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Activists protest U of M speech by Condoleezza Rice, who defends war on terror

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Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was welcomed by a crowd of about 2,700 people in a packed auditorium at the University of Minnesota Thursday as about 200 paraded outside in protest of her appearance.

Rice spoke for about 45 minutes about her life, her childhood in segregated Birmingham, Ala., and about how education was key to escaping poverty, the Star Tribune reports.

Her speech was part of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series called “Keeping Faith with a Legacy of Justice.” The series comes on the 50th anniversary year of the American Civil Rights Act.

The Star Tribune reports that Rice, now a professor at Stanford University, also referenced controversy related to “things we were involved in. I understand that." She also noted: “We kept the nation safe,” the newspaper reported.

About 200 faculty had signed a petition objecting to Rice's appearance, citing her involvement in the wartime presidency of George W. Bush, and the fact that she was speaking about human rights.

The petition says, "While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights - the theme of this year's lecture series - is not central to her legacy. Indeed, as a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration, she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror."

A few protesters wore orange jumpsuits and black sacks over their heads in a reference to Guantanamo Bay prisoners, Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper, reported. Minnesota Daily said the protesters numbered 200; FOX 9 called it "more than 100."

Protester Cathy Murphy of St. Louis Park told KSTP, "I just think that giving this kind of platform with someone who has her background and trying to justify torture and what we did in the Middle East is not something the University should do." KSTP has a slideshow of the protest.

University officials had noted that Rice was one of the 20 or so speakers who would offer a perspective on civil rights as part of the series.

Canceling Rice's speech would have been inconsistent with the university’s goal of promoting dialogue, Andrea Cournoyer, a spokeswoman for the Humphrey School, had told the Star Tribune.

Rice received $150,000 for the appearance, which also included reception and a meeting with students. U of M officials have said the fee was paid by private donor funds.

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