As a graduate of Columbia College ('87) and the son of a Columbia graduate, I have some perspective on the school and the history of student behavior there. Sadly, nothing has changed in the over 45 years which include my father's time at Columbia, my time there, and the recent "Minuteman protests." You can see video of the protest by clicking here.
Around 1960, Ayn Rand was invited to speak at Columbia. My father went to hear her. She was shouted down and, unable to address the crowd, left the podium after properly scolding the students for their bad manners. The protesters spent much of their time railing against the evils of capitalism and liberty.
In about 1985, there were protests and scuffles as students barricaded Hamilton Hall to demand the University divest itself of investments in companies which did business in South Africa. The protesters spent much of their time railing against the evils of capitalism and liberty, with somewhat more physical violence than had been seen 25 years earlier.
And now, 20 years after those protests, I see Columbia students act aggressively, irresponsibly, and disgustingly, trying to silence another invited speaker.
A letter to the editor of the Columbia Spectator on October 9th as well as the staff editorial on the same date are informative: The "message from the protesters", apparently written by a senior majoring in economics, goes out of its way to misstate the goals of the Minutemen (of whom I am not a huge fan, for the record). The writer also makes the typical leftist radical mistake of calling everything she disagrees with "fascist", a rather silly error for anyone but especially a senior economics major.
The writer tries to create a moral equivalence between the protesters' directly inciting violence against an invited speaker and what she considers to be offensive speech or policy goals of the Minutemen or some of its members. She misses the basic point of America: Political speech, even if you don't like it, is precisely what the First Amendment was written to protect. Violence against a speaker is unacceptable.
Everything you really need to know about the protesters is contained in this sentence: "Shame on the College Republicans for inviting this fascist thug and provoking such outrage on our campus." In other words, the act of inviting a controversial speaker is worse than violence against that speaker...oh, and the speaker must be a "fascist thug" because he doesn't agree with the writer's left-wing sensibilities which are typical of Columbia students.
Her protests that "this is not an issue of free speech" makes it all that much clearer that that is exactly what the issue is. The protesters do not have an "equal right" to shout down a speaker, much less to assault him or his entourage. The right answer...the only answer acceptable in our country...is to let him speak and then set up your own event to tell everyone why he was wrong.
The Spectator's editorial was no better: Claims that the University somehow is not getting "fair representation" falls into the same trap of moral equivalence between unpopular speech and violence. From my family's experience at Columbia, this type of appalling behavior by Columbia students is not "an unfortunate exception" but rather an all too common occurrence.
It is a remarkable thing about liberals (or, at Columbia, outright leftists) in free societies: They are far more intolerant than conservatives. The protesters hate people who oppose illegal immigration. They accept the use of intimidation and violence to keep such people from speaking, then blame the victim for having been controversial. Conservatives generally don't hate people for their views even if those views are as wrong-headed as those of many (or, in my experience, most) Columbia students.
The beauty of America is that we have an open political market. People of all views are free to speak, to be a touchstone for debate, and then to win or lose in the court of public opinion and at the ballot box.
Unlike the claims of the Spectator's editorial, mainstream news outlets have "depicted the Columbia atmosphere accurately." Wishing that the atmosphere were otherwise does not make it so.
Throughout all the years that my family and friends have attended Columbia, it has repeatedly represented itself as a truly illiberal institution, in a way that only the most "liberal" institutions can. The students live in a world which would make Orwell shudder: speech can justify violence, economic conservatives are called "fascists", and any talk the students disagree with is labeled "hate speech".
In this way and others, Columbia represents everything that is wrong with the far left in America today, and I am proud to say that while I do give money to a college, it is not to Columbia.
Ross Kaminsky blogs at Rossputin.com.
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