September 26, 2007
Columbia Still Reeling Over Visit
Before Iran’s president took the stage at Columbia University on Monday, the university’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, sent out an early-morning e-mail message, calling on students and faculty “to live up to the best of Columbia’s traditions.” Yesterday, many critics questioned whether Mr. Bollinger had met that test himself.
On campus and in editorials across the nation, on political blogs and throughout academia, there was a sharp division of opinion about Mr. Bollinger’s pointed introduction of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a man who exhibited “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator” and whose denial of the Holocaust was “either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”
A carefully coiffed (best-in-show hairdo) Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, preened and verbally strutted his way through an introduction of the Iranian President, bullying with the best of them. When Teddy Roosevelt called the presidency a 'bully pulpit,' one hardly thinks this is what he had in mind.
Bollinger wanted it both ways, to take credit for Columbia's condescending variation on 'free speech,' while still insulting, berating and sneering at the dignitary who had yet to take the podium.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad, a man from a presently uncivil country, gave Bollinger a badly needed lesson in civility, instructing him on how guest speakers were accepted in Iran.
Ahmadinejad needed no help, certainly not Bollinger's, to tangle himself in laughable rhetoric--and got laughed at for it, which is fair. But you either make the invitation in good spirit or you don't make it. Bollinger embarrassed Columbia by espousing free speech and then using it as a bully's weapon, smirking as he left the podium.