Joseph Wyatt:

Former WVU president Gene Budig and co-author Alan Heaps found their sensitivities offended by Rutgers University student protesters who had the nerve to disapprove of former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, as commencement speaker (Gazette, June 20). The duo concluded that Rice would have elevated the intellectual climate at the New Jersey school. Condi Rice was “prejudged,” the pair wrote. She was a speaker unable to get her political views out there, because the students objected. In the face of the protests, Rice declined to serve as graduation speaker.

Budig and Heaps evidently believe that the protesters tossed away their lone opportunity to learn about Rice’s views, even though she has appeared hundreds of times on national TV, and has been the subject of books, opinion pieces, investigative reporting, and more.

Rice’s political history is ugly. In a 2010 interview with CNN, Rice remained unapologetic about the disaster of Iraq that she and the rest of the Bush-Cheney neo-cons crafted with all the foresight and care of a West Virginia derecho. “You go to war when there is a security threat, and Saddam Hussein was seen as a threat to our interests and our security,” Rice said, slyly adding “seen as” as if she had put that way in 2002. She acknowledged that “we could have done many, many things much, much better,” yet remained firm in her belief that the removal of Hussein from power changed Iraq for the better.

The facts are not kind to Condi. In the run-up to the war, Rice made one bogus claim after another. There “ clearly are contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq,” she said falsely. Equally untrue was her claim of WMD, a “smoking gun (that could) become a mushroom cloud.” Moreover, Rice remains unapologetic about both her endorsement of torture and her role as part of the Bush-Cheney cabal that lied us into the unnecessary war that left nearly 4,500 U.S. troops dead, brought widespread ill will toward the U.S. and destabilized the Mideast. Scratching their heads, Budig and Heaps wondered why Rutgers students were less than eager to embrace all of that with an honorary doctorate.

Evidently unaware that college students know how to Google “Rice-Iraq-War,” Budig and Heaps concluded that protests arose only because the students are “restive today because of a lack of good jobs and mounting debt” and because the media stirs things up and because the protesters’ parents failed to teach them good manners.

As they overlooked Rice’s repugnant history, Budig and Heaps at least got something correct. They advised us that liberals have objected to Rice (and other speakers) “because they found them to be politically objectionable.” Not to mention unrepentant, amoral and mired in self-delusion. But give the pair credit for hitting at least one nail along with all four of their own thumbs. As a liberal who agrees with the student protesters, I confess to wit — I always do say that universities should not honor people who endorse torture. Blame my parents for not having taught me better manners.

Rice stands a quarter inch from going down in history as a war criminal. Yet Budig and Heaps concluded, in part, “While one may or may not agree with her politics, her integrity and commitment to public service are unquestioned.” Yipes!

The tone-deaf duo deconstructed student protests as an assault on academic freedom. I suggest that Drs. Budig and Heaps consider that academic freedom means something other than meek acceptance of a misguided effort to honor the likes of one who advocated for torture.

Joseph Wyatt is a Gazette contributing columnist and a retired professor from Marshall University.

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