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GUEST COMMENTARY: Columbia University Fails to Protect Free Expression

Posted by kinchendavid on October 14, 2006

By  Sara Dogan

Special to DavidKinchen.com

Dear Students and Supporters,

Columbia University’s negligence in protecting free speech and free assembly was on display last week, when members of several student groups including the International Socialist Organization incited a violent riot at an event held by the College Republicans in a successful attempt to prevent Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist from speaking.

Campus police hired by the College Republicans to maintain order at the event stood by and watched as students stormed the stage, chanting to obscure Gilchrist’s remarks, and knocking over furniture.

The Minuteman Project is a volunteer organization dedicated to preventing illegal immigration and securing America’s borders.

The International Socialist Organization is a communist group that supports the terrorists and has a history of violent disruptions of college speeches.

Students for Academic Freedom put out a press release supporting the College Republicans’ right to free speech and calling upon Columbia President Lee Bollinger to take immediate action against the students and organizations involved in the riot.

The protesters justified their thuggish efforts to stifle free speech by calling their opponents names such as “racist” and “vigilante.” In a statement released by “those who occupied the stage” these students paradoxically declared that “We celebrate free speech: for that reason we allowed the Minutemen to speak, and for that same reason we peacefully occupied the stage and spoke ourselves.”

The university administration sided with the disrupters, scolding College Republican President Chris Kulawik for allowing the speakers to make statements that angered the protestors. Only after widespread public condemnation of the protesters’ actions did Columbia President Lee Bollinger release a statement supporting free speech and promising to conduct a thorough investigation.

“When speakers challenge the collegiate status quo, the tacit norms of civil discourse demand tough questions, reasoned arguments and respectful debate—not direct action, assault and trespassing,” College Republicans President Chris Kulawik told SAF. “When you disagree with a speaker, you must fight him in the realm of ideas, never upon his stage. May no student, of any political persuasion, ever have to experience such a wanton abuse of their academic freedoms again.”

In recent years, Columbia has come under fire for anti-Semitic remarks and conduct from professors in Columbia’s Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) department. Students for Academic Freedom previously wrote President Bollinger to protest Columbia’s lack of attention to intellectual diversity and the crisis of anti-Semitism.

“Protecting free speech and intellectual diversity is one of the foremost purposes of the modern university,” said Students for Academic Freedom Chairman David Horowitz. “A violent demonstration to obstruct a speech should be unthinkable on a college campus. President Bollinger should unequivocally condemn those who violated university regulations, conduct a thorough investigation into these events, and take disciplinary action against the International Socialist Organization and those students responsible for violently disrupting a peaceful and lawful event. The fact that Columbia officials did not intervene to preserve order or take names at this disruption is a disgrace. The student organizations involved in this protest should have their privileges suspended pending a thorough inquiry by the university administration.”

The Academic Bill of Rights sponsored by Students for Academic Freedom contains a zero-tolerance policy for the disruption of campus speakers: “An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated.”

Join the Academic Freedom Movement

For more information on how you can get involved and start up a chapter on your campus or if you wish to report an abuse of your academic freedom, please contact me at Sara@studentsforacademicfreedom.org or at my new toll-free number here in St. Louis at 888-527-3321. You can also find more information on our website at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

Look for more information and strategies on getting your trustees to adopt a version of the Temple Bill of Rights in my next letter.

                       * * * *

Sara Dogan is National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom

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