Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lee Bollinger

How the Case for Race-Based Admissions Fell Apart

When the Supreme Court signaled it was about to rule on its most prominent race-based admissions case yesterday, advocates on both sides of the contentious issue prepared to erupt either in outrage or celebration. Neither, it turned out, was called for in the end. The court voted overwhelmingly to send Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the system of race-based admissions in higher education, back to the lower court to apply a stricter level of scrutiny to the admissions process and rule again.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, yesterday’s decision “is a disappointment for those who hoped the High Court would overturn its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that allowed racial preferences in higher education.” But the (victorious) defendant in that case, current Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, isn’t too enthused by yesterday’s decision either. He takes to the pages of the New York Times today to express his disapproval of what he considers the court’s overly technical approach to the issue, in which it deferred to colleges’ judgment of the educational benefit of racial diversity in admissions but called for a rigorous process to determine the necessity and extent of race-based considerations.

Bollinger thinks the justices erred in focusing so closely on the constitutional aspect of the case because the Supreme Court “is as much an educator, a moral instructor, as an interpreter of the fundamental law of the land.” Bollinger’s frustration is representative of the broader, if tacit, acknowledgement on the American left that their side on this argument is weak on the merits but will resort to public moral shaming of those who disagree as a last resort. But the real heart of this case, and where it completely falls apart for Bollinger’s side, is when he writes this:

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When the Supreme Court signaled it was about to rule on its most prominent race-based admissions case yesterday, advocates on both sides of the contentious issue prepared to erupt either in outrage or celebration. Neither, it turned out, was called for in the end. The court voted overwhelmingly to send Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges the system of race-based admissions in higher education, back to the lower court to apply a stricter level of scrutiny to the admissions process and rule again.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, yesterday’s decision “is a disappointment for those who hoped the High Court would overturn its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that allowed racial preferences in higher education.” But the (victorious) defendant in that case, current Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, isn’t too enthused by yesterday’s decision either. He takes to the pages of the New York Times today to express his disapproval of what he considers the court’s overly technical approach to the issue, in which it deferred to colleges’ judgment of the educational benefit of racial diversity in admissions but called for a rigorous process to determine the necessity and extent of race-based considerations.

Bollinger thinks the justices erred in focusing so closely on the constitutional aspect of the case because the Supreme Court “is as much an educator, a moral instructor, as an interpreter of the fundamental law of the land.” Bollinger’s frustration is representative of the broader, if tacit, acknowledgement on the American left that their side on this argument is weak on the merits but will resort to public moral shaming of those who disagree as a last resort. But the real heart of this case, and where it completely falls apart for Bollinger’s side, is when he writes this:

In many school districts, racial segregation is as bad as it was before Brown. About 40 percent of black and Hispanic children attend K-12 schools where 10 percent or fewer of their classmates are white. Residential racial segregation remains deeply entrenched. Proposition 209, a voter-sanctioned ban on affirmative action at California’s public universities, led to a sharp decrease in representation of black students at the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses.

Bollinger’s point about “residential” segregation is true. But it is not an argument for basing college admissions on systematized racial discrimination. It is an argument against the government monopoly on pre-college education and in favor of school choice. Indeed, Bollinger’s argument collapses from one sentence to the next. He bemoans residential racial segregation–which is currently the basis of liberal education policy in this country–and then moves on to university admissions. What’s the difference? Universities, unlike public high schools, don’t care which town you grew up in.

But it’s also important to point out that Bollinger is dishonestly framing the effects of Proposition 209. First of all, the year after the ban was passed the Berkeley campus announced a 30 percent increase in minority students over the previous year. Second, many of the students who didn’t get into the two UC campuses Bollinger mentions simply went to other UC campuses. And third, as a Duke University study found, “minority graduation rates increased after Prop 209 was implemented, a finding consistent with the argument that affirmative action bans result in better matching of students to colleges.”

