Lee C. Bollinger is receiving praise from academia and the media for his commitment to free speech by allowing Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University.
In defending his decision to allow Ahmadinejad to address the university Bollinger said, "I want to say, however, as forcefully as I can, that this is the right thing to do and, indeed, it is required by existing norms of free speech, the American university, and Columbia itself."
Bollinger then went on to exercise his own First Amendment rights and blasted Ahmadinejad as a "petty and cruel dictator" and pointing out Iran’s cruel treatment of its own citizens, support of terrorism, and Ahmadinejad’s denial of the holocaust and desire to wipe Israel off the map.
Bollinger might have received kudos from this columnist for his commitment to free speech at Columbia if he wasn’t such a hypocrite about allowing other controversial speakers to speak on campus.
Last October, the founder of the Minutemen, Jim Gilchrest, was invited to speak at Columbia and was attacked and forced off the stage by student protesters soon after his speech began. After the riot, did Bollinger give a similar free speech pep talk and remind students that an environment should exists on campus that should promote the open exchange of ideas? Not at all. Instead, as columnist John Leo noted,
Mr. Bollinger…might have shown a commitment to free speech by inviting the men back, introducing them himself and providing enough security to prevent more censorship by riot. But he didn't.
Instead, he let months go by before imposing a mild non-punishment on the unnamed perpetrators.
Gilchrest was invited back this year by The Columbia Political Union (CPU), a non-partisan campus group, but that invitation was rescinded after the group decided not to go forward with the event due to concerns of students
The CPU told the Associated Press that they hoped to have him and others who were part of the incident last October together to engage in a civil discussion but that they "could not effectively accomplish the goals we had hoped it might."
Bollinger, a First Amendment scholar, was once again quiet on the matter.
This columnist isn’t a supporter of Ahmadinejad or Gilchrest but someone who believes a free and open dialogue should exist in our public colleges and universities. Invited speakers should be able to deliver their message without the worry of having their speech interrupted or canceled by a bunch of student thugs.
If Bollinger is going to let the President of Iran speak, no matter how much he may disagree with the speaker’s point of view, surely he should embrace such freedom for other invited speakers and be at the forefront of giving Gilchrest the same opportunity.
In his introductory remarks Monday Bollinger said,
In the moment, the arguments for free speech will never seem to match the power of the arguments against, but what we must remember is that this is precisely because free speech asks us to exercise extraordinary self-restraint against the very natural but often counter-productive impulses that lead us to retreat from engagement with ideas we dislike and fear. In this lies the genius of the American idea of free speech.
This columnist calls on Bollinger to prove his commitment to free speech and not “retreat from engagement with ideas” he and others at Columbia may dislike and fear and invite Gilchrest to speak and provide him a safe environment in which to do so.
It’s easy to give a verbal commitment to freedom and liberty but quite another to back up one’s words with actions. Seeing how Bolllinger past actions regardubg free speech have been rather cowardly, this columnist don’t expect to see Gilchrest on campus any time soon.