officials say the fees were covered by donor funds, including a private endowment from the late Curt Carlson.