It’s fair to question the leadership of Rutgers University over the way they have handled recent controversies, the latest of which concerns the speaker at this year’s commencement ceremony on May 18th at High Point Solutions Stadium.

Eric Legrand (Patrick McDermott, Getty Images)

The original choice was former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but she backed out on Saturday after weeks of protests from students and faculty members over her selection due to her involvement in the Iraq War while serving under President George W. Bush.

Rice, who was to be paid $35,000 while receiving an honorary degree said she made her decision because commencement should be a joyous occasion and she did not want her appearance to take away from that.

If you read between the lines you might also assume that Rutgers officials were not disappointed she cancelled as it could have made for an embarrassing situation.  You can decide on your own if Rice was an appropriate speaker although you can’t question her credentials.  I think this was all about saving face for the parties involved.

However, as has become typical of Rutgers decisions under President Robert Barchi what happened next is the head scratcher.  Paralyzed former Scarlet Knights football player Eric LeGrand said he was asked by Barchi’s chief of staff to replace Rice on Saturday night.  LeGrand was in Florida for a spinal cord research fundraiser when he received a phone call from Greg Jackson asking if he could do the school a favor and give the commencement speech.

LeGrand, who is set to graduate as well, would go on to say he and Jackson agreed to touch base on Monday and he assumed his acceptance of the speaking offer was only a formality.  LeGrand’s flight back to New Jersey on Monday was delayed so he called Jackson to change the time when they were to discuss logistics later in the day…there was no indication anything had changed.

However when the former football player finally arrived home last night he was notified by Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann that former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean had already been announced as the replacement for Rice.  LeGrand said that Hermann told him that President Barchi had changed his mind for political reasons.  LeGrand said he twice tried to call Jackson last night for an explanation but his calls were not answered.

By the way the choice of Kean will at least save the school money as he will not accept a speaker’s fee.Remember,Rutgers paid former Jersey Shore star “Snooki” Polizzi more than $30,000 to speak on campus three years ago.  At least they didn’t ask “The Situation” to handle the commencement speech.