Free Speech in Class Under Fire at Columbia

January 21, 2005

NEW YORK — There’s a battle going on at Columbia University (search) over freedom of speech in the classroom.

 

The debate began with a documentary film called “Columbia Unbecoming” that said professors in the Ivy League school’s department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures harassed pro-Israel students.

 

The New York Civil Liberties Union (search) supported the professors in a letter written to the university president, saying “students have the right to express their own views [but] it is not, except at the invitation of the professor, an open forum for students to express any views they wish at any time.”

 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (search) disagreed, arguing that the NYCLU’s letter put severe limits on students’ freedom of speech in class when there shouldn’t be such restrictions.

 

“The students can’t expect their views will be unchallenged,” said foundation president David French. “Professors can’t expect their views will be unchallenged. It’s a give-and-take.”

 

But not all Columbia students feel as though they’re being discouraged from expressing themselves.

 

Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures student Eric Posner said that despite occasional disruptions from some of his classmates, differences of opinion were generally welcome.

 

“At Columbia, you can dissent in every classroom,” Posner said. “Columbia is at the forefront of encouraging dialogue in the classroom.”

 

The university has assembled a faculty committee to investigate the students’ claims and address professors’ concerns.

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