If you're a potentially nuclear Middle Eastern state, how do you get in touch with the University? In the case of Iran, you contact Professor Richard Bulliet, who served as the intermediary in arranging President Ahmadinejad's visit. "This year the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations asked me to convey a request for a renewal of the invitation," Bulliet wrote in an e-mail to Bwog. "There was ample time to make arrangements. Columbia responded positively."
Also, regarding Prezbo's explanatory meeting this afternoon with student leaders: one of them graciously provided Bwog with some notes. They are as follows:
"In attendance were representatives from the College Republicans, Hillel, LionPAC, Iranian Students Association, Sikh association, ISO, ACLU, USCC/SPEAK, CQA, SGB, CCSC/ESC, AAA, CPU, and Spectator. There was also the Law School Senator, and student representatives from SIPA, J-school, and the B-school.
Also present were Deans Columbo, Schollenberger, Yatrakis, and various members of Bollinger's staff.
President Bollinger explained that the issue of Ahmadinejad visiting first came up last year. [Former SIPA Dean] Lisa Anderson had been in contact with the Iranian delegation, but by the time the Iranians agreed to our terms, it was less than 24 hours notice and really was a logistical problem. He emphasized that the logistics were the only reason for cancelling Ahmedinejad's visit last year. "I made it very clear at the time [..] that I disagreed with [the idea that there are some views too reprehensible to be spoken]."
Bollinger explained that academic departments, to the extent that they use university resources to invite a speaker, may do so as long as it is for an academic purpose. He said that the university's negotiations with the Iranians were about preserving that principle. "[I'm] not interested in providing a platform [for a speaker and his views ... I'm] interested in a scholarly experience."
A SPEaK/USCC representative asked why Bollinger felt the need to speak publicly his disapproval of the content of Ahmedinejad's speech when he made no such statements about Gilchrist last year. Bollinger responded that he had to be careful what he said about the speakers that students invite because "When I say things, it can have a chilling effect on what students do on campus."
"I put it in a spectrum. At one end, you have [a public forum where any speaker can come and say anything]. Another end is honorary degrees. I would oppose giving an honorary degree to Ahmedinejad."
He said that the event would be "a celebration of the university and its values." and that protests "in a powerful way" would be welcome "short of disrupting the event itself."
On a question about the extent to which the event is an opportunity for Ahmedinejad to glorify himself given a stage here, Bollinger explained by way of comparison to Hugo Chavez: "He [Chavez] was insisting that there be a cable connection to South America" [and so we refused because it was clear he only wanted a bully pulpit].
On Ahmedinejad: "I'm satisfied that our reasons for having him here [outweigh] his motivations."
On why he feels the need to deliver remarks critical of Ahmedinejad at the event itself: "I think his views are so outrageous and so beyond the pale, I put this a category where I as a leader of the institution should speak about this."
At the end of the event, Bollinger asked to take a poll, whether among the people present, we supported the principle of academic freedom. Most (but not all) hands went up."