When former United States secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was invited to the University of Calgary, a clear message on our academic direction was sent. Rice came to give a speech on "critical issues facing North America from a global perspective" for the U of C School of Public Policy's grand opening.
The $500-a-plate event sparked debate quickly after it was announced, with petitions from angry students and community members popping up online. They argued that Rice's history regarding torture policy and the pre-approval of CIA waterboarding was not something they wanted supported through the school's gala launch. Much like former president George W. Bush's visit in March, some called for an acknowledgement of her involvement in war crimes. Rice approved waterboarding on prisoners as early as May 2002, when she was still national security advisor.
Prisoners experiencing this "enhanced interrogation technique" are strapped to a board and have water poured over their faces to simulate drowning. This technique has been deemed torture by countless legal authorities and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, but Rice and the Bush administration stood by it.
Rice has been quoted many times supporting her actions in the name of America's safety. She has expressed no regret nor even a hint of remorse for her role in this abuse. That the university invited her to their prestigious media-filled event is both sad and infuriating. Rice's involvement tainted what should have been a proud occasion for the university. Instead, she gave a speech about the future of public policy while any questions about her
own controversial actions were moderated out of existence.
Unfortunately, online petitions and even protesting seemed to have little effect on the university's decision. She was a big name that would draw a crowd and that was their primary goal. The old cliché, "any publicity is good publicity," should have died long ago.
But while this isn't such a good start for the School of Public Policy, students shouldn't avoid what could potentially be a great opportunity to learn. They are the ones that will hopefully be able to shape the school into an institute that doesn't endorse or ignore questionable actions. Students will choose which classes to take and ask meaningful questions.
Despite stumbling out of the starting blocks, the new School of Public Policy should be able to recover from this embarrassing introduction if those who apply are willing to work hard to do so.