Even more importantly, they were found in California to have positive effects on the education of minority students at the grade school and high school level. As the New York Times reported in 1999:

Finally, ending affirmative action has had one unpublicized and profoundly desirable consequence: it has forced the university to try to expand the pool of eligible minority students. Outreach programs like the one underwritten by Proposition 3 have proliferated; the State Legislature authorized $38.5 million for such efforts last year and has required the public schools to spend an additional $31 million on similar initiatives. U.C. campuses are now reaching down into the high schools, the junior highs and even the elementary schools to help minority students achieve the kind of academic record that will make them eligible for admission, thus raising the possibility that diversity without preferences will someday prove to be more than a fond hope. Academics and administrators throughout the system admit that the university would never have shouldered this burden had it not been for the elimination of affirmative action; and many say that the price is worth paying.

In other words, the educators are educating now that the law compels them to. There are too many variables to know which way the issue will go in the coming years. But it is simply wrong to imply that because racism has not been completely eradicated we must enforce racial discrimination in college admissions. It’s also wrong to claim this discrimination is beneficial; the evidence suggests it is not.

And we should take Bollinger and his ilk at their word and enlist them in the efforts to bring educational opportunities to all those minorities currently being excluded by the government’s policy of residential racial segregation in public education. After all, if Bollinger thinks a Supreme Court justice is “an educator, a moral instructor,” certainly a university president is as well.

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Lee Bollinger’s Free-Speech Hypocrisy

Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

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Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

It’s not that Bollinger’s article is offensive–it’s standard but welcome boilerplate about the assault on free speech and the need to understand how a changing media landscape affects both the threats to, and opportunities for, freedom of expression and thought in a globalized world. But the choice of author is indefensible. There was no one with a better record than Bollinger to tout free speech? In fact, in American higher education there are few with worse records than Bollinger. And it is just plainly insulting to read Bollinger hypocritically and sanctimoniously pat himself on the back in paragraphs like this:

Second, the very essence of modern life is the opportunity for people everywhere to speak, hear, persuade, change their minds, know what others are thinking, and think for themselves. Our great institutions of higher education, including the one I lead, bear a special social responsibility for educating people to possess a nimble cast of mind, able to grasp multiple perspectives and the full complexity of a subject. And for centuries, great societies of all types have understood that this kind of intellectual capacity is essential to progress. But never have critical thinking and tolerance been more important for individual well-being and for our collective prosperity.

Indeed, Bollinger is right that he has a “special social responsibility”–and it is one he has abdicated in the decade he’s been at Columbia.

It’s not that Bollinger allows no offensive speech at Columbia; I was there to cover Ahmadinejad’s speech and saw plenty of anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists flaunting their pathological suspicions of Jews and countless portrayals of then-President George W. Bush as–who else?–Hitler.

In 2005, after pro-Israel students at the school tried to get the university to address the intimidation they were getting from pro-Palestinian teachers, Bollinger tried to avoid dealing with it. When the New York Times asked him why he didn’t get involved sooner, he explained that he’s just a man who contains multitudes. “I tried to walk a very, very fine line,” he said. “I have a problem because I like to see complexity.”

Lee Bollinger may be a complex man, but his record on free speech is simple and unambiguous. He is an expert on free speech only to the extent that he has clearly studied how to keep it off his campus.

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Bollinger: Big Government News

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective – is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective – is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

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Bollinger Still Doesn’t Get It

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-”where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-”where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

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Columbia’s Tenured Thugs

We are called upon, ladies and gentlemen, to join the arts and sciences faculty of Columbia University in being aghast at the depredations of Lee Bollinger, who has not sufficiently expressed his intolerance for critics of the arts and sciences faculty, and who forced the entire university into lockstep with the Bush administration by saying mean things to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These are truly dark days for the sensitive souls of the sociology department.

More than 100 faculty members issued a declaration yesterday stating that “President Bollinger has failed to make a vigorous defense of the core principles on which the university is founded, especially academic freedom.” They note in particular that 1) the Bollinger administration has not made “unequivocally clear” that attempts by “outside groups…to vilify members of the faculty and determine how controversial issues are taught” will not be tolerated (whatever that entails). 2) That the faculty has not been sufficiently consulted before making “decisions on key issues.” Point three bears reprinting in full:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.”

