Published on 28 Apr 2014
On April 17, 2014, Dr. Condoleezza Rice gave the Distinguished Carlson Lecture at the University of Minnesota as part of the series of events entitled, “Keeping Faith with a Legacy of Justice,” sponsored by the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the American Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dr. Rice, an accomplished African-American woman, currently holds a faculty position at Stanford University, where she also served as Provost. During the Bush Administration, Rice served as National Security Advisor, and as Secretary of State, where she had significant influence in crafting foreign and domestic policies for the War on Terror.
Given Dr. Rice’s impressive record of accomplishments, it may be surprising that her visit has generated a storm of controversy on campus. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) demanded that the invitation be rescinded on grounds that her involvement in the prosecution of the War on Terror raises serious ethical concerns. The Minnesota Student Association (MSA), as well as President Kaler, countered that universities are places for the free exchange of ideas and that we must welcome those with differing viewpoints instead of banishing them from campus.
The authority of Dr. Rice to speak on the subject of a “legacy of justice” has also invited hot debate. Some have noted that as a successful African-American woman, her experience can shed light on how minorities and other disadvantaged groups can overcome obstacles to succeed. This experience implies that she can speak with authority on the legacy of the civil rights movement. Others have objected, arguing that she is not a recognized advocate for nor expert on American civil rights and that her actions while in public office resulted in serious human rights violations that run counter to the principles of the civil rights movement.
The controversy surrounding Dr. Rice’s visit provides an excellent opportunity for the university community to reflect on issues of both free speech and accountability. What is “free speech”? What constitutes a violation of freedom of speech? Who speaks for the civil rights movement and its legacy? Is the concept of civil rights something that stops at the borders of the U.S.? What is the role of universities in holding public officials accountable for their actions in office, be those domestic or international?
Joe Soss, Cowles Professor for the Study of Public Service
August Nimtz, Professor of Political Science and African American and African Studies
Major (Ret.) Todd E. Pierce, U.S. Army JAG Corps
Naomi Scheman, Professor of Philosophy and of Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies, and President of the U of M chapter of the AAUP
Amanda Zimmerman, Students for a Democratic Society