This isn’t a story about waffles, but about a university that cannot seem to make a decision. Instead, it has taught its students that doing the right thing is not contingent on doing right, but on doing what is politically expedient.
We must go back a few weeks to when Rutgers officially announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would give the keynote address on May 18, 2014. This caused a handful of Rutgers students and faculty to protest because of the Iraq War and her role in the decision to go to war. I have no problem with that; this is America, and for the most part we still have free speech. Though Rutgers didn’t ask Dr. Rice to pull out of the address, she did. This is America, and Dr. Rice doesn’t have to speak anywhere if she doesn’t want to do so.
I would only reflect that when discourse is stifled, no one wins; certainly not the students, the faculty or the university.
Rutgers was in a pickle and someone, through a great stroke of genius reached out to Eric LeGrand to be the keynote speaker. LeGrand has done nothing more for the university than to serve as a tremendous inspiration and a positive force. He could be the most popular person on campus in many, many years.
On October 16, 2010, LeGrand suffered permanent paralysis as the result of a tackle he made in a game against Army. Instead of crawling inside a shell, he fought back with words and actions. He has taken the terrible consequence of his injury and has been an outspoken force for a cure for spinal cord injuries. It took him six years, but he has earned his degree. He would have made a tremendous keynote speaker, and in fact, for a few brief hours he thought he was the keynote speaker.
In steps a politician
Here is where things start to get a little hazy. Very shortly after LeGrand was offered the opportunity to speak, and was strongly encouraged to do so by the athletic director and his former football coach, the offer was rescinded.
Instead, the university quickly decided to give the starring role to a politician, former New Jersey Governor Kean.
In an official statement by Rutgers University President Robert Barchi:
“Gov. Kean’s career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity and vision…Gov. Kean is a national role model as a statesman who built bridges across partisan, racial, ethnic and ideological divides for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for the people he served. We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address our graduates.”
I might note that while Governor Kean was not in a position to vote for or against the Iraq War, he too is a Republican and was aligned with President Bush’ policies at the time. No protests have been noted.
Eric LeGrand was out. But here is where the story becomes interesting and it comes down to a case of “he said, she said, he said.”
We only know for certain that on one side of the equation, LeGrand and people in the athletic department thought he was giving a keynote address. On the other side, the university president and the public affairs people called it a misunderstanding. They called it a “miscommunication.”
The Rutgers spokesperson, Greg Trevor said the university may have given the impression that Eric was to be the keynote speaker, but that didn’t happen. Another point that has not completely played out is that Governor Kean was reportedly not fully approved by the Board of Governors. It was indeed a rush job.
Reversal, sort of –
When a person refuses to go down easily, when he or she instead decides to fight back and start a cause, he or she begins to earn a lot of respect and develops a social media following. This is Eric LeGrand’s story.
When his friends and followers (and that includes media around the country) found out about the “miscommunication” there was a great deal of negativity heaped on the university. So much negativity that Eric was asked on May 6, 2014, to share the stage with Governor Kean and to say a few words.
I ask myself what would have been the ethical thing to do?
For my part, I would have much rather listened to a young man who gave up his health and almost his life for the university’s football team, and who refused to quit and who ultimately would earn a degree from the institution, than to hear another politician.
Maybe Eric’s speech would not have been politician smooth, and perhaps his voice would have wavered a bit, but he would have been inspiring. It has been a long time since any politician has moved us; maybe that is why Congress currently enjoys a 10 percent approval rating. No one trusts them. I am sorry; this isn’t Chuck Gallagher speaking, but America. Without hesitation, I would have trusted what Eric LeGrand might have had to say. I guess that answers my question.
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