Columbia: Same Idiots, Useful as Ever

Mary Katharine Ham

9/25/2007 10:02:36 PM - Mary Katharine Ham

Different decade, same idiots, just as useful as ever. Why is it that at our vaunted Ivy League schools, being Ivy-League-smart precludes the ability to recognize scum when you see it?

As the History News Network put it wryly this week:

Columbia University has invited a representative of the world’s most antisemitic regime to speak on its campus. This week’s news? Try 1933.

That’s right. The Ivy League tradition of coddling dictators and despots is long and storied. Back in 1933, Columbia was playing host to Nazi Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Hans Luther. Luther should have been received with “the greatest courtesy and respect,” said then-Columbia president Nicholas Butler. Luckily, a national backlash and wall-to-wall press coverage encouraged a somewhat less hospitable reception from present Columbia President Lee Bollinger when he introduced Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, and Bryn Mawr all either continued exchanges with Nazi Germany’s universities—purged of Jews, of course—or lent the Reich legitimacy by praising and participating in its pageantry well into the late 1930s.

Little has changed, apparently. Dean John Coatsworth of Columbia, this week: “If Adolf Hitler were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.”

You really shouldn’t count on a Yale professor if you’re trying to predict the next great genocidal threat to the world.

But the Ivy League’s legacy of stupidity didn’t end with the Nazis, as we saw this week. And, in between Adolph and Mahdi, there’s a treasure trove of enabling from the country’s most enlightened.

In 1958, Harvard invited a distinguished speaker with a martial presence, international influence, and a penchant for having political enemies shot by firing squad. Since his speech in Cambridge, Fidel Castro has been responsible for the deaths and imprisonment of thousands upon thousands of Cubans.

As Mona Charen documents in her book “Useful Idiots,” Columbia University had eloquence to offer on the feisty leader in fatigues. “C. Wright Mills of Columbia University extended unqualified support to Castro declaring, ‘I am for the Cuban revolution. I do not worry about it. I worry for it and with it.’”

And, if the Ivy Leagues can’t be trusted as judges of character, don’t count on them to be right on matters of policy, either. Check out these predictions about the Soviet Union. Only exorbitant tuition can buy you prescience like this!

MIT economist Lester Thurow praised the “remarkable performance” of the Soviet economy and asserted that “Today it is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States.”…

As Charen notes, Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer of Columbia said in 1981, “The Soviet Union is not now, nor will it be during the next decade, in the throes of a true systemic crisis.”

Monday, Lee Bollinger struck a small and unexpected blow for the integrity and reputation of American academia, but academia has a lot to answer for. In its haste to praise the “other” over the American, the exotic over the familiar, the egalitarian over the free, the country’s “best and brightest” have handed out small slices of sanction to the murders of millions along with diplomas. Even as Bollinger scolded the diminutive despot, enough Columbia students gathered to cheer Ahmadinejad and scold Bollinger for his lack of hospitality that it should have embarrassed Columbia. It will no doubt work well on Iranian state TV.

"You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated," Bollinger told Ahmadinejad Monday.

At America’s universities, brazenly provocative and astonishingly educated has proven to be the dumbest mix of all.