Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Among Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Andrew Meyer and Lawrence Summers, the world has been treated recently to a carnival of free expression as our most treasured right was exercised on university campuses.

Or wasn't. Depending.

Free speech isn't quite free, as it turns out. Nor is its exercise evenly enjoyed. Here's the breakdown:

In New York Monday, the president of Iran -- a liar who denies the Holocaust, sponsors terror and abuses human rights -- spoke at Columbia University.

Ahmadinejad (A'jad for short) was mocked, booed, jeered and laughed at -- especially when he insisted there are no gays in Iran despite documented public hangings of homosexuals, including teenagers. But he got to speak.

Summers wasn't so lucky. In California, the former president of Harvard University did not get to speak at a University of California Board of Regents meeting after professors petitioned to withdraw his invitation.

Summers didn't hang anybody in public or stone any adulterers, as is still common in Iran. Summers' offense was more nuanced. He was insensitive.

A couple of years ago at a conference, Summers suggested that disparities in accomplishment and college tenure among men and women could be explained (possibly, maybe, but maybe not) by "availability of aptitude at the high end," as well as socialization, patterns of discrimination and, not least, the "high-powered job hypothesis" that more men than women opt for 80-hour workweeks.

It's surprising only that Summers wasn't Tasered on the spot.

Which was, alas, the fate of Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student who was subdued by campus police during a Q&A with Sen. John Kerry. Meyer, who calls himself The Andrew Meyer on his Web site, was guilty of acute self-importance, as the definite article before his name suggests.

As video of the incident showed, Meyer persisted in asking a string of questions when told to stop, and made a noisy scene when police attempted to escort him from the room. Finally, after he was pinned on the ground by five or six police officers, he was Tasered.

Whether The Andrew Meyer was obnoxious is not in dispute, but if obnoxiousness were a Tasering offense, America's talk show hosts would be an alternative energy source.

So there you have it: Three individuals trying to exercise freedom of speech in three different university environments with three different results. The one with the greatest credibility was censored. The one whose regime restricts academic freedom and imposes censorship was given a forum. The one whose participation in the free speech experiment arguably counts the most -- the student -- was physically punished.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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