COMMUNITY VOICES | University of Minnesota faculty statement on the visit of Dr. Condoleezza Rice

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[Editor’s note: This is the text of a petition/statement by University of Minnesota faculty members objecting to this week’s visit by Dr. Condoleezza Rice.] On April 17, 2014, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit the University of Minnesota to give the Distinguished Carlson Lecture, an annual activity of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, endowed by a private gift from the Carlson Foundation. This year, the lecture has an additional significance, as it is 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. As the flagship speaker for the main event of the series, Dr. Rice is explicitly being honored as a civil rights leader and being brought in to speak about civil rights given her purported leadership and expertise on American civil rights.

We, the undersigned University of Minnesota faculty, are grateful to the Carlson Family for their past and current generosity. The Carlson family and Foundation have supported a variety of important projects on campus over the years, and have greatly enriched our environment.

We have no objection to Dr. Rice visiting our campus. Indeed, as strong advocates of the right to free speech, we welcome anyone – including Dr. Rice – into our community to engage in an open exchange of ideas.

In that very spirit of free expression, however, and in our commitment to the principles of truth and the common good that are inscribed above the entrance to Northrop Auditorium where Dr. Rice will speak, we object to the circumstances of this particular visit. While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights – the theme of this year’s lecture series – is not central to her legacy. Indeed, as a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration, she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror.

Dr. Rice is welcome to speak on the University of Minnesota campus, but let’s not ignore her record. As National Security Adviser in the critical period of 2001-05, Dr. Rice played a central role in the design and implementation of the Administration’s policies, which legitimized the use of torture by redefining it to include only practices so severe as to induce organ failure. By this logic, “enhanced interrogation techniques” that had previously been defined as torture, such as waterboarding, were no longer defined as such and became standard practice in the War on Terror. Since the end of her tenure, Dr. Rice has defended the use of torture and has not publicly distanced herself from these decisions that violated both US and international law and resulted in severe violations of human rights.

Dr. Rice also supported the Administration’s policy of rendition, whereby individuals were abducted and delivered by US authorities to “black sites” in third countries such as Egypt and Syria, countries that were known to subject prisoners to torture. This practice violated due process, since these individuals were detained without being given the opportunity to defend themselves. They were effectively found guilty without trial. And they were tortured. Since some detainees died while in custody, this practice was, in many circumstances, tantamount to authorizing extrajudicial execution.

Given the focus on free speech, Dr. Rice’s role in formulating and implementing a policy of ideological exclusion is also relevant. The State Department she directed from 2005 until 2009 denied visas to numerous foreign scholars that the Administration deemed to be ideologically problematic, preventing scholars from assuming prestigious posts at American universities and from attending scholarly conferences.

Finally, we want to note that there are also human rights implications to the much reported high speaking fee being paid to Dr. Rice. Not only is this oversized payment a dubious priority in a time of economic hardship and austerity, it is also inconsistent with the civil rights movement’s emphasis on economic justice.

We are proud to work at the University of Minnesota which, among its many strengths, is a hub for human rights education, and which hosts many important projects and discussions designed to promote human rights and human dignity. We, of course, support free speech as one of the core human rights that sustain an atmosphere of academic freedom and a democratic society. Accountability, in this case, must be central to that open debate.

Signed by:

  1. Barbara A. Frey, Director , Human Rights Program, Institute for Global Studies
  2. Alejandro Baer, Associate Professor of Sociology, Stephen C. Feinstein Chair in Holocaust & Genocide Studies
  3. Samuel L. Myers, Jr., Director and Roy Wilkins Professor of Human Relations and Social Justice, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
  4. James Ron, Associate Professor and Stassen Chair of International Affairs, Department of Political Science and Humphrey School of Public Affairs
  5. Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor, Department of History
  6. Joe Soss, Cowles Professor for the Study of Public Service, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs
  7. Ron Aminzade, Professor, Department of Sociology
  8. Leigh A Payne, Senior Researcher in Human Rights
  9. Naomi Scheman; Professor; Departments of Philosophy and Gender and Women, & Sexuality Studies
  10. David Pellow, Professor, Department of Sociology

View the full list here. Barb Frey notes: “The statement has 193 signatures. The original 68 were listed when the statement was first posted.”

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CORRECTION: The number of signatures has been updated, per Barb Frey’s email.