Not much astounds me anymore, but hearing excerpts
from the introduction of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger nearly knocked my crocs off.
An Ivy League university president, telling a foreign leader that he is
a "petty and cruel dictator ... a madman"... and "ridiculous" in his
reported denial of the Jewish holocaust - wow, good job!
In reference to Ahmadinejad's recently-stated desire to wipe Israel off
the map, Bollinger said "Columbia has over 800 alumni living in Israel.
Do you plan on wiping us off the map, too"?
He also asked about the reported executions of homosexuals in Iran, to
which Ahmadinejad responded, "We don't have homosexuals like in your
country." At this, the student audience laughed, I imagine because he
sounded delusional. It crossed my mind that he thought he had executed
It also crossed my mind, despite myself, that it's rather rude to invite
someone to speak and then tell him off before he has his turn at the
microphone. I could imagine myself in that place, since the speakers who
are usually treated rudely by American universities, if they are invited
at all, are often those on my side of most issues.
I haven't, actually, had a bad experience, possibly because I never made
the Ivy League circuit. I've debated tax issues at various Massachusetts
colleges, including UMass in Amherst and Lowell, and had a good time. It
was great fun hanging out with the College Republicans before the
Amherst event, and the audiences were alert and inquisitive, as college
kids are supposed to be.
I recently met two young women from "Students for Saving Social
Security" who are warning today's students about the potential tax
burden they face during their working years, and from which they may get
no benefit when they are senior citizens themselves. College
Republicans, while outnumbered by college liberals and their professors,
are usually doing something originally dramatic somewhere; the CR was
the breeding ground for many right-leaning boomer activists, including
my friend Grover Norquist of "Americans for Tax Reform," creator of the
"no new taxes" pledge.
The Columbia University chapter of College Republicans also had a
speaker there in 2006. According to the New York Sun, other "students
stormed the stage, knocking over chairs and tables, and attacking Jim
Gilchrist, founder of The Minutemen, a group that patrols the border
between America and Mexico." Though he was unharmed, he was forced to
exit before completing his speech.
So are these the alternatives for universities and students: Invite
anyone no matter how evil and let him speak, potentially acquiring
status and converts; or, refuse to let leaders you disagree with have a
forum? This isn't an easy decision -- but once made, it should be
Clearly the university can't invite anyone who wants to speak; there
aren't enough openings. So there should be general criteria for an
invitation, focused on achievement or expertise on current subject
interest, then both sides should be heard -- on war and peace, on
illegal immigration, on global warming, on gay marriage. Leaders from
both sides should be allowed to speak without obnoxious students
disrupting them - and if those students are too disruptive, then resist
arrest, the police can use tasers for all I care.
Parents pay for college because they want their child to learn what they
need to become productive citizens. One could argue that students should
concentrate not on political activism, but on learning enough to take
their rightful place in the economy when they graduate. However, based
on Thomas Jefferson's argument for support of the University of
Virginia, I think that taxpayers also contribute to higher education so
that graduates can be intelligent participants in a democracy.
This doesn't seem to be working out and Jefferson might be bitterly
disappointed at the state of our democracy today. I'm afraid that a
college education often has the opposite effect, and people who haven't
ever had a socialist economics professor have more common sense to help
them get through both their economic and voting lives. Of course, there
are the types of students who use their exposure to their liberal
professors as vaccination against the nonsense they will hear as adults,
and with any luck, it's these students who will eventually run the
As we are appalled by the student stunts we see in the news, it is
convenient for many of us to forget what we were like at that age. But I
remember when students had good reason to rally and resist the military
draft during the '60s. I hope their modern counterparts will save my
grade-school grandchildren from a future draft, and I'm counting on
"Students for Saving Social Security" and the College Republicans to
save them from crushing taxation and unlimited illegal immigration.
I hope they will also be safe from hateful dictators like Ahmadinejad,
and that they will never be like the students who cheered him except
when he was politically incorrect about gays. I wish them the ability to
listen to anyone, then to make informed judgments and vote or act on
them, which is more than a lot of students and adults have today.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.