Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush, was invited to speak at the commencement at Rutgers University and to receive an honorary degree.

This past weekend, Rice changed her mind and won't be speaking at the commencement.

That's because a handful of students as well as some professors protested her visit with such anger that damages were done at the university.

"Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families," Rice, who handled international affairs as one of the highest-ranking officials in federal government. "Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time."

Rice was well-respected as a political statesman. She was the first female African-American secretary of state, as well as the second African-American secretary of state (after Colin Powell), and the second female secretary of state (after Madeleine Albright). Rice was President Bush's national security adviser during his first term, making her the first woman to serve in that position.

Before joining the Bush administration, she was a professor of political science at Stanford University, where she served as provost from 1993 to 1999.

She returned to Stanford in 2009 as a political science professor.

Rutgers is considered a prestigious research university so one would think an open mind is a requisite for attending such a facility.

What's especially shameful is that professors joined in this protest. It's ironic that a Chamber of Commerce and other similar organizations cannot participate in any political event or they will lose funding.

We're sure Rutgers gets a lot of government funding. In fact, those same professors protesting are paid with government funds whether it be the grants the university receives of the college loans and grants that the students use to pay for their education.

This isn't to say people shouldn't express their own beliefs, but there is a time and place for such protests.

In publicized minutes of the February New Brunswick Faculty Council Meeting, Robert Boikess presented and moved for adopting a Resolution in Opposition to Condoleezza Rice as Commencement Speaker.

In an article published Monday, Lin Lan, a staff writer for the school paper, called the 50-plus student sit-in at the president's office one of the largest sit-ins in Rutgers history. Lan wrote that police were called to the scene after a glass door was shattered.

In an article published in the school paper Friday, staff writers Lan and Lidia De Los Santos said nearly 100 students gathered at the student center during a senate meeting that day to question the university president.

Although it was only a minority of the students who protested, it was enough of a disruption to net results.

College students should be responsible enough to show restraint, keep an open mind, and disagree without being disagreeable.

What a disgrace for Rutgers.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com