Rutgers can’t get its act together as to whom it should invite to give its 2014 commencement speech.
First the university’s offer to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice triggered harsh protests from professors at both its campuses in New Brunswick and Newark, prompting Rice to back out. Then the university went back and forth with former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed in a 2010 game, telling him on Saturday he would be speaking, then rescinding the offer Monday, then reversing itself again after public outcry and re-offering the spot to LeGrand on Tuesday.
When Gregory Jackson, chief of staff for Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi, first informed LeGrand on Saturday that he would be speaking, LeGrand was ecstatic, jumping right in to start writing a speech about his odyssey from the time of his injury until now and crediting the university for his recovery. He said:
Starting in 2005, being recruited by Rutgers and what it meant to me to play here and go to school here. And then the way everybody supported me through my injury, I was just going to give inspirational words about how they should attack life. All the things I’ve learned so far. All the (graduates), they’re my age so I was going to try to (say) words they could remember, words that would inspire them to do great things in life.
LeGrand told Barchi that he would “touch base with him” Monday. However, on Monday Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann informed LeGrand that he was out as the speaker. Monday night, Rutgers issued a press release noting that former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean would be the university’s keynote speaker. The release stated:
Gov. Kean’s career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies. Gov. Kean is a national role model as a statesman who built bridges across partisan, racial, ethnic and ideological divides for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for the people he served. We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address our graduates.
LeGrand, upset, tweeted, “Rutgers offered me the commencement speech this weekend and I was going to accept but they decided to go other ways for political reasons.” He said, “I’m very upset about it. I was all excited all weekend thinking about what I was going to say. It’s rough.”
By Tuesday, though, the university was uncomfortable with the blowback and reinstated LeGrand’s opportunity to speak.
This follows Rice’s decision to eschew speaking after faculty and students protested her role in the Iraq War, calling her a “war criminal.”