And finally, Bollinger “has publicly taken partisan political positions concerning the politics of the Middle East in particular, without apparent expertise in this area or consultation with faculty who teach and undertake research in this area. His conflation of his own political position with that of the University is unacceptable.”

In case you didn’t get the message, Professor Eric Foner told the New York Times, regarding Bollinger’s treatment of Ahmadinejad: “This is the language of warfare at a time when the administration of our country is trying to whip up Iran.” Isn’t it clear to you now that Bollinger is just a Bush stooge? This letter, coming after the ouster of Larry Summers at Harvard largely by the humanities faculty, has caused a stir on campus, and the most eloquent response happily has come from a dissenting group of Columbia professors, from the quantitative fields. Responding to point 1, they write that

When nonacademics and outsiders encounter or hear about what they consider inappropriate forms of teaching, allegations of intimidation or harassment, or the distortion of basic historical or scientific facts, they are justified in expressing, and entitled by the First Amendment to express, their objections. No university administration has the power to prevent such expression.

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We are called upon, ladies and gentlemen, to join the arts and sciences faculty of Columbia University in being aghast at the depredations of Lee Bollinger, who has not sufficiently expressed his intolerance for critics of the arts and sciences faculty, and who forced the entire university into lockstep with the Bush administration by saying mean things to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These are truly dark days for the sensitive souls of the sociology department.

More than 100 faculty members issued a declaration yesterday stating that “President Bollinger has failed to make a vigorous defense of the core principles on which the university is founded, especially academic freedom.” They note in particular that 1) the Bollinger administration has not made “unequivocally clear” that attempts by “outside groups…to vilify members of the faculty and determine how controversial issues are taught” will not be tolerated (whatever that entails). 2) That the faculty has not been sufficiently consulted before making “decisions on key issues.” Point three bears reprinting in full:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.”

And finally, Bollinger “has publicly taken partisan political positions concerning the politics of the Middle East in particular, without apparent expertise in this area or consultation with faculty who teach and undertake research in this area. His conflation of his own political position with that of the University is unacceptable.”

In case you didn’t get the message, Professor Eric Foner told the New York Times, regarding Bollinger’s treatment of Ahmadinejad: “This is the language of warfare at a time when the administration of our country is trying to whip up Iran.” Isn’t it clear to you now that Bollinger is just a Bush stooge? This letter, coming after the ouster of Larry Summers at Harvard largely by the humanities faculty, has caused a stir on campus, and the most eloquent response happily has come from a dissenting group of Columbia professors, from the quantitative fields. Responding to point 1, they write that

When nonacademics and outsiders encounter or hear about what they consider inappropriate forms of teaching, allegations of intimidation or harassment, or the distortion of basic historical or scientific facts, they are justified in expressing, and entitled by the First Amendment to express, their objections. No university administration has the power to prevent such expression.

Isn’t it curious that it has fallen to a group of scientists to explain to the university’s humanities professors what the First Amendment means? The rest of the letter is similarly devastating, as it starkly exposes the mendacity and bad faith of the humanities professors:

That President Bollinger’s introductory remarks to Ahmadinejad “allied the university with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq”: As the publicly available transcript confirms, these remarks addressed sequentially: 1) Holocaust denial; 2) Ahmadinejad’s stated intent to destroy Israel; 3) Iran’s funding of terrorism; 4) Iran’s proxy war against US troops in Iraq; and 5) Iran’s nuclear program. Only the fourth item refers to the war in Iraq, and only in the context of Iran’s role in financing and arming terrorist attacks against our troops.

