Perhaps then it's understandable why, looking back at this, some at Rutgers were uncomfortable honoring her legacy at their college commencement.
Yet The Week dismissed any objection as "a longing to simplify the world, to wish away our conflicts and deny the need to get one's hands dirty." Dissent was framed as the inevitable miscalculation of kids who haven't "learned their lesson" and are "too young to have seen the need to put away their childish things."
The Iraq War resulted in more than 110,000 violent deaths. What childish things beyond their idealism must these students put away?
At Haverford College students and faculty had questions for a former University of California chancellor about the treatment of Occupy protesters in the fall of 2011. Haverford was founded in 1833 to ensure an education grounded in Quaker values, and the Quaker influence on campus is still strong. If students there didn't have any questions about the use of force on peaceful student protesters, they wouldn't be living up to their mission.
And at Smith, students objected to receiving their education capstone speech from Christine Lagarde, chief of the IMF, charging that the organization, in providing economic aid to poor nations, has imposed conditions that favor Western nations and strengthen oppressive regimes. It's an interesting, somewhat complicated criticism, and Lagarde is in a position to offer up intelligent answers. Instead, she withdrew from the ceremony so as not to distract from the celebration.
Lagarde's response was similar to Rice's when she opted to back out of her commencement engagement at Rutgers. "Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time," Rice explained.
It's understandable if speakers want to spare themselves the discomfort of engaging with critics, but it's also a good reminder of just how little interest they have in sparking provocative political debate. And it's another reason why The Daily Beast, in writing lines like, "God forbid these delicate students should be exposed to an idea or an organization with which they disagree," is missing the point.
These speakers are not being silenced. They decided to withdraw when it looked like the attention they would be receiving would not be entirely flattering. Rather than have a conversation about it, they fled.
It's also part of what makes Vox's framing of the issue so off base. "When conservatives are back in power ... the left will rediscover the importance of protecting unpopular opinions," Michelle Goldberg, a journalist with The Nation, tells Vox.
It's an interesting conversation, but it has little to do with the topic of protesting commencement speakers. These speakers are not some poor oppressed minority just trying to offer colleges students a thought-provoking argument or different political outlook. Rather they are some of the most powerful people in the free world who have come to collect laurels and offer up platitudes about success and navigating life after college. They are not taking questions. Commencement lectures are a one-way, often dull street.