Columbia Withdraws an Invitation to Ahmadinejad

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The New York Sun

Overruling a prominent dean, the president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, yesterday withdrew an invitation to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The dean of Columbia’s school of international and public affairs, Lisa Anderson, had independently invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to speak at the World Leader’s Forum, a year-long program that aims to unite “renowned intellectuals and cultural icons from many nations to examine global challenges and explore cultural perspectives.”

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Mr. Bollinger said he canceled Mr. Ahmadinejad’s invitation because he couldn’t be certain it would “reflect the academic values that are the hallmark of a University event such as our World Leaders Forum.” He told Ms. Anderson that Mr. Ahmadinejad could speak at the school of international and public affairs, just not as a part of the university-wide leader’s forum.

Ms. Anderson’s assistant cited an inability to arrange for proper security as the reason for the cancellation.

Mr. Bollinger told Ms. Anderson that while he finds Mr. Ahmadinejad’s views “repugnant,” she has the “right and responsibility to invite speakers whom she believes will add to the academic experience of our students.”

The invitation sparked heated debate and outrage on campus and elsewhere because Mr. Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and the head of a state that sponsors terrorism. The brouhaha over Mr. Ahmadenijad’s invitation has also spotlighted the confusion of many regarding if and how standards should be applied when universities decide whom to welcome to their campuses.

A professor at the school of public health, Judy Jacobson, said Ms. Anderson “didn’t see what line she was crossing.” When asked to clarify the substance of that line, Ms. Jacobson paused. “Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and inciter and I think that causes him to go far over the line,” she said.

A Columbia sophomore who is a reporter for the Columbia Spectator, Mark Holden, said that while he personally does not like Mr. Ahmadinejad, he thought he should have a fair hearing. “It’s a tough call,”Mr. Holden said.”If given the choice to protest for him or against him I certainly would protest against him.”

Ms. Jacobson, the leader of Columbia’s chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a nonprofit group that aims to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses, sent a letter to Mr. Bollinger attacking the university’s standards on such invitations. The letter, signed by numerous professors from all parts of the university, states,”Neither academic freedom nor the First Amendment requires Columbia University to give a podium to academic freedom to anyone who wants it, let alone a Hitler wannabe who has actively suppressed academic freedom in his own country.”

A Harvard professor of law, Alan Dershowitz, said universities must either declare that they will serve as open platforms or articulate clear standards regarding who is welcome to speak on their campuses.

“Bollinger should have said that anybody can speak at Columbia period, but he would never say that. This was an educational moment missed by the university to articulate what its standards are,” Mr. Dershowitz said.

The New York Sun

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