And:

That “the President has publicly taken partisan political positions concerning the politics of the Middle East, without apparent expertise in this area or consultation with faculty who teach and undertake research in this area”: We follow President Bollinger’s public statements closely. The only one that may be characterized as concerning the politics of the Middle East is his denunciation of the British University and College Union’s proposed boycott of Israeli academics, which he described as “antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy.” This statement is actually not about the political problems of the Middle East; it is precisely what President Bollinger is accused of not providing: a vigorous defense of academic freedom, based on his recognition that denying such freedom to any individual or group endangers the entire academic enterprise.

This group of 62 professors should be congratulated for thoroughly humiliating a larger faction of professors who are signatories to a shameful—and actually Orwellian—invocation of free speech and academic freedom for the express purpose of undermining exactly those things. The thugs in Columbia’s humanities departments have made false accusations against the university president; they have demanded exemption from being criticized for their scholarship and campus behavior; they seek political litmus tests for speech; and they have proffered a standard of acceptability to the “university community”—meaning, acceptability to themselves—for speech on the part of the university president. And all of this is put forth explicitly as a requirement of fidelity to open debate, academic freedom, and a salubrious university environment. Cynical doesn’t even begin to describe it.

There is something more to be said about this controversy, because it represents more than just the latest bit of silliness from an American campus. Like Larry Summers’s expulsion from the Harvard presidency before it, the Columbia controversy is exemplary of a new era in campus radicalism in which the radicals who now so thoroughly dominate the academy are engaging in the next act in consolidating their power: the intimidation or expulsion of internal enemies. The lexicon of the previous era continues to be employed, but now its use becomes even more awkward and incongruous than it always was: In demanding control over the content of campus debate, Columbia’s thugs talk about the imperatives of open dialogue and the founding principles of the university.

In 1963, several years after the publication of God and Man at Yale brought him onto the national stage, William F. Buckley wrote another critique of the university entitled “The Aimlessness of American Education,” in which he said that:

Under academic freedom, the modern university is supposed to take a position of “neutrality” as among competing ideas. “A university does not take sides on the questions that are discussed in its halls,” a committee of scholars and alumni of Yale reported in 1952. “In the ideal university all sides of any issue are presented as impartially as possible.” To do otherwise, they are saying, is to violate the neutrality of a teaching institution, to give advantage to one idea over against another, thus prejudicing the race which, if all the contestants were let strictly alone, truth is bound to win…. Academic freedom is conceived as a permanent instrument of doctrinal egalitarianism; it is always there to remind us that we can never know anything for sure: which I view as another way of saying we cannot really know what are the aims of education.

How far down the road have universities such as Columbia traveled since Buckley wrote those words. It is not enough today to allow that Larry Summers deviated from campus orthodoxy, or that Lee Bollinger wasn’t nice enough to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Such acts of dissension strike at the very core of the campus power structure (to appropriate some familiar rhetoric), and to allow them to go unpunished is to deny the incumbency of the radicals and their need to impose intellectual homogeneity. This faction has succeeded in becoming a supermajority in the humanities departments, and now their campaign is hewing to a predictable course: the setting of ideological boundaries by purging and intimidating those who would ignore them. American education is no longer characterized, as in Buckley’s era, by the aimlessness of doctrinal egalitarianism. Today’s campus is characterized by the thuggery of doctrinal totalitarianism.

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The Noose Around Columbia

“Madonna G. Constantine, whose specialty is race, racial identity, and multiculturalism, stood before protesters at midday and thanked her supporters.” So reported the New York Times this morning. Constantine is a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, and on Tuesday some unknown person had hung a noose around her office door.

Campus reactions picked up by the Times were intense. Constantine declared she was “upset that the Teachers College community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident.”

“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, a Columbia senior, who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council.

University President Lee Bollinger, fresh from his encounter with the genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to face what the Columbia Spectator called  “a deeply frustrated and often angry audience” confronting him about the incident.

Students, reports the Spectator, “were much more palpably angry at and less supportive of the way the University was conducting itself” than had been the case at the meeting Bollinger held with students three weeks ago after Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia. They accused the administration “of being unresponsive and disconnected.” At several points, Bollinger “found himself defending and justifying his record on issues such as diversifying the faculty.”

