The larger case against issuing an invitation to such a malevolent figure is of course moral. The invitation implies respect -- which is exactly what Columbia University and all people of good will should be most eager to withhold from Ahmadinejad. Besides, this is not merely a matter of noxious opinions. The man has blood on his hands and looks forward, cheerfully, to much, much more. This is about behavior and about real flesh and blood suffering.
When compared with some members of the Columbia faculty, however, the maladroit Bollinger looks positively Churchillian. There was Dean John Coatsworth, who, faced with the indefensibility of Columbia's position, decided to go all out and announce that, yes, Columbia would have invited Hitler to talk to its students given the opportunity. Actually, lots of people did talk to Hitler. Many found him charming. Chamberlain thought he could be trusted. That worked out well.
Eric Foner, a professor with a long leftist pedigree, objected to Bollinger's mention of Iranian aid to Iraqi terrorists. "He accepts as true claims that are being made about Iran's role in Iraq, which are being put forward by people whose credibility on weapons in the Middle East has not always been 100 percent reliable," was Foner's snide take on the entire episode. Professor Richard Bulliet, an Iran expert who had a hand in bringing Ahmadinejad to campus, had told colleagues before the lecture that the Iranian leader was a "very reasonable speaker, a very effective debater." In the aftermath of the event, several professors denounced Bollinger's remarks as those of a "schoolyard bully" while remaining silent on Ahmadinejad's nauseating rant.
And then there was the applause. The New York Times reporter present estimated that 30 percent of the audience was pro-Ahmadinejad. Thirty percent. More than anything, that sends a chill down the spine.