By Anita Doberman: Columnist
Last week, Columbia University was on my mind — not because I wanted to think about it but because, being an alumna, I was bombarded by e-mails, statements from alumni offices regarding Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s speech at the university.
My e-mail box was full of messages stating that Columbia had exercised true freedom of speech and that the U.S. and the world were better off because of it.
I beg to differ, on both points.
Columbia’s choice to exercise freedom of speech was at the expense of allowing a tyrant to denigrate the United States and what it stands for. Truthfully, the University invited this speaker because it saw benefits in being the center of attention, not only in the United States but all over the world.
After all, the spotlight is good for donations and Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger wanted to show that he upholds freedom of speech, by allowing the Iranian President on campus, but that he also abhors his ideals, by denigrating him during his initial comments — perhaps trying not to alienate the big donors who are most likely on the conservative side.
The world and the United States didn’t particularly benefit from this event. Perhaps the only group that was directly affected by it were the students. They like to debate for the sake of it, protest, be at the center of important events. Controversy is exciting on a college campus where kids come from wealthy backgrounds and have lots of time to spare and not many worries in sight.
Columbia administrators claim that having the Iranian president speak shows the world that the university believes and protects our freedom of speech.
I believe this isn’t true. A four-letter word comes to mind: ROTC.
ROTC isn’t allowed on the Columbia University campus. Students have to attend classes at other colleges in New York City if they partake in it.
Inviting someone who is anti-American, who denied the Holocaust, who claims there are no homosexuals in Iran (which ironically is the same reason ROTC isn’t allowed on campus, because of discrimination against gays and lesbians) is enlightening, but having ROTC on campus is oppressive and discriminatory?
In law school, I learned that when judges make decisions that involve constitutional issues, they often weigh public interests versus the rights protected by the constitution in choosing a course of action.
In this particular case, not inviting the Iranian president doesn’t infringe upon freedom of speech. It does, however, send the message that it’s OK to have the head of a state that sponsors terrorism and is involved in the Iraqi war — in which many Americans are losing their lives — on a college campus expressing his views. On the other hand, public interest is better served by not allowing ROTC a voice at a top institution.
I would like to see schools invite ROTC back on campus so that some of these students, professors and administrators who invoke freedom of speech as the basis of their actions or rather inactions can learn about the men and women who protect these freedoms with their own lives.
While I doubt it, some may even change their minds about the military and dare join these brave heroes.
Now we’ll see if Columbia University Magazine will publish a different view, or more likely place me on a bad alumni list.