Our phone has been ringing with calls from New Yorkers appalled, most of them, that President Bollinger is going to permit Columbia University to host President Ahmadinejad — and sick that Mr. Bollinger is personally going to honor the Iranian anti-Semite, an enemy of our country in a time of war, by personally meeting with him and conducting a dialogue that, no matter how sincere Mr. Bollinger is, will be phony. Mr. Bollinger tried to gussy this up by suggesting, in a statement, that it was some kind of victory for freedom that he got the Iranian to take questions.
The Iranian propaganda operatives in Tehran, one can be sure, are gleeful over Mr. Bollinger's blunder. They know that no matter how tough the questions Mr. Bollinger asks Mr. Ahmadinejad — whether they palaver about Israel, ground zero, human rights, or Madisonian principles like free speech — the Iranian is the victor merely by being received on Morningside Heights. They know that Mr. Bollinger will not permit protesters to rush the stage and physically drive a speaker from campus the way the university permitted students to do when Jim Gilchrist of the Minutemen attempted to speak there.
But the truth is, we've had our innings with Mr. Bollinger and what we've concluded is that he's not the problem at Columbia. He's merely the symptom. He's an earnest, decent, friendly, and gracious university president who — in a time of war — is in deeper grass than he comprehends. He has never been invested in our wars, he has sided against the military over the question of campus recruitment, he has focused on First Amendment issues without understanding that the right to host an enemy propagandist isn't an obligation to host an enemy propagandist, and he has been enabled by a weak group of donors.
The real problem at Columbia is the group that is President Ahmadinejad's real host — the 24 members of the university's board of trustees. This is a group that has, throughout the long slog of anti-Israel agitation and occasional anti-Semitism on the campus, refused to take a public stand. We number several of them among our friends. We admire many of them. But as a group, they have let New York down and, were Columbia not a self-perpetuating board, would have lost the trust they were given. There is no difference between going to ground zero and going to Columbia, except that the governing body of the former has a deeper understanding of what it means for a country to be at war than the governing body of the other.