The one thing about Rutgers is that when you give them one opportunity for a mind-numbingly dumb decision, they miraculously make it into several gut-wrenching hits to the stomach that you become disgusted with yourself for being associated with the University. Last night, Rutgers did just that when they basically told Eric LeGrand, one of our most beloved members of the Scarlet Knight community, to f*** off.
In case you were not aware or have been living under a medium-sized rock the past couple of days, former US Secretary of State and future College Football Playoff selection official Condoleezza Rice backed out of her commitment to give Rutgers' commencement speech because the university no longer believes in free speech. Well, more so because students and faculty were opposed to her giving the speech, as they even staged sit-ins and "teach-ins" as a form of protest. So if Rutgers is even in a position to be selected by the CFP committee, I think I can guess which way Rice will vote.
With Rice out as commencement speaker, the University had about two weeks to find a replacement. According to a Star-Ledger article, Greg Jackson, chief of staff of Robert Barchi, contacted Eric LeGrand this past weekend on Saturday night. LeGrand was reportedly ecstatic with the opportunity, as he is set to graduate this month from the School of Management and Labor Relations. He spent the entire weekend thinking about what he could say to his fellow graduates:
You have no idea how much I've been thinking about it. I was thinking all weekend long about what I could share with the students, my experiences. I was going to take them back before I was getting recruited by Rutgers, what made me come here, and the things I learned here, and, of course, my injury and how great it's been since then. -As told to the Star-Ledger
Two days later, RU athletic director Julie Hermann, not Greg Jackson, contacted LeGrand and basically said "thanks, but no thanks":
I was pushing for you, but President Barchi decided to go in another direction for political reasons. But he wants you to come to the ceremony. He wants to personally give you your degree. -Julie Hermann
So instead of going with a surefire PR hit, Barchi disses Eric LeGrand and gets another politically charged candidate who skews in the same direction as Condoleezza Rice. Like I said, Rutgers turns lemons into even more lemons. On the surface, this looks to be a presidential administration problem. Barchi told his chief of staff to contact LeGrand for a possible commencement speech but then decided against it, going with a former New Jersey politician. And instead of personally calling LeGrand to inform him of the decision, he sends Julie Hermann, who does not have the best public image at the moment, to give the message.
I'm not even sure what is more appalling: The fact that Barchi decided against giving an uber-popular Rutgers icon the opportunity to give the speech, or the way in which he blindsided him. I'll personally go with the latter. Honestly, I can at least understand why Barchi would go with Kean. Schools get former and current politicians all the time. But to insult a person who has been nothing but a class-act ambassador for Rutgers by not giving him the time of day is atrocious.
Eric LeGrand deserves an explanation. After all he's been through and everything he's done, a loyal son deserves better.