Last year, Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, was persuaded to cancel a speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at its School for International and Public Affairs. He had been put in this position by a pip-squeak scholar named Lisa Anderson who runs the School and the Middle East Center but has contributed exactly nothing to scholarship. Professor Anderson's job seems to be to get Bollinger into trouble, as if he hasn't enough to cope with as president. There are two mad-cap tenure procedures he faces: one at Barnard where an archaeologist seeks to prove that there was never a Jewish commonwealth in the Holy Land (which, by the way, just inter alia, denies the history of Christianity, too); the second, at Columbia, where Joseph Massad, who has abused students with views different from his own (reason enough to be sent off maybe to replace Norman Finkelstein at DePaul), has published a book basically charging modern-day gay intellectuals with forcing gay culture on the Muslim world.
Last year, Anderson did the initial inviting. But Bollinger, after long days of equivocating, suddenly had all kinds of cogent reasons why Ahmadinejad is not welcome at an institution of higher learning like Columbia. Now he has all kinds of phony reasons why Ahmadinejad should be welcome at Columbia. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The invitation to speak, postponed from a year ago, is part of Columbia's mission to understand the world "as it is and as it might be," Mr. Bollinger said, even if that means having to listen courteously to ideas that are "offensive and even odious." He called for Mr. Ahmadinejad to be received with "the powers of dialogue and reason."
Bollinger has put up what he probably imagines are conditions for the Iranian president's speech. The first is that he will be introduced by none other than Bollinger himself. Now, normally, when a university president introduces a campus guest, it is thought an honor to the guest. OK, it's not, at least in these circumstances. In any case, Bollinger has announced that he will ask him some tough questions, the gist of which he has released. The Chronicle reports:
Mr. Bollinger said he would introduce the president by issuing "sharp challenges" to his denial of the Holocaust, stated goal of wiping Israel off the map, support for terrorism, defiance of sanctions stemming from Iran's nuclear ambitions, and suppression of human rights and civil liberties.
Not so tough. And Mahmoud is a canny fella. If I were Bollinger I'd be quaking in the my pants.
The real question is what will Ahmadinejad add to the learning of Columbia's students. Would Bollinger have invited Goebbels or Franco? I'd like to see how he would explain a "yes" answer to these queries. The fact is that Bollinger is afraid of his most mischievous faculty, and it shows.
There is more disturbing news on the ethos of American universities from the other side of the country. An article in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle by John Wildermuth reports that a speech by Larry Summers, former president of Harvard, before a dinner of the Board of Regents of the University of California has been cancelled. Why? A petition with 300 signatures protesting his talk was submitted to the Regents, and Richard Blum, chairman, caved. "Inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the University community and to the people of California," the petition read. (Blum is the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein.)
Columbia invites Ahmadinejad, U Of C cancels Summers. Ahmdinejad is a thug and hopes to be a genocidal thug, now having to content himself with being a terrorist thug. Summers is one of the most eminent economists in the entire world. He has also been secretary of the treasury and did immense good work at the World Bank. I don't know which is a greater scandal: Columbia's welcoming of the Iranian president or the University of California reneging on an invitation to Larry Summers. Actually, I cannot think of anything so repulsive in academe in decades like the barring of Summers from an American campus.
By the way, New York Police have denied Ahmadinejad his wish to lay a wreath at Ground Zero.
What the U.S. should do is put Ahmadinejad on a "watch list," like it did Kurt Waldheim when he was president of Austria. Then Ahmadinejad could watch the proceedings of the U.N. on television.