President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University is a very open-minded guy, in his own opinion. In inviting the Iranian prime minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, he issued this statement. "Columbia, as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas...Necessarily on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs that many, most of even all of us will find offensive and even odious. We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the powers of dialog and reason."
So why won't Bollinger allow the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to recruit on the Columbia campus? ROTC was expelled from Columbia in the late sixties. In 2003 a majority of students said they wanted ROTC back, to give students the choice to serve their country in this way. The Columbia faculty opposed the measure, however, and Bollinger sided with them against the students.
What is the problem with ROTC as far as Columbia University is concerned? Apparently Bollinger and other left-wingers on the faculty can't stand the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy concerning homosexuals. Yet this policy, devised and introduced by the Clinton administration, respects the privacy of homosexual soldiers on the condition that they aren't open or flagrant about being gay. The objective of the policy is to maintain morale in the barracks.
Even if you disagree with the military, Bollinger himself says that Columbia is open to allowing ideas that are "offensive and even odious." This is the whole point of tolerance. Tolerance means, “I disagree strongly, but I will put up with you.” If I agreed with what you have to say then there is no question of tolerance. Whatever Bollinger’s ideological disagreement with ROTC, surely students are capable of hearing his concerns and then making up their own minds about whether to enroll.
Meanwhile, Iran's policies toward homosexuals are--shall we say--somewhat more stringent than those of the U.S. military. I visited the website of Human Rights Watch where the country's sorry record is pretty well laid out. A few months ago, to take a random example, the Iranian police raided a home where men were allegedly dressed up as women. The men were accused of homosexuality, detained without a lawyer, and beaten. Perhaps they should consider themselves lucky: in the past Iran has not hesitated to execute homosexuals. Last November two men were strung up in northern Iran for engaging in homosexual acts. (Lesbianism is apparently punished not by death but by public whipping.)
It's interesting to see that Columbia has such wide parameters when it comes to giving Islamic radicals like Ahmadinejad a forum on campus. Actually I don't agree with conservatives who say that the man should be prevented from speaking. Let him come and let him talk. If Ahmadinejad blames America and Israel for terrorism and calls for both to be wiped off the map, he would be doing no more than echoing what many leftists at Columbia have been saying for years. If he takes the more interesting approach of defending Muslim holy law regarding women and gays, he will show the left what it’s in for if Islamic radicalism triumphs in the Middle East.
But if Columbia can make room for Ahmadinejad, Columbia can make room for ROTC on campus. This absurd double standard of kowtowing even to the enemies of America, while blocking the military and other politically incorrect institutions, has got to stop and stop now. Columbia and other universities should be just as open to ideas from the right as they are to ideas from the left and from the Islamic radicals. Isn't it time Bollinger and his thick-headed colleagues realized that free speech and diversity should be valued across the political spectrum? Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.