That's quite a letter the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, has sent to the chancellor of the city's school system. We first read about it in Joyce Purnick's column in the New York Times. In the letter, Mr. Bollinger expresses his "strongest objection" to the Education Department's "summary and arbitrary dismissal" of Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia, from a program used to train the public school teachers. He seems to be hinting at a lawsuit over the matter. He says he hopes that the situation with the teacher-training program can be resolved. "If we are unable to do so," he says, "I regret that Columbia will have to withdraw from participating in the program in the future."
Well, if we were Mr. Klein, we'd take Mr. Bollinger up on that offer faster than you can say "wisdom of Solomon." For Mr. Bollinger has come up with a solution that would please just about everyone. It would certainly be a good solution for Mr. Bollinger, who proposed the idea. He would be spared the spectacle of a First Amendment showdown over something that doesn't involve the First Amendment. This doesn't involve Mr. Khalidi's rights to speak or petition the government or peaceably assemble. This is a question of whether the city has discretion in whom it brings in to train teachers. This isn't even a big program. It's an informal effort that has been going on for only a decade.
If Columbia were to withdraw, it would help Mr. Klein and, presumably, the mayor. They have serious responsibilities here. They are in the midst of a historic reform of public education in this town. The last thing they need is a superannuated college professor wanting to lecture teachers, in the midst of a Palestinian Arab suicide bombing campaign against Israeli civilians, about how the Palestinians have a right to kill Israeli soldiers in the territories and how Israel is setting up a system that is worse than apartheid. The mayor and Mr. Klein are trying to get the math and reading scores up for elementary and secondary school pupils, for crying out loud.
Mr. Bollinger's offer to withdraw Columbia from teacher training would also be a big plus for the parents of the city, who don't want the controversy over Columbia's professors imported into the city school system. This is why members of the City Council are exercised and why Congressman Weiner has been so on point. They don't want Mr. Khalidi to be involved in indoctrinating teachers who are going to be dealing with young children. There'll be plenty of time for Messrs. Khalidi and Bollinger to get their hands on these pupils if they make it into Columbia, where attendance of the pupils is not compulsory and is not, for the most part, underwritten by the taxpayers.