Here's what the student wrote:
I'm sure this point has been made before, but don't you think it's ironic that you're claiming to promote freedom of speech - specifically an individual's freedom to express controversial ideas - and yet your interview on the Columbia campus hinged on the assumption that the Columbia professor should not have expressed such a controversial idea (i.e. his opinion of Israeli Jews)?
If you really supported freedom of speech, you might let people say what they want and have a little faith in students' abilities not to be brainwashed. Don't worry - we're not as dumb as you seem to think.
Columbia College ‘08
Here's what I wrote back:
Freedom of speech runs in both directions. I agree that Professor Dabashi is free to denigrate Israeli Jews. But I am also free to criticize him for it. You seem to be suggesting that I oppose free speech merely because I'm pointing out what he has said. How Orwellian of you. It looks like your Columbia education is paying off!
When I filmed this scene, my plan was to use it in Indoctrinate U to illustrate a double-standard in academia. Professor Dabashi can say the most vile things about Jews and still maintain his job as Chairman of the Middle East Languages and Cultures department, but other professors have been punished for saying things that are much more tame. I planned on juxtaposing the case of Professor Dabashi with the case of another professor who was removed from her job as department head for the high crime of being a registered Republican.
We see this pattern time and time again: you can say the most extreme, hateful things, as long as you pick the right targets. Meanwhile, simply opposing racial preferences in public or holding a rally to condemn Hamas and Hizbollah can get you brought up on hate speech charges. Being registered in the "wrong" political party can cost you your job. Up at your school, a mob rushed the stage to accost a speaker who had the temerity to argue that our nation should enforce its borders. Free speech is not alive and well on campus.
In fact, free speech is often selectively afforded to people based on what they say. If you haven't noticed this yet, perhaps it's because you happen to hold the approved set of views. Good for you. You haven't run afoul of the censors...yet.
I support free speech and academic freedom for everyone, not just left-of-center professors, but for all professors and all students, regardless of their ideas. I even surprised a lot of friends when I said publicly that Ward Churchill's explosive comments comparing September 11th victims with Nazi operatives did not constitute an offense for which he should be punished or fired.
Students and professors have repeatedly had their academic careers ruined simply for expressing mainstream views that are far less controversial than what Professor Dabashi said. My purpose in covering his case was not to say that he should be shut down, but to question why people like Hamid Dabashi and Ward Churchill are embraced within academia, while others have their academic careers destroyed for much milder speech. To me, that's a legitimate question, and it's the central question of my film.
Thanks for writing,