Support free speech at the U

SDS seeks to stop Condoleezza Rice from speaking on campus.

by Derek Olson

Higher education institutions like the University of Minnesota widely emphasize the importance of diversity. This is why I am positively flummoxed that some members of the University community do not seem to think this value extends to diversity of perspective and diversity of opinion.

Students for a Democratic Society have requested the University Faculty Senate vote on a resolution to rescind a speaking invitation to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The SDS resolution to the Faculty Senate protests Rice’s legitimacy to speak at the University on several grounds, but two relate to Rice’s link to the George W. Bush administration. First, it claims she may have aided the Bush administration in misleading the public about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Second, it claims she presumably condoned the administration’s controversial interrogation techniques.

The idea that the Bush administration lied about the presence of WMDs in Iraq is nothing more than an antiquated conspiracy theory.

Countless prominent U.S. government officials made similar claims around the time of the 2003 invasion in Iraq. These include Al Gore, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. The list of experts and government officials who supported the Bush administration’s sentiment is long. If we’re to believe that the Bush administration and, by extension, Rice, lied to the American people, then this conspiracy theory just got a whole lot more elaborate.

As secretary of state, Rice likely played no part in the authorization of enhanced interrogation techniques. The resolution before the University Faculty Senate recognizes this by saying, “Condoleezza Rice, at the very least, condoned the Bush administration’s policy.” When you realize the frivolity of this claim, it’s hard to understand this resolution at all. Apparently, the University should forbid Rice from speaking because she condoned a certain policy.

Legal experts and government officials still disagree on calling waterboarding torture, which the resolution explicitly references. Rice is guilty of holding a view on one side of this issue. Does this make her unworthy of speaking at the University?

Setting aside the baseless claims about lies from the Bush administration, it’s still absurd. The resolution boils down to this: We think the University Faculty Senate should remove the platform to speak for those with whom we disagree. Forget civilized discourse, forget tolerance, forget the free exchange of ideas. This is the value that SDS is endorsing: Only our opinion is worthy of being heard on campus.

It’s all the more outlandish given that Rice is not coming to the University to talk about war tragedies, international law or interrogation practices. The subject of her lecture is on overcoming adversity and promoting civil rights.

It goes without saying that Rice is one of the most successful minority women in American history. She is a black woman who grew up in 1950s and 1960s Birmingham, Ala. She went on to attend graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, become a professor at Stanford University and hold one of the most prestigious political offices in the world. One can assume she has a great deal to say about triumph and success when beset with obstacles.