Columbia, The Immigrant Debate, And Free Speech
October 13th, 2006

They are still writing about the appearance on October 4th at Columbia University of Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, which describes itself as a “citizens vigilance operation” whose members physically patrol the border with Mexico against “the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens.”

As NY Times columnist Clyde Haberman explains today, (available only to subscribers of Times Select), “his program barely got rolling when protesters from the Chicano Caucus and the International Socialist Organization stormed the stage. What followed was yelling, kicking and punching, with each side later blaming the other.”

In an “open letter” republished on
NYC Indymedia, Allen Lang, national student organizer for an anti-Bush group called The World Can’t Wait, praised the protesters’ “moral clarity”, considered it “an alarming and disturbing sign of the times when the press labels a racist armed vigilante group that operates in the public eye as merely ‘controversial,’” and demanded the student protesters “face no threats of expulsion or any disciplinary actions.”

But most editorial writers condemned both the protesters and the university for what an editorial in the New York Sun called a “lack of adult supervision…The failure of Columbia’s administration to make even the meekest effort to secure what it knew would be a heated environment in order to allow open debate is shocking.”

Similar sentiments were expressed widely, including in letters to the New York Post and in an editorial in the New York Observer this week, which said that “the students claimed to be representing the viewpoint of immigrant groups, but what they were actually practicing was the violent thwarting of free speech,” and blamed Columbia President Lee Bollinger for failing to “create an atmosphere of respect, tolerance and dignity.”

Haberman writes today in his column: “Particularly upset last week were the city’s more conservative editorial writers, who accused Columbia of not doing enough to protect speech unpopular on the politically liberal campus. A few weeks earlier, the same editorialists had applauded Columbia for canceling a speaking invitation sent to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the nuke-seeking, Holocaust-denying president of Iran. Someone like that, the editorials said, had no business being invited. Sound familiar? It would seem that where free speech begins and ends may depend, for some, on who’s speaking.”

In the Wall Street Journal today,
Peggy Noonan uses the Columbia incident — along with Barbra Streisand’s cursing out of a fan at her Madison Square Garden concert and a couple of other recent controversies – to make the same point, in reverse: “Free speech means hearing things you like and agree with, and it means allowing others to speak whose views you do not like or agree with…Students, stars, media movers, academics: They are always saying they want debate, but they don’t. They want their vision imposed…[A]ll this continues to come more from the left than the right…”

Bradley Saucier, a Columbia junior and a political science major, puts it more neutrally as quoted in Haberman’s column: “[T]o have an opportunity with people you don’t agree with and be able to make them defend themselves is an opportunity you don’t get too often….You have to be able to deal, in an intelligent way, with people who make you mad.”

By on October 13, 2006, 10:03 am
In category: Civil Rights,Education,Gotham City,Immigrants | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Columbia, The Immigrant Debate, And Free Speech”

  1. » Democrats Says:
    October 14th, 2006 at 1:22 am

    […] – Columbia, The Immigrant Debate, And Free SpeechGotham Gazette, NY – 14 hours ago… Similar sentiments were expressed widely, including in letters to the New York Post and in an editorial in the New York Observer this week, which said that … […]

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