and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September #4

Columbia fiasco exposes hazards
of a college education
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 27, 2007

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 them all.

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 consistent.

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 country.

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.