The Blog

Columbia University:
Ahmadinejad Yes, ROTC No

Lee Bollinger's choice.

11:13 AM, Sep 20, 2007 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

TWO DAYS AGO, Columbia University announced that next Monday, September 24, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak and participate in a question and answer session with university faculty and students at Columbia. According to the university statement, "This opportunity for faculty and students to engage the President of Iran came about after Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations initiated contact with Columbia through a member of the faculty, Richard Bulliet, who is a specialist on Iran."

So at the request of the Iranian government, Columbia University will host the president of a terrorist regime which is right now responsible for the deaths of American soldiers on the field of battle. Indeed, this distinguished guest, who is so honoring Columbia by his presence, will be introduced by no one less than the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger.

But not to worry: "President Bollinger will introduce the event by challenging President Ahmadinejad on a number of his controversial statements and his government's policies." Indeed, Bollinger manfully proclaimed in the university statement: "I also wanted to be sure the Iranians understood that I would myself introduce the event with a series of sharp challenges to the President on issues including:

* the Iranian President's denial of the Holocaust;

* his public call for the destruction of the state of Israel;

* his reported support for international terrorism that targets innocent civilians and American troops;

* Iran's pursuit of nuclear ambitions in opposition to international sanction;

* his government's widely documented suppression of civil society and particularly of women's rights; and

* his government's imprisoning of journalists and scholars, including one of Columbia's own alumni, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh."

One can imagine President Ahmadinejad nervously preparing for President Bollinger's "sharp challenges," and wondering whether those challenges will detract from the propaganda victory Bollinger's invitation has given him. He's undoubtedly concluded it won't be a big problem.

It should go without saying that the appropriate thing to do, when the Iranian ambassador called Columbia, would have been to say: No thanks. Or just, No. But that would be to expect too much of one of today's Ivy League university presidents.

In fact, the introduction with "sharp challenges" by Bollinger makes the situation even more of a disgrace. Now there will be the appearance of real dialogue, of Ahmadinejad answering challenges, which further legitimizes the notion that Holocaust denial, say, is a subject of legitimate and reasonable debate. But if Bollinger had chosen to deny Ahmadinejad's request, or not to dignify Ahmadinejad's appearance by his presence--then Bollinger would have been denied the opportunity to lecture us, in Columbia's press release, to this effect: "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. That such a forum could not take place on a university campus in Iran today sharpens the point of what we do here....This is America at its best."

Actually, this is a liberal university president at his stupidest. As Powerline's Scott Johnson put it, "Columbia's prattle about free speech may be a tale told by an idiot, but it signifies something. And President Bollinger is a fool who is not excused from the dishonor he brings to his institution and his fellow citizens by the fact that he doesn't know what he is doing."

Meanwhile: As Columbia welcomes Ahmadinejad to campus, Columbia students who want to serve their country cannot enroll in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Columbia. Columbia students who want to enroll in ROTC must travel to other universities to fulfill their obligations. ROTC has been banned from the Columbia campus since 1969. In 2003, a majority of polled Columbia students supported reinstating ROTC on campus. But in 2005, when the Columbia faculty senate debated the issue, President Bollinger joined the opponents in defeating the effort to invite ROTC back on campus.

A perfect synecdoche for too much of American higher education: they are friendlier to Ahmadinejad than to the U.S. military.

--William Kristol