From Samuel L. Myers, Jr.
Roy Wilkins Professor of Human Relations and Social Justice
Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs
University of Minnesota
Dear Professor Rice,
I will not be able to attend your sold-out performance at the Carlson Family Stage of the newly renovated Northrop Auditorium. The Carlson Foundation has been a very generous donor to the University of Minnesota. Previous Carlson Lectures honored the Dalai Lama, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gen. Colin Powell, Vice President Mondale and others with notable public achievements worthy of the mantle of human rights and civil rights advocated by the school’s namesake, former Vice President and Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.
Your visit has raised significant opposition from many quarters within and outside of the university because it is linked to the Humphrey School’s year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act and because it comes at precisely the time when the Humphrey School has embarked on a new program of research and scholarship on international human rights.
I find it disingenuous that your visit is linked to our celebration of the Civil Rights Movement under the ostensible banner that you provide a different perspective on civil rights and human rights. I fail to see how you are even qualified to speak on a topic that has received broad technical analysis from many disciplines and points of view. Your defenders say that you qualify because you are Black and a woman and can offer a different perspective. I find that so-called reasoning insulting.
The reason I will be absent is not because you are being paid what is by most standards an outrageously large sum of $150,000 for a one-hour talk on a topic that has been rehashed in the media and in your own writings over and over again.
Certainly, the reason for my absence is not related to any opposition to academic freedom or the right of the Carlson Foundation to invite whomever they please of whatever intellectual or political persuasion. I support academic freedom and the importance of bringing diverse voices to campus to speak on topics on which the speakers are experts.
In fact, as one African American to another, born and bred before the March on Washington and the ensuing struggle to mobilize forces to end racial segregation and discrimination, I am proud of your significant achievements. Your pursuit of the Ph.D. and your pursuit of an academic career at a top research institution merged with a life of public service set an admirable standard that I hope other African Americans will follow.
Though I won’t be in the audience during your presentation, I hope that you will be respectfully challenged on your positions regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the determinants of Black-White inequality. I hope someone asks you whether you were ever consulted about and agreed with positions taken by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which were strengthened via the 1964 Civil Rights Act but weakened during the Bush administration. I hope you will be asked whether you agree with the position of Roger Clegg, the former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights who now leads the Center for Equal Opportunity, the most prominent organization advocating the dismantlement of affirmative action in America.
I will miss your talk because I will attend the 95th birthday celebration of the former president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) – my dad and role model. I will miss your talk because my father, now chairman of the Board of Minority Access, Inc., is still fighting for racial equality every day of his life. I will miss your talk because the person who introduced the long-lived White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) wants to raise money for the next generation of graduates of Black colleges to attend places such as the Humphrey School of Public Affairs to develop the tools and skills of policy analysis.
I will miss your talk because I want to spend my time with someone who fought in the movement, who lived the movement, who regularly consulted with such stalwart leaders such as Leon Sullivan, Parren and Clarence Mitchell, Dorothy Height, Julian Bond, and Joseph Lowery. My father instilled pride in his children and never denied them the right to dissent in the quest for equality. This standard of being willing to disagree even when everyone feels that it will result in funding losses or loss of supporters is a high standard that governs my life.
I personally will commit myself to raising matching funds dollar for dollar from the Boule, the Alphas, the Kappas, the Deltas, the Ques, the Links, Jack and Jill and all of the other networking organizations that have benefitted from the foundations laid by our fathers. Even though we may disagree on how to remedy persistent problems of racial inequality, I hope we can at least agree on this: that training underserved minorities is one viable solution
I hope we can also agree that those of us who have benefited from the sacrifices made by our fathers and who have succeeded in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement possess an obligation to support those less fortunate than us.