By Richard Vedder
I have been a strong free speech advocate my entire life, and think it is good for campuses to expose students to all sorts of opinions, even unpopular ones out of the mainstream. It took a long time for me to come to the view that Ward Churchill should have been fired, for example (he deserved to go for reasons beyond his outrageous public statements). Therefore, I start with a bias towards defending Columbia University for inviting the president of Iran to campus, even though the man is a purveyor of hatred and violence.
Yet the issue goes beyond simple "free speech" or "freedom of expression," and what is particularly disturbing is Columbia's uneven application of freedom principles. It is one thing for a university to allow a speaker to talk on campus, invited by a student organization, for example. It is quite another thing to use scarce University resources to officially, on behalf of the University, invite a person to talk --those occasions are limited in nature, and must be rationed. Why, in that situation, would a University want to bring to campus a man who is both violent and flaky --who denies the Holocaust and despises Jews, who orders the execution of homosexuals, who hates America!!! Would the same university, with university funds, invite, say, Bill O'Reilly or Newt Gingrich? I very much doubt it. My suspicion is that only left wing intellectuals who share President Bolinger's views and radical American haters need apply for University sponsored campus visits. That is unbalanced, it is anti-free speech, it is hypocritical, it is bad.
What makes Lee Bolinger one of the least fair and most biased university presidents in America is his inconsistency. In the interest of free speech, he uses University resources to bring in the President of Iran. Maybe fair enough. But he denies the right of the U.S. military to offer an ROTC installation on campus --something several other Ivy League schools and most flagship state universities offer. And he does this despite the opinion of a majority of students and alums that the ROTC program should be allowed to operate. Why? Because he does not like the military's policies toward gays. So he invites a guy who executes gays and hates America to campus, but turns down a group that merely disapproves of open homosexual conduct among military personnel, a group that has as its main task the preservation of the very freedoms that Bolinger claims to support. I hope Columbia's alums impose a cost on that institution (in withheld alumni contributions) for continuing to allow such a hypocritical ideologue to lead the institution.