The only reasonable response is, "Who gives a rat's patoot?" If I deny the reality of the Holocaust, or insist that "2 plus 2 equals a duck," or that I can make 10-minute brownies in six minutes, responding that you may disagree with what I say but will defend my right to say it is a shabby way to sound courageous while actually taking a spineless dive. How brave of you to defend me from a threat that doesn't exist while lamely avoiding actually challenging my statements.
Similarly, there's been a lot of high-minded gasbaggery over this elusive idea of "academic freedom." A more selectively invoked standard is hard to come by. Somehow, when former Harvard President Larry Summers, one of America's most esteemed economists, told a group of academics that the distribution of high-level cognitive abilities may not be evenly spread out among men and women, activist feminist professors got the vapors and claimed, from the comfort of their fainting couches, that their hysteria could only be cured by Summers' head on a platter. But Ward Churchill, a penny-ante buffoon who seems to have downloaded his Ph.D. from cheapdegrees.com, compares the victims of 9/11 to Holocaust planner Adolf Eichmann, and suddenly academic freedom demands Churchill keep his tenured job forever, at taxpayers' expense.
More to the point, academic freedom wasn't at issue in the Columbia case. Unlike Summers and like Churchill, Ahmadinejad wasn't trying to explore the truth. Holocaust deniers aren't truth-tellers, they are deliberate liars and hucksters. Ahmadinejad didn't want "dialogue," he wanted propaganda points. He was there as the mouthpiece for a dangerous, oppressive regime. But many opponents of the Bush administration think the Iranian regime has been inappropriately demonized, and the Columbia crowd thought they could help defuse tensions. The irony is that Columbia's decision backfired, and the university actually magnified that alleged demonization.
But let's not forget that Columbia didn't have the courage to say honestly that it wanted to dabble in foreign policy and controversy, not free inquiry. Saying it was all about free speech doesn't make it so.