From January 24 to January 27, 2003, Columbia University's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) hosted a Palestinian film festival entitled "Dreams of a Nation." A controversy subsequently emerged due to its consistently anti-Israel tone, resulting in Columbia's Provost, Jonathan R. Cole, issuing the following statement on February 3, 2003:
I have been asked by President Bollinger to respond to your recent e-mail that questions whether a Palestinian Film Festival ought to be presented at the University.
It is Columbia's policy to encourage free and open debate and discussion of every kind of issue that is part of our society, whether it relates to the contemporary sciences (e.g. stem cell research, human cloning), arts (i.e., issues of censorship of exhibitions), humanities, social sciences, or historical events.
The preparation of seminars, symposia, invited talks, public lectures, and even film festivals, is almost always left to our faculty and students.
The central administration of the University only intervenes in these matters on the very rare occasion when public safety cannot be assured.
Otherwise, we simply do not prohibit programs whose content may be offensive to some people or groups.
We would not do this in the case of a Palestinian film festival or one sponsored by our many other student or faculty groups that represents other perspectives and points of view.
Diversity of perspectives is part of university life and with it comes differences of opinion that may be offensive to some.
We would far prefer it, of course, if you were able to understand and accept our reasons for maintaining this open and tolerant policy as a critical part of a community that must value the presentation of ideas from many perspectives (even those that some of us will find opprobrious).
This is part of the value system of great universities.
We hope to hear from you in the future praising events that you understand are being sponsored by Columbia that you find more congenial to your own point of view.
With best regards,
Jonathan R. Cole
Provost and Dean of Faculties
John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University