Monday, September 24, 2007

Universities' Choice of Speakers May Be Subject to State and Federal Approval Very Shortly

Just when you think the hysteria cannot get any more insane, it does. Duncan Hunter, House member from California and, of course, one of the Republican candidates for president, announced today, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's talk at Columbia University, that he is going to try to cut off all of Columbia's federal funding. Because Columbia invited someone to speak who does not meet with Hunter's approval:

Appearing on Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto after the speech, Hunter said that he plans to follow through on his threat and will now “initiate legislation, and try to get as many people as can see it my way, to cut off funds to Columbia University.”

Hunter is not the only lawmaker looking to punish Columbia and Bollinger for hosting a speaker whom they dislike. The New York Sun reports today that state and city lawmakers in New York are considering punitively withholding public funds from the school as well.
Even President Bush doesn’t think Columbia should be punished for hosting Ahmadinejad, telling Fox News today that “I guess it’s okay with me” and that America is “confident enough to let a person express his views.” Everyone … except a host of right-wingers who cower when faced with the “views” of people they dislike.

Extraordinary. Not to mention dangerous and illegal, as Glenn Greenwald (linked from Think Progress) writes, in another one of his must-read pieces:
... there is not much new worth saying about the "debate" over whether Columbia should have invited Ahmadinejad to speak. People either believe in the value of having academic institutions be a venue for airing all viewpoints or they do not.

But what is new, and what most certainly is worth commenting upon, is this extremely disturbing report from The New York Sun regarding the threats made by Democratic State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to use state power to punish Columbia for inviting a speaker whom Silver dislikes. Silver ... did not even bother to disguise the threats he was making:
As the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, prepares to address Columbia University today amid a storm of student protest, state and city lawmakers say they are considering withholding public funds from the school to protest its decision to invite the leader to campus.

In an interview with The New York Sun, the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, said lawmakers, outraged over Columbia's insistence on allowing the Iranian president to speak at its World Leaders Forum, would consider reducing capital aid and other financial assistance to the school.

Lawmakers warned about other consequences for Columbia and its president, Lee Bollinger, who has resisted campus and public pressure to cancel Mr. Ahmadinejad's appearance today, arguing that Columbia's commitment to scholarship requires the school to directly confront offensive ideas.

"There are issues that Columbia may have before us that obviously this cavalier attitude would be something that people would recall," Mr. Silver said. "Obviously, there's some degree of capital support that has been provided to Columbia in the past. These are things people might take a different view of . . . knowing that this is that kind of an institution" . . .

"It's not going to go away just because this episode ends. Columbia University has to know . . . that they will be penalized," an assemblyman of Brooklyn, Dov Hikind, who also attended the rally, said. The lawmaker said Mr. Ahmadinejad should be arrested when he sets foot on campus.

Silver sounds like two-bit hooligan making not-so-veiled threats to Columbia ("Obviously, there's some degree of capital support that has been provided to Columbia in the past. These are things people might take a different view of") for committing the crime of inviting a speaker whom Silver finds offensive. Is there anyone who fails to see how dangerous and improper this is -- not to mention unconstitutional -- that government officials threaten and punish universities for hosting speakers whom the officials dislike? Do we want our universities to be able to provide speaking venues only to individuals who are approved by the likes of Sheldon Silver and Dov Hikind?

Glenn also dissects the posturing, self-important interview of Ahmadinejad that Scott Pelley did for "60 Minutes":
It would be perfectly appropriate for Pelley to pose aggressive and challenging questions to Ahmadinejad. That is actually what reporters in general are supposed to do when questioning any government officials, not merely the Foreign Muslim Enemy du Jour. Fathom how elevated our political discourse would be if "reporters" like Pelley were even a fraction as adversarial and challenging when interviewing Bush officials as Pelley was when yelling at Ahmadinejad.

But Pelley did not question him so much as make a series of highly dubious war-fueling statements as fact. And far more revealing than Pelley's tone were the premises of his "questions" -- ones which blindly assumed every accusation of the Bush administration towards Iran to be true. ...

I watched the entire interview, and had exactly the same reaction. There's a difference between aggressively questioning and attacking. Pelley did the latter: He verbally attacked Ahmadinejad, hurling accusations at him one after another that were clearly not designed to elicit information or genuine, thoughtful answers. I think Pelley was terrified of appearing not to be a card-carrying member of the "Ahmadinejad is Hitler reborn and the devil incarnate" club. Asking challenging but open-ended questions that did not presume only one possible answer would tend too much to give the impression that Ahmadinejad, whatever else he is, might be an intelligent human being with a perspective worth listening to. Listening is not the same thing as agreeing -- but that is a nuance the right finds extremely difficult to wrap their brains around.

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