Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean has been selected to deliver this spring's commencement address at Rutgers University, replacing former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who backed out amid controversy over her selection.
Two days after Rice said she was withdrawing from giving the May 18 address, Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi announced Monday that Kean had been invited.
"Gov. Kean's career as a public servant, educator, and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity, and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies," Barchi said in a statement.
University spokesman Pete McDonough said Barchi consulted with Rutgers leadership over Kean's selection. Kean was the commencement speaker in 1982, his first year as governor.
"It seems to be a selection that everyone is happy with," McDonough said. "I think he was the first choice, and he said yes right away."
Rice notified Barchi on Saturday that she was withdrawing from delivering the address and receiving an honorary degree. Her invitation had been dogged by controversy and a sit-in last week at the administration building.
Rutgers' board of governors approved Rice's invitation in February. She was to receive an honorary doctorate of laws and a $35,000 honorarium.
Some students and faculty objected to her role in the Iraq war during the George W. Bush administration. Rice served as secretary of state from 2005 to 2009 and was national security adviser before that.
A resolution written by organic chemistry professor Robert Boikess calling for the board of governors to "rescind its misguided decision" was passed by the Rutgers-New Brunswick faculty council in February.
In an open letter Monday to Barchi, several Rutgers student groups expressed their disappointment in Rice's decision. They cited a concern that Rutgers is not a place where "the free ideas and a diversity of opinions are encouraged."
"The decision surprised many and evoked a wide range of responses on the Rutgers University campus, social media, and in the national media," said the letter, sent on behalf of the Rutgers College Republicans, Eagleton Undergraduate Associates, Greek Life at Rutgers University, and other student organizations.
McDonough said Barchi would likely meet in the coming weeks with the groups. Their letter "was among the hundreds of letters" received from those generally disappointed by Rice's withdrawal, he said.
Donald Coughlan, chairman of the New Jersey College Republicans, praised Kean's selection, but said his group was disappointed that Rice would not speak.
"He's a great choice," said Coughlan, a junior. "It's just unfortunate that the original speaker couldn't come. I really hope that students won't protest the speaker again."
Kean served as governor from 1982 until 1990. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush named him cochair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. From 1990 until 2005, Kean served as president of Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Kean will not accept a speaking fee for his remarks, according to Barchi. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Rutgers in 1982.