Columbia is not the only target of the fury. The noose incident, said Tompkins, is the “latest and maybe most visible and extreme case of a climate of racism that we face in our entire society.”

What can one say about this episode? Hanging a noose is indeed an ugly act, and given the implicit threat it contains, it is also perhaps a crime. The “noose thing” said Mayor Bloomberg is “despicable and disgraceful.”

But am I alone in detecting, along with all the outward indignation, a strong whiff of opportunistic glee in the outrage now on display?

Draping a noose on the office door of a professor at work on a book called “Addressing Racism,” was, in all likelihood, the work of a lone and disgruntled perpetrator, whose race–black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, to use the official check list–is as yet unknown. The avidity with which the incident is being blown up into something far larger–an indictment of our entire society for alleged widespread racism, and a torch for reigniting the race battles of yore–should not escape notice.

It is bad enough that so many students and members of the Columbia faculty are carrying on in this way, and let us hope that the perpetrator of the crime is swiftly apprehended and justice is done. But Bollinger’s handwringing appeasement of the protestors’ assault on his university–an abdication of his basic responsibility to put things in perspective–is yet another example of the atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty that has descended on our campuses when it comes to the set of issues that are Professor Constantine’s specialty: “race, racial identity, and multiculturalism.”

“Madonna G. Constantine, whose specialty is race, racial identity, and multiculturalism, stood before protesters at midday and thanked her supporters.” So reported the New York Times this morning. Constantine is a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, and on Tuesday some unknown person had hung a noose around her office door.

Campus reactions picked up by the Times were intense. Constantine declared she was “upset that the Teachers College community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident.”

“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, a Columbia senior, who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council.

University President Lee Bollinger, fresh from his encounter with the genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to face what the Columbia Spectator called  “a deeply frustrated and often angry audience” confronting him about the incident.

Students, reports the Spectator, “were much more palpably angry at and less supportive of the way the University was conducting itself” than had been the case at the meeting Bollinger held with students three weeks ago after Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia. They accused the administration “of being unresponsive and disconnected.” At several points, Bollinger “found himself defending and justifying his record on issues such as diversifying the faculty.”

Columbia is not the only target of the fury. The noose incident, said Tompkins, is the “latest and maybe most visible and extreme case of a climate of racism that we face in our entire society.”

What can one say about this episode? Hanging a noose is indeed an ugly act, and given the implicit threat it contains, it is also perhaps a crime. The “noose thing” said Mayor Bloomberg is “despicable and disgraceful.”

But am I alone in detecting, along with all the outward indignation, a strong whiff of opportunistic glee in the outrage now on display?

Draping a noose on the office door of a professor at work on a book called “Addressing Racism,” was, in all likelihood, the work of a lone and disgruntled perpetrator, whose race–black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, to use the official check list–is as yet unknown. The avidity with which the incident is being blown up into something far larger–an indictment of our entire society for alleged widespread racism, and a torch for reigniting the race battles of yore–should not escape notice.

It is bad enough that so many students and members of the Columbia faculty are carrying on in this way, and let us hope that the perpetrator of the crime is swiftly apprehended and justice is done. But Bollinger’s handwringing appeasement of the protestors’ assault on his university–an abdication of his basic responsibility to put things in perspective–is yet another example of the atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty that has descended on our campuses when it comes to the set of issues that are Professor Constantine’s specialty: “race, racial identity, and multiculturalism.”

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Columbia’s Master Class

If Columbia University President Lee Bollinger had a burning desire to expose Columbia students to Islam and the realities of contemporary Iran, then inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak was not the most effective method of exposure.

Ahmadinejad is first and foremost a politician, an extraordinarily shrewd one at that. His goal is not education, but rather propagation of his odious ideas.

