What, exactly, did the Rutgers protesters think Rice might tell students that was so objectionable? Political figures do occasionally use their platform as a commencement speaker to push their own policy agenda. In 2013, Vice President Biden spoke to graduates of the University of Pennsylvania and made sure to hit on topics from climate change to gay marriage and immigration reform. Jon Huntsman’s 2011 commencement address at the University of South Carolina was viewed as a debut for his potential presidential bid; he used the occasion to tout the greatness of free market liberal democracy (and Ben Folds).
So yes, sometimes in graduation speeches, political types get a little bit political, and not everyone in the audience will agree. It might make sense to oppose a political speaker on the grounds that the views her or she will convey will clash with the values some students hold. (Imagine being a pro-life student at Barnard College and having your graduation capped off with a speech from the national head of Planned Parenthood, as is happening later this month?)
But the extent to which Rice’s prior speeches completely avoid any and all ideological agenda-pushing makes the Rutgers protests look downright ridiculous.