In the span of one day, Columbia University managed to once again demonstrate its strained relationship with freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas. Yesterday, Columbia cancelled a planned event featuring Jim Gilchrist, the Minuteman Project founder who was run off the stage by disruptive and violent protests last year, and then just today announced that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be speaking at a forum on Monday.
The event featuring Gilchrist was meant to be an installment of the “Friendly Fire” speaker series, which was designed to bring about discussions between divergent viewpoints in a civil and challenging manner. However, the Columbia Political Union, the entity hosting the debate, must have decided that hearing a grass roots activist talk about immigration reform would be too difficult for Columbia students to handle. In canceling the speech, the Union was quoted as stating:
“We had hoped that it might be possible to have him and others involved in the events of last October on the same stage, engaged in a civil but challenging discussion.”
“Aware that this is a complex issue, about which many people feel strongly, we felt that it was necessary to consult with other student groups and individuals on campus before making any decisions.”
Then, before the ink was dry on the newsprint announcing this decision, Columbia invited the President of Iran to come speak on campus in an open forum where he will field questions along with Columbia president Lee Bollinger. Regarding that decision, the dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs said that “opportunities to hear, challenge, and learn from controversial speakers of different views are central to the education and training of students for citizenship in a shrinking and dangerous world.” Could the same not be said about a speech by Jim Gilchrist? Apparently not—it seems that at Columbia, the views of an opponent of illegal immigration are too challenging to be allowed on campus, but there is no problem with a man who has hosted a conference featuring the world’s leading Holocaust deniers including David Duke and who has advocated for the genocide of all Jewish people in the Middle East by calling for Israel to be “wiped out from the map.”
If this doesn’t indicate a double standard at Columbia, I don’t know what ever could.