You've probably heard by now that Rutgers (the State University of New Jersey!) has, and yes we realize we're ascribing anamorphic behavior to an immobile institution, gone and stepped in a big pile of toxic waste again. You'll remember them for such top ten hits as "head basketball coach assaults players and hurls racial invective at them", "athletic director doesn't actually do anything about it", "athletic director gets fired over it", "new athletic director hired to replace old one had, herself, been accused of abusing her players while coaching (and is also caught on videotape at a wedding warning her female employees not to get pregnant)", "news of a sexual discrimination lawsuit against new athletic director surfaces", "football player quits, accusing assistant coach of physically and verbally abusing him after all that other stuff happened", "athletic director claims to have spoken to football player's family but didn't", and the latest chart-topper, "athletic director says the local newspaper which reported all of these things should be shut down".
Excuse us, we have to take a breath. Or, you know, an entire tank of oxygen.
That's a long list of embarrassing missteps for one university in the space of a little over a year. Putting this in perspective, Kansas State probably hasn't committed that many gaffes since the Bush administration, and I mean the George Herbert Walker Bush administration.
And Rutgers is at it again. First, they invited Condoleeza Rice to give this year's commencement speech, which in and of itself isn't a problem. But Rice backed out after student protests surrounding her role in the Iraq War, so Rutgers turned to one of their own: Eric LeGrand, the former player who was paralyzed on the field and has since been a huge inspiration to... well, everyone that's ever heard of him, frankly. Hey, great idea, Rutgers! Good job!
Until all of a sudden someone offered that gig to the former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean. That's bad enough in itself from one perspective, seeing as how Kean's not a Rutgers alum and there's actually another school in New Jersey named Kean University (named after Kean's grandfather). So that's just a weird look anyway.
Here's where Rutgers once against utterly failed at the art of public relations. First, they announced Kean as the speaker without bothering to inform LeGrand first.
And then they had their miserable disaster of an athletic director -- someone who's not in any way involved with the process of selecting the commencement speaker -- call LeGrand to tell him after the fact, thus committing the grievous misstep of actually attaching all her previous bungles to this one in the media's eyes.
All of that is just background and preamble. Rutgers is on their way to join the Big Ten in just a couple of months. That's the Big Ten, the most prestigious affiliation of universities in the nation by some lights, a place of academic rigor, warrior poets, and seemingly infinite quantities of noblesse oblige. A collective, not to put too fine a point on it, which thinks K-State isn't good enough to sit among them because we touch cows or something.
Well, we can show those guys. K-State should immediately get on the horn to Eric LeGrand and start working to set up an appearance in the Landon Lecture series. LeGrand is a really bright guy who's done a fantastic job not only speaking about his disability and providing inspiration, but actually showing what's possible for someone in his position. K-State is -- rightfully so -- proud of the Landon series, which over the decades has presented a vast array of brilliant speakers on a wide range of important topics. Inviting LeGrand would be worth doing anyway.
Doing it right now would just be great public relations, and in that respect K-State could actually teach a Big Ten school something about that particular topic.
Update: shortly after this story was published, Rutgers announced that LeGrand would, in fact, be speaking at commencement, although not as the official "commencement speaker", and that it was never intended that LeGrand be the only speaker at commencement.