Columbia President Gets Booed, But Does He Get It?

August 30, 2007

An editorial in the New York Post today drew attention to the booing and jeering Columbia President Lee Bollinger received at the August 15th Community Board 9 hearing in Harlem where Bollinger was making the case for Columbia’s proposed campus expansion. While Bollinger was visibly annoyed at the crowd—a YouTube video of the incident is available here—the Post notes that “at least he got to speak. And nobody rushed up and shoved him.”

While Bollinger was able to complete his speech and escape any physical altercation, controversial speeches held at Columbia are not always so calm. Last fall, for example, Columbia’s College Republicans hosted a speech by Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist. Protesters rushed the stage and shut down the speech. The university’s reaction? Nothing. As the Post says:

Nothing that matters, anyway.
Yes, there was an “investigation,” lasting the better part of the fall semester. But, in the end, all the aspiring brown-shirts got from Columbia administrators was a stern “Don’t Do It Again.” Some of the junior fascists cited that outcome as personal vindication.
Which, clearly, it was.
Bollinger—ironically, a First Amendment scholar—still has had nothing of consequence to say about the episode.

Now that President Bollinger knows the meaning of a heckler’s veto, he may change his mind regarding the way he handles—or refuses to handle—such episodes on his campus. It’s possible, but as the Post concludes: “alas, not probable.”

Schools:  Columbia University