God Forbid that a University President Should Condemn Bigoted, Dangerous, Oppressive Political Leaders

-- especially when that coincides with the Bush Administration's views. Here's statement from 70 Columbia professors:

We speak for a growing number of faculty members at Columbia University who believe that President Bollinger has failed to make a vigorous defense of the core principles on which the university is founded, especially academic freedom. Academic freedom lies at the heart of what we do as faculty members: teach, generate new knowledge, and sustain the critical capacities of the society at large. It encompasses, among other values, the autonomy of the University in the face of outside threats and pressures, a determining role for faculty in the governance of the University and especially in the shaping of its research and teaching programs, the insulation of tenure and promotion decisions from outside interests, and the creation of an environment that enables the fullest and freest exchange of ideas. The events of the past few years have created a crisis of confidence in the central administration's willingness to defend these principles.

We note, in particular, the following issues:

1) In the face of considerable efforts by outside groups over the past few years to vilify members of the faculty and determine how controversial issues are taught on campus, the administration has failed to make unequivocally clear that such interventions will not be tolerated. When outside groups attempted to sway tenure decisions, the President of Barnard issued a forthright statement rejecting such efforts; the President of Columbia has failed to do so.

2) Decisions on key issues like the "globalization" of the university, the establishment of satellite campuses in other countries, the enlarged size of the undergraduate student body, the reduction in the size of the graduate student body, the hosting of controversial speakers, the relative diminution of the humanities, and other issues at the heart of the university's mandate, are made with no apparent consultation with faculty. We learn about these decisions only when they are announced after the fact.

3) The president's address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad's visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president's introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration's war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.

4) In the name of the University, the president has publicly taken partisan political positions concerning the politics of the Middle East in particular, without apparent expertise in this area or consultation with faculty who teach and undertake research in this area. His conflation of his own political position with that of the University is unacceptable.

We believe that the time has come for the faculty to reassert its commitment to academic freedom and University autonomy, and for the President to make it clear that the administration will no longer compromise these principles or tolerate interference with them.


Nadia Abu El-Haj, Lila Abu-Lughod, Qais Al-Awqati, Paul Anderer, Mark Anderson, Gil Anidjar, Zainab Bahrani, Akeel Bilgrami, Richard Billows, Elizabeth Blackmar, Partha Chatterjee, Lewis Cole, Jonathan Cole, Elaine Combs-Schilling, Susan Crane, Jonathan Crary, Julie Crawford, Hamid Dabashi, Patricia Dailey, Tom DiPrete, Brent Edwards, Eric Foner, Aaron Fox, Katherine Franke, Victoria de Grazia, Page Fortuna, Steven Gregory, William Harris, Andreas Huyssen, Rashid Khalidi, Alice Kessler-Harris, Marilyn Ivy, Brian Larkin, Lydia Liu, Sylvère Lotringer, Mahmood Mamdani, Peter Marcuse, Reinhold Martin, Mark Mazower, Mary McLeod, Brinkley Messick, Rosalind Morris, Keith Moxey, Frances Negron-Muntaner, Mae Ngai, Bob O'Meally, Neni Panourgia, John Pemberton, Richard Peña, Julie Peters, Pablo Piccato, Sheldon Pollock, Elizabeth Povinelli, Wayne Proudfoot, Bruce Robbins, David Rosner, George Saliba, James Schamus, David Scott, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Mark Strand, Paul Strohm, Michael Taussig, Kendall Thomas, Nadia Urbinati, Marc van de Mieroop, Karen van Dyck, Dorothea von Mücke, Gauri Viswanathan, Gwendolyn Wright

My question: Say that a Columbia department sponsored a forum, to which it invited a virulently homophobic, ethnically bigoted political leader — who was also big on using the power of government to suppress dissent — on the quite plausible theory that he's an important leader and it's valuable for Columbia students to learn about such people. Imagine someone like David Duke, perhaps, only ideologically worse and more powerful. And say a University official forcefully but substantively criticized this leader's speech at this forum, while of course allowing the leader to talk.

Do you think these Columbia faculty would or should condemn the University official's behavior? Oh, wait, that's exactly what happened here, except the person wasn't named David Duke.

Or would the faculty only condemn the University official's speech if the speech had the political effect of lending some support to a separate political cause (the war in Iraq, not criticism of Iran's human rights record and foreign policy), which is "a position anathema to many in the University community"? Would they have instead praised the official's speech if it advanced some separate political clause that was beloved by many in the University community? If so, then what does their criticism have to do with "academic freedom," as opposed to politics?

UPDATE: I should give the devil his due; as a commenter suggested, I got carried away in my original title and labeled Ahmadinejad a "dictator" — that was inaccurate, since he is not a solo ruler, though his government does repress domestic dissenters. My apologies for the error; I believe my correction doesn't materially change my analysis.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. 61 Columbia Professors Dissent
  2. God Forbid that a University President Should Condemn Bigoted, Dangerous, Oppressive Political Leaders