Besides omitting Iran’s terror ties in their coverage Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s planned visit to Ground Zero in New York City, as Scott Whitlock noted in his earlier post, ABC and CBS, as well as NBC, failed to mentioned that Ahmadinejad is also giving a lecture at Columbia University. The lecture, sponsored by the University, is planned on September 24, the same day Ahmadinejad will be addressing the United Nations.
As you might expect, there has been widespread criticism of this decision, not only from the Columbia University student body, but also in the conservative blogosphere (see Michelle Malkin's blog as well as Power Line). In an official statement announcing the lecture, Columbia president Lee Bollinger defended their decision to let the Iranian president speech by invoking freedom of speech.
I would also like to invoke a major theme in the development of freedom of speech as a central value in our society. It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas, or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.
President Bollinger’s argument might have some validity in normal circumstances, but his university has a poor track record of defending the free speech rights of speakers and/or groups on the campus.
Earlier this week on September 19, the New York Post reported that the "nonpartisan" Columbia Student Union, a student group on campus, had cancelled a planned lecture by Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, whose appearance at Columbia last year had been disrupted by left-wing agitators who took over the stage. Bollinger’s administration chose not to punish the Columbia students who were involved in the disruption.
Nine years earlier in November 1998, the Columbia administration of the time caved-in to other left-wing groups after they protested a conservative conference at Columbia University. The administration limited entry to the conference to Columbia students, locking out two-thirds of the attendees from other schools. The administration cited the protesters as the reason for the decision. The conference organizer, Dan Flynn of Accuracy of Academia, was quoted in a story in Human Events. "[Flynn] laid the blame for what happened to one of the speakers squarely at the feet of Columbia's administration: ‘Columbia's more than tacit endorsement of censorship led to the shouting down of Dinesh D'Souza.... One university official said it's not my job to protect your free speech.’"
[Personal note: I attended this conference a freshman from the University of Delaware. I am one of those barred from the conference by Columbia, and witnessed for the first time in my life this kind of agitation from the Left.]
So, university defends Ahmadinejad’s right to speak, yet an official there said it’s their job to protect the free speech of conservatives on campus?
An older example in Columbia’s track record of caving in the censorious demands of leftists was when Columbia banned ROTC from campus in 1968 in an attempt to placate student opponents of the Vietnam War, whose views were sometimes expressed with violence. The ROTC office on campus had been vandalized by a firebombing that year. William Kristol noted in a recent column that when the faculty senate debated whether to invite ROTC back onto campus in 2005, President Bollinger joined the opponents in defeating the proposal.
Kristol summed up nicely at the end of his column. "A perfect synecdoche for too much of American higher education: they are friendlier to Ahmadinejad than to the U.S. military." It should be added that they’re also friendlier to Ahmadinejad than they are to American conservatives.