Given the two leaders’ divergent goals—one to educate and the other to indoctrinate—it seems odd that President Bollinger extended Ahmadinejad an invite. Why not ask Iranian scholars or journalists to illuminate aspects of Iranian society? Well, SIPA, Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, has done just that. As it says on SIPA’s website:

“Over the course of the 2007-2008 academic year, SIPA will host a lecture series examining the thirty year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Political leaders, scholars, and human rights activists will be invited to discuss the impact of the Islamic Republic of Iran on international security, peace, human rights, energy, and other critical issues.”

Dandy. I guess inviting Ahmadinejad rounded out the playbill, and had the added benefit of making not only the Columbia President, but also the Iranian President, look good.

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If Columbia University President Lee Bollinger had a burning desire to expose Columbia students to Islam and the realities of contemporary Iran, then inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak was not the most effective method of exposure.

Ahmadinejad is first and foremost a politician, an extraordinarily shrewd one at that. His goal is not education, but rather propagation of his odious ideas.

Given the two leaders’ divergent goals—one to educate and the other to indoctrinate—it seems odd that President Bollinger extended Ahmadinejad an invite. Why not ask Iranian scholars or journalists to illuminate aspects of Iranian society? Well, SIPA, Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, has done just that. As it says on SIPA’s website:

“Over the course of the 2007-2008 academic year, SIPA will host a lecture series examining the thirty year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Political leaders, scholars, and human rights activists will be invited to discuss the impact of the Islamic Republic of Iran on international security, peace, human rights, energy, and other critical issues.”

Dandy. I guess inviting Ahmadinejad rounded out the playbill, and had the added benefit of making not only the Columbia President, but also the Iranian President, look good.

The New York Times today sang Bollinger’s praises, singling out how the lawyer and First Amendment scholar “defended the event as in the best tradition of America’s free speech, then freely told Mr. Ahmadinejad: ‘You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.’”

It is true that President Bollinger presented a scathing indictment of the Iranian President, addressing him: “I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions, but your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mind-set that characterizes what you say and do.”

And while it is possible that with these words Bollinger redeemed himself in the eyes of some Columbia alumni and trustees, when Ahmadinejad did finally reach the microphone, he was able to use Bollinger’s insults to his own advantage, morphing himself into the rooted-for underdog.

According to the Times’s live blogging from the Columbia event yesterday,

Mr. Ahmadinejad began: “At the outset, I want to complain a bit about the person who read this political statement against me. In Iran, tradition requires that when we invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make their own judgment and we don’t think it’s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of claims…”

The room erupted in applause.

Out of the fray, then, of the critical salvos, Columbia President Lee Bollinger emerges, in the eyes of many, as a strong critic of tyranny, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turns up as an advocate for free expression.

Too bad the event wasn’t billed as a master class in image manipulation.

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“Confronting Ideas” at Columbia

Regarding Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak this coming Monday on the Columbia campus, the Columbia Spectator today reports:

David Feith, CC ’09 and editor of the Jewish affairs publication the Current, expressed his concern that there was a difference between refusing to suppress hateful speech and actively inviting and providing a platform for it. Bollinger responded that the invitation very well may serve to help controversial speakers, but that the negative is “far outweighed by the importance of confronting ideas and not shielding ourselves from the world as it is.”

And what ideas will the Columbia community confront when it hears President Ahmadinejad of Iran? Denial of the Holocaust and pleas for the destruction of Israel. As Victor Davis Hanson writes on the Corner, “This is not a matter of free speech but of common decency and the most elemental common sense.”

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Regarding Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak this coming Monday on the Columbia campus, the Columbia Spectator today reports:

David Feith, CC ’09 and editor of the Jewish affairs publication the Current, expressed his concern that there was a difference between refusing to suppress hateful speech and actively inviting and providing a platform for it. Bollinger responded that the invitation very well may serve to help controversial speakers, but that the negative is “far outweighed by the importance of confronting ideas and not shielding ourselves from the world as it is.”

And what ideas will the Columbia community confront when it hears President Ahmadinejad of Iran? Denial of the Holocaust and pleas for the destruction of Israel. As Victor Davis Hanson writes on the Corner, “This is not a matter of free speech but of common decency and the most elemental common sense.”

