Carol Platt Liebau: Who Deserves a Platform?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who Deserves a Platform?

This AP piece deals with the controversy surrounding Columbia's invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It begins with the question:

Is a college campus a place for all views to be aired, or are some public figures too extreme to deserve the platform?

The inquiry is a silly one. Of course some public figures are too extreme to deserve the platform -- it goes without saying that the Grand Dragon of the KKK, or Adolf Hitler (if he were still alive), or other similar types would never be invited to present their views at Columbia, and that's as it should be.

So then the inquiry becomes a matter of which figures are deemed too extreme by general social consensus. Underlying a lot of the discussion of the issue, especially by those on the right, is an objection not only to the fact that an avowed enemy of this country and a notorious anti-Semite is being offered a prestigious lectern -- but the fact that universities speak sanctimoniously about free speech, but it only seems to run one way . . . to the left.

Remember Stanford rejecting the Reagan Library? Or SMU's protests about the proposed Bush library? Other examples abound.

It's instructive -- and sad -- to realize that most of America's campuses would probably give a more cordial welcome to someone like Ahmadinejad than to George W. Bush. It tells you everything you need to know about the academy's perverse political commitments.

Update: A Columbia dean has insisted that Columbia would invite Hitler to speak. Given the university's resistance to ROTC, it's a remarkable admission that the leader of the Holocaust is more welcome than a military recruiter. What the comment does highlight is the apotheosis of moral relativism -- exemplifying the lazy reasoning that concludes with comments like "who are we to decide who can and cannot speak?"

Apparently, some in our society have abdicated the responsibility to decide that there are some views and some people who are so repugnant, so entirely wrong -- for today, yesterday and always -- that they do not deserve the honor of standing before the lectern at one of America's most venerable universities. People at Columbia don't seem to understand that there's a distinction between being "judgmental" and the act of actually exercising judgment.

6 Comments:

Blogger Earth to Carol said...

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is giving a speech. He is not building a library or recruiting soldiers.

It was the Nazis not conservative hero Reagan that burned books.

3:23 PM  
Blogger One Salient Oversight said...

Well, for starters, Bush has killed more people than Ahmadinejad.

5:42 PM  
Blogger stackja1945 said...

Carol, which America's campuses is not perverse? I have never been to a university; my education only reached a lower tertiary level. I am of the opinion that I have not missed anything. I can read any book and probably learn as much as listening to a lecturer giving a prejudiced viewpoint.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

First off, I apologize to the editors if my posts appear multiple times in your inbox. My Internet connection is somewhat flakey, and it is especially balky with your website. I frequently have to enter my post three times before I get confirmation that the website accepted it.

Ms. Liebau, you chose some bad examples on which to base your case. A library is not at all the same as a lecture. You would have done better to have chosen, say, the recent disinvitation of Mr. Larry Summers by the Regents of the University of California.

Yet I think that you (and the Regents) miss the main point: that speaking at a University does not represent an approval of the speaker's comments, but merely an airing of them. If the television news presents a video clip of Mr. Ahmadinejad, does that imply that the television station is honoring him? Of course not! Mr. Ahmadinejad is speaking at Columbia because he has an "interesting" point of view: that is, he has things to say that a serious student of world affairs would like to hear about. I would certainly like to attend the lecture and see what the man has to say, if only to verify that he really doesn't have goat's hooves for feet.

There is a very real possibility that this country will be engaged in military hostilities with Iran in the near future. Don't you think it is beneficial for people to at least learn something about this potential enemy?

Lastly, you engage in silly speculation when you write, "most of America's campuses would probably give a more cordial welcome to someone like Ahmadinejad than to George W. Bush." In the first place, we don't know what kind of reception Mr. Ahmadinejad will receive at Columbia -- can't you wait two days before you pronounce judgement? In the second place, can you name any American university that has not given Mr. Bush a cordial welcome?

I suspect that Ms. Liebau did not listen to the short video that she linked to; in it, the dean said something like this: "If he were willing to engage in a debate, to be challenged by students and faculty of Columbia, then we would invite him."

His point is clear: that Columbia University is an open intellectual environment free of censorship. Now, if you can refute this by showing that Columbia University refused to permit somebody to speak because of right-wing views, then you have a case. But, in the absence of any such evidence, you have no case.

stackja1945, I am surprised to learn that you have been able to draw conclusions about every single university in the country. Tell me, what has the University of Florida done to deserve your contempt? How about Baylor? The University of Missouri? USC? And obviously you couldn't judge the faculty of all these universities if you weren't familiar with all of them. So I have to ask, how did you acquire such a vast store of knowledge about the state of American universities?

9:05 PM  
Blogger Cliff said...

So let's see. Columbia won't allow military recruters on their campus because they don't like their message. Does that mean that they allow "wackjob" to speak because they LIKE his message? Wow what a contrast!

8:37 AM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Cliff, it's not logical to compare military recruiters -- or any kind of recruiters -- with speakers. A recruiter is engaging in a business activity that is not central to the function of a university. Universities do not allow any and all to recruit on their campuses. When they do permit recruiters, they impose tight constraints upon those recruiters.

A speaker, by contrast, is a completely different matter. Truth is best learned by seeing BOTH the light and the dark. How are students supposed to learn about the realities of the world if we don't let them see those realities? Would you keep students swathed in protective ignorance? Is this the way to prepare them for the world?

9:39 PM  

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