Columbia Has A Lot To Learn
So I have to wonder what has happened to this great university over the four decades since I graduated from high school that would cause its president, Lee Bollinger, to defend Columbia's speaking invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by saying:
"It's extremely important to know who the leaders are of countries that are your adversaries. To watch them to see how they think, to see how they reason or do not reason. To see whether they're fanatical, or to see whether they are sly." (WSJ)Bollinger is a First Amendment scholar and author of high repute and a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger, so he knows he is on solid legal ground in extending and defending the invitation. But why does he think so little of the smart kids who got accepted to his school?
Does he think they will really gain anything from seeing a polished politician on his best behavior, far from the protection of his elite Revolutionary Guards and his Mullahs? Does he think for a moment that he is tricking Ahmadinejad into revealing his true, brutal, hateful, repressive, totalitarian, theocratic, fanatic, GI-killing self, so the students of Columbia will see the world as it is?
Or is he merely being an academic pawn, supporting the purpose of Ahmadinejad's trip, which is to project a positive image of Ahmadinejad as a thoughtful man who is dedicated to the downtrodden?
In other words, Ahmadinejad is on a mission to present a lie, and Bollinger -- whose university is home to aggressively antisemitic and anti-Israel scholars -- is giving him that forum.
The students of Columbia will see a polite, learned man not dissimilar to the man who presented to the Council on Foreign Relations during his last visit. In other words, one who thinks well (if faultily), who reasons well (if intolerantly) and who appears to be anything but a fanatic. A man who will try his hardest to make President Bush appear to be the one who doesn't think well, who doesn't reason well, and who uses his fanatical Islamophobia and Christian crusading against Islam.
In that, he will be sly. Will the Columbia students see the slyness? If they do, will they learn from it? Will they learn as much as they would have learned if Bollinger instead had rebuffed his faculty and others and said, no, Columbia is a place of higher learning, and that precludes invitations to men like Ahmadinejad?
I think not, but I also think Duncan Hunter is woefully wrong in his approach to the situation:
"For an institution of Columbia University's caliber, it is inconceivable that you would provide President Ahmadinejad with this opportunity," said Mr. Hunter, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. "I trust the University will do the right thing and immediately withdraw its invitation to President Ahmadinejad. However, should you choose to go forward, I intend to introduce legislation in Congress to disqualify Columbia University from any future federal support." (WashTimes)Bollinger knows the First Amendment will shred any such effort by Hunter, and Hunter should know better than to issue the threat, which just makes him look like a book-burner and worse, a believer in a big, heavy-handed government.
It is not government's place to slap Bollinger around. That role falls to the funders of Columbia University -- from its big benefactors to the corporations and individuals that underwrite scholarships, to the parents who pay the tuition, to the students who enroll there. These are the people and institutions that should rise up against Bollinger's entirely legal but entirely irresponsible decision and give the man some hurt.
As he sees the millions drain away, will he react rationally, as a man who thinks well, and apologize -- or will he react fanatically, like a die-hard liberal academic, and continue to bite the hands that feed his institution?
Whichever, it's clear that Columbia, like all our foremost universities, has a lot to learn.