It is often people with whom we disagree who can teach us the most.
Sometimes it seems as if the most ardent cause of universities is to wall themselves off from the outside world and from points of view they don't like.
That is certainly the impression left by the uprising of students and faculty at Rutgers University that prompted former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to withdraw as the 248-year-old school's commencement speaker later this month.
One wonders what the students and faculty think they could accomplish. If the goal is — as articulated by some of the protesters — to hold accountable those who took the nation to war in Iraq, there will be no impact at all. Rice and other members of former president George W. Bush's national security team are unlikely to feel chastened by this kind of a stunt, no more than a Democrat would be if disinvited from Fox News for voting for Obamacare.
If the goal is to shift public opinion on the Iraq War, that happened long ago. Polls consistently show pluralities or majorities believe that the invasion was a mistake. Ironically, if the protests have any effect beyond the campus, it might be to engender sympathy for Rice. More likely than not, the public views these doings as childish and disturbingly typical of universities.
In their determination to make Rice feel unwelcome, the protesters have also denied themselves an interesting, thoughtful and potentially eye-opening speaker. Rice has a wealth of experience in national security and diplomacy. She is a distinguished scholar, and former provost, at Stanford University. And she just might have something useful to say to campus liberals about how and why an African-American woman from Alabama made her way to the Republican Party.
By today's standards, Rice is a throwback. Cordial and pragmatic, she is the type of Republican that Democrats should seek out — both for strategic reasons and to strike a blow against the hyperpartisanship so common these days.
Shunning her, as Rutgers students and faculty have done, is not good politics. And it is even worse in academia, which is supposed to champion an open exchange of ideas. It is often people with whom we disagree who can teach us the most. A university, of all places, should know this.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.