EDITORIAL: Campuses closed to diversity of thought

Colleges and universities like to promote themselves as open-minded bastions of diversity. They strive to fill their campuses with people of different races and backgrounds.

Encouraging diversity of thought is another matter entirely. Take Rutgers University, for example.

The school’s website claims diversity “is an everyday ingredient of university life and one of our greatest strengths.” But this noble stance was cast aside after former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was invited to speak and receive an honorary degree at the university’s upcoming commencement.

The Rutgers Board of Governors vote to approve her nomination was unanimous. Support around campus was not. Petitions critical of her selection were circulated, and a small, vocal, narrow-minded group of faculty and students protested her visit, calling her, among other things, a “war criminal.”

In response, Rutgers President Robert Barchi defended Ms. Rice’s selection in a letter to the campus in March. “Rutgers can thrive only when it vigorously defends the free exchange of ideas in an environment of civil discourse,” he wrote. “Whatever your personal feelings or political views about our commencement speaker, there can be no doubt that Condoleezza Rice is one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years.”

Undaunted, students held a sit-in outside Mr. Barchi’s office to protest her visit, and professors planned a teach-in to shed light on why letting Mr. Rice speak would, as one professor claimed, “dishonor our beloved university.”

Days later, Ms. Rice turned down the offer. A former professor, provost and chief academic officer at Stanford University, Ms. Rice said that while free speech and the exchange of ideas are “essential to the health of our democracy,” she recognized the purpose of a commencement ceremony and was unwilling to be a distraction on a day “of joyous celebration.” Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean was selected to replace her. Mr. Kean, too, is a Republican, but his selection has not yet inspired protests. (Of course, it’s only been a few days. Give it time.)

After Ms. Rice’s announcement, protesting students and faculty celebrated on campus and on social media. Some argued that a small number of outraged students shouldn’t be allowed to speak on behalf of tens of thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of alumni. And they are right.

Today, too many college campuses are temples of intolerance, where liberal dogma is the law and right-of-center thinking is not only discouraged, but can be a punishable offense. Speech codes ensure the easily offended can turn in those who dare to express unpopular ideas. Forget commencements — conservative figures can attract howling protests and threats of violence if they merely set foot on a campus to address a club or classroom. This political correctness run amok has turned critical thought upside down. Instead of hearing out those with different perspectives and engaging in a vigorous exchanges of ideas, debate is cut off, speech is silenced and ideas are censored.

Condoleezza Rice was the country’s first female African-American secretary of state, first female national security adviser and second female secretary of state. She’s the kind of person a university dedicated to diversity should celebrate. But her work for the George W. Bush administration makes her a villain? Groups of people celebrating a black woman being run out of town would be a national news story — if she weren’t a Republican.

UNLV’s spring commencement is May 17. Instead of a having a high-profile keynote speaker, the university will recognize a few outstanding graduates. Focusing on the accomplishments of students is a sound approach.

Wait — none of these graduates are Republicans, are they?