The controversy surrounding Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia is still roiling the campus and the legislature. Representative Duncan Hunter, a non-factor in the Presidential race, has threatened to cut all federal funding from Columbia for hosting the event. It's just not no-name presidential candidates hungry for airtime that are complaining. Conservative groups across the spectrum are complaining too.
The purpose of a university is the free exchange of ideas. Conservatives, rightly, complain that conservative ideas and ideals are stricken from the marketplace of ideas. This undermines the function of the university, leads to de facto indoctrination, and even causes the atrophy of "liberal" thought because it never has to defend itself. In such a system of censorship, everyone loses.
Here, the tables are turned. The president of Iran, a country we are likely to start bombing in the near future, was given a podium and a microphone on an American college campus. He had to face audience questions (and dodges them like the best of our own politicians). No one confused Ahmadinejad's speech with a political rally.
Now you have "conservatives" who once complained about censorship seeking to employ their own. It's one thing to disagree with having the speaker; it's another to make the extraordinary and unprecedented threat to strip a university of all federal funding and federal grants. No one has a problem with protests. However, we don't need some politician deciding what does or does not get to be said on a college campus. Hunter, by injecting himself into the debate this way, shows that he has more contempt for the United States, its Constitution and its people than Ahmadinejad.
A college campus exists so that all sides of an issue can be aired and debated. This is not fostered by limiting the information flow on a conflict with Iran to only information released by the White House Press Office. Ahmadinejad is a world leader, a key figure in current events, and he's the exact right person that should be giving a talk or two on a college campus. Students and academics should get the information first-hand, not sifted through the lens of the media.
Academic freedom and free speech in general, have plenty of means at their disposal to deal with unpopular or just flat out wrong ideas. Going hog-wild and shutting down talks because someone denies the Holocaust is what the Europeans do. It is alien to the ideals this country was founded on. Allowing people to speak freely exposes error far quicker than any government censor would.
In fact, the reasoned people who respect America's founding principles and emphatically reject Ahmadinejad's policy and rhetoric felt no need to start bringing down the hammer on anyone giving him a microphone. This quote from Mike Baker sums it up:
If you’ve heard him talk in the past, you could be pretty confident he was going to maintain his seat on the crazy train. In reality, our best defense against Ahmadinejad is to make sure he always has a microphone in front of him and the cameras are rolling. You would have to be psychotic, heavily medicated or enormously naïve to walk away from that speech thinking "… huh, seems like a reasonable and clever fellow.”
In fact, if he had been allowed to go to Ground Zero and display his antics there, there would be no debate about going to Iran and we'd already be halfway to Tehran by now.
The reality is, no one had to go to this talk. His ideas were forced on no one. People went because they wanted to go and it does not follow that they agree with what he said (I've been to many talks in which I disagreed with the speaker). It's one thing to disagree with those ideas, it's another to stomp your feet and demand censorship. The "conservatives" demanding sanctions on Columbia should spend their time learning the founding principles of this nation they claim they want to conserve.