You’d probably imagine that it would come as quite the feather in your cap for any university to land a commencement speaker who was both a former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. Such was the enviable position that Rutgers found itself in after booking Condoleezza Rice as their guest of honor this year. Or at least it was until a number of their students – and professors! – protested the decision. After not much time at all, Rice put an end to the debate by cancelling the gig.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has backed out of delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University following protests by some faculty and students over her role in the Iraq War.

Rice said in a statement Saturday that she informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she was declining the invitation to speak at the graduation.

“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Rice said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

The response by the faculty in particular was fertile ground for a lot of bad jokes in the headlines, given that schools are ostensibly in business to support open debate and the exchange of ideas. For one excellent example, see Awful School Is Awfully Intolerant. Adding to the implausible nature of the story was the reason given by the editorial board at Rutgers newspaper.

The largest student newspaper, The Daily Targum, also urged the school to reconsider in a strong editorial that said that none of their commencement speakers should have “questionable politics.”

Seriously? I thought questionable politics was essentially the cornerstone of modern debate. Everyone’s political views will wind up being questionable to somebody. But perhaps the conclusion to this is all for the best, as noted by Rick Moran.

The Rutgers community has every right to make their feelings known about Condi Rice addressing their grads. But they are losing far more than they win when Rice does the classy thing and turns down the invite. It’s easy to place your hands over your ears and shut out ideas you disagree with. It is so much harder — and far more honorable — to open your mind in order to listen to someone with whom you have little in common.

One other question comes from this story. How is it that Condi Rice only gets $35K for a speaking appearance? Have you seen what Bill Clinton pulls in? Surely this is the War on Women.