I would add that Bollinger’s move is also a flagrant exploitation of the notion of dialog that universities cherish. Dialog is not possible with a madman (or someone who adopts insane political positions for tactical reasons) as interlocutor. And there can be no doubt that Ahmadinejad falls into one of those two categories. Would Lee Bollinger invite the British Holocaust denier David Irving so that students could “confront ideas” about Auschwitz? What about Jean-Marie LePen, to help students “confront ideas” about racism and xenophobia?

Here are just a few of the criticisms of Bollinger’s decision. But note the absence of criticism on TNR’s the Plank or the Huffington Post. Where is the liberal outrage? Aren’t these people allegedly anti-theocracy? They are when it comes to the far milder effusions of American evangelicals. Isn’t Ahmadinejad precisely the kind of theocrat they should hate? Yet Josh Marshall, at Talking Points Memo, can’t understand why Ahmadinejad wouldn’t be allowed to go to Ground Zero, “[e]specially when free speech and letting even the obnoxious have their say are supposedly central to who we are?” If only “obnoxiousness” were the Iranian president’s primary character flaw.

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Against the Boycott

The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

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The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

It is heartening to see such unanimity among academic leaders who normally shun group protests or statements; still, it is less heartening when one considers that these leaders may have found it easier to denounce an outrage overseas than to tackle prejudice in their own institutions. President Bollinger and his colleagues know that anti-Israel venom is widespread on American campuses. The real test of their resolve to preserve academic integrity will occur here, at home.

Anti-Israel sentiment penetrates American campuses at both the student and professorial levels. Every year the average campus welcomes Arab and Muslim students for whom Israel’s illegitimacy is a matter of faith, conjoined in most instances with plain anti-Semitism. The Pew Research Center finds that Muslims hold unfavorable views of Jews at astonishing levels: Jordan, 100 percent; Lebanon, 99 percent; Morocco, 88 percent. Arab and Muslim students inculcated with these prejudices from birth see no harm in promoting them. To the contrary, since they regard Israel as the root of evil, agitation against it is for them often a matter of cultural self-expression. Dissenters from this norm are often afraid of being ostracized—or, worse, of not being able to return to their native communities should they stray from an ideology that unites the Arab world.

The campus ethos of all-embracing multiculturalism aggravates the problem by refraining from distinguishing between a culture of aggression and a culture of accommodation—two opposites trapped in a philosophy of equivalence. Ignored are the radically divergent histories of Arabs and Jews that produced today’s preposterous global imbalance between 1 billion-plus Muslims on the one hand, and 13 million Jews (4 million fewer than in 1939) on the other. Historically, Jews have been the no-fail target of innumerable aggressors; since the 1870′s they have been the ideological butt of anti-liberal movements everywhere.

Indeed, Middle East-style anti-Semitism plays a larger role in the international arena today than its European-style equivalent did a century ago. But our universities provide almost no academic or extra-curricular opportunities to discuss the issue. If anything, as the scholar Martin Kramer has shown, the hate-ridden attitudes within the Arab world find a natural reflection in the highly prejudicial bias of the academic discipline known as Middle East Studies. The current director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard, as well as a number of others who teach in the field, were among the signatories of a Harvard-MIT petition urging divestment from Israel—a petition meant to echo and give a highbrow patina to the currently fashionable calumny of the Jewish state as an “apartheid” regime. Sami al-Arian may be the only U.S. professor convicted of conspiracy to help Islamic Jihad, but others support Arab antagonism in their own ways.

The protest against the British academic boycott published in the New York Times was framed strictly as a defense of academic freedom and solidarity with Israeli colleagues. It avoided any mention of the ideology of hate that fuels this boycott. One might as well condemn cancer without investigating its cause or doing what one can to prevent its spread. Having once joined in symbolic action, these presidents of American colleges and universities would do well to appoint a committee from within their midst to investigate the spread of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel prejudices on their own campuses and within their own curricula, where it does the most damage. As in medicine, prevention is the best cure.

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