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Free Speech has Long Been Endangered at Columbia

Given Columbia’s current free speech debacle, it is important to remember that the hockey and Minutemen controversies are not coincidental and isolated events; Columbia has a long and distinguished record of shameless suppression of free speech.

One such event took place in November of 1998, when Accuracy in Academia (AIA) planned a conference on affirmative action featuring Ward Connerly, Dinesh D’Souza, and John Leo. A group called the “Columbia Coalition for Affirmative Action” announced that it would protest the event; they were especially outraged that Ward Connerly, who had headed up successful attempts to outlaw racial preferences in Washington and California, was slated to speak at the event.

Seven hours before the event was to take place, Columbia asked AIA for $3200 for additional security only to inform AIA the next morning that only individuals with Columbia IDs would be allowed into the event. This was a direct violation of the contract between AIA and Columbia. The result was to effectively shut down the event since two thirds of the attending students were coming from other schools. (To allow those students to attend, AIA was forced to hurriedly relocate the event to a nearby park.)

Columbia administrators allegedly made this decision in response to threats of protest from the Columbia Coalition for Affirmative Action. 150 protesters showed up on a Friday night for Ward Connerly’s speech. Columbia’s administration claimed that the protesters had threatened to rush the building, forcing the administration to lock the building down. However, according to the security guards, the protesters were noisy but not a problem.

Late that night, Columbia administrators decided that they should restrict the next day’s events in anticipation of 450 protesters. Where the university got that number is unknown, since less than 85 protesters actually showed up, and why the University thought that restricting attendance to Columbia students would help avoid violence is also unknown. One Columbia administrator admitted that there was “no cogent explanation” for the administration’s decision.

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