Thousands of New Yorkers spent their mornings yesterday clicking on a video on the Internet showing the astounding melee that was permitted to take place on Columbia University's campus Wednesday evening.The violence erupted when a crowd led by the student chapter of the International Socialist Organization rushed a stage where the founder of the Minutemen, Jim Gilchrist, tried to deliver a speech. They could see the university's own police failing to take action to defend the rights of the speaker, who was being hosted by the campus Republican club. And they had to be wondering, as we were, where is the adult supervision on Morningside Heights.
It's not that some Columbia students chose to disagree with Mr. Gilchrist — this newspaper does, too. It would have been entirely appropriate for school administrators to allow students to protest peaceably outside the lecture hall or to host a competing event. The university's willingness to allow this event to devolve into pandemonium, however, speaks volumes about its commitment to fostering open debate. The video of the event shows campus police officers — paid for by the Columbia College Republicans — standing by just feet away as students overturned tables and chairs onstage and proceeded to attack Mr. Gilchrist and his fellow Minuteman, Marvin Stewart.
The failure of Columbia's administration to make even the meekest effort to secure what it knew would be a heated environment in order to allow open debate is shocking. Its protestations after the violence were unconvincing. "We defend the right to peaceful protest and expression of opposing views," a spokesman for Columbia, Robert Hornsby, told us. "But it is never acceptable for anyone to physically take to a stage and interrupt a speaker." So why did campus police officers stand idly by as the physical intimidation of a speaker ensued?
It only gets worse. After letting the perpetrators escape, university administrators had the gall to berate the president of Columbia's College Republicans, Christopher Kulawik, for allowing his guests to infuriate the crowd, according to Mr. Kulawik. In other words, despite formally nodding to the value of free speech, Columbia is effectively blaming the victim for inciting the chaos. "It's a horrible feeling to know your peers are willing to resort to violence when they disagree with you," Mr. Kulawik told our Eliana Johnson. Yet Mr. Kulawik's peers could be forgiven for thinking they'd get away with it, given their school's troubled history on free speech.
Two years ago, we took issue with anti-Israel professors in the university's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department. These professors, among them Joseph Massad, were accused by students of bullying those with opposing viewpoints. Mr. Massad mocked the Jewish students by arguing, as our Jacob Gershman reported at the time, that Zionists are the premier propagators of anti-Semitism. President Bollinger convened a committee to look into the students' allegations. Committee members included Lisa Anderson, now dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, who, while she sat on the committee, signed a letter to President Bollinger that decried the students' allegations as a "campaign of defamation." That committee came up dry, and Mr. Massad has since been promoted to associate professor.
After the melee against the Minutemen, the New York Police Department told our Bradley Hope that no complaints have been filed, nor arrests made, so far. Police outside the building at the time were not asked to intervene. But if criminal complaints are filed, it may be that, given the default of the administration of Columbia, Commissioner Kelly and his department are the city's — and students' — last best hope for adult supervision on the campus that was once thought of as the crown jewel of higher education in New York.