Monday, September 24, 2007

Quinn Rebukes Columbia on Iranian / Columbia Would Welcome Hitler, a Dean Insists

Columbia Would Welcome Hitler, a Dean Insists
By Staff Reporter of the Sun

September 23, 2007 updated 10:56 am EDT

The next round of controversy at Columbia will involve remarks of a dean who says that Hitler would have been welcome on Morningside Heights if he would take questions from students.

The dean, John Coatsworth, heads the same institution that will serve as Columbia's host for President Ahmadinejad. The decision of Columbia to honor the Iranian anti-Semite and terror master with a speaking platform has drawn outrage among political leaders in the city, including the speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn.

"If Hitler were in the United States and wanted a platform from which to speak, he would have plenty of platforms to speak in the United States," Mr. Coatsworth said in an interview with Fox News that was linked last evening by the Drudge Report. "If he were willing to engage in debate and a discussion to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him."

A former professor of history at Harvard, Mr. Coatsworth is dean of the university's School of International and Public Affairs, whose graduates, according to a statement Mr. Coatsworth issued last week, "serve as diplomats, intelligence analysts, security experts, business leaders, human rights activists," and leaders of non-governmental organizations.

Columbia acknowledged last week that the visit to the university of Mr. Ahmadinejad was initiated not by the university but by the Iranian envoy to the United Nations through a faculty member, Richard Bulliet. Mr. Bulliet is described in Wikipedia as having been criticized for, among other things, "his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as overly favoring the Palestinian cause" and also for offering "qualified support" for the revolution that brought the mullahs to power in Iran in 1979.

Quinn Rebukes Columbia on Iranian
Staff Reporter of the Sun
September 21, 2007
Spencer Platt / Getty

The president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, gives the commencement address at Columbia University May 18, 2005.

As Columbia University prepares to welcome President Ahmadinejad to its Morningside Heights campus Monday afternoon, elected officials and Jewish leaders are urging the university to withdraw its invitation, some students are threatening to boycott the university for a week, and some faculty are calling the event an "embarrassing moment" for Columbia.
"The idea of Ahmadinejad as an honored guest anywhere in our city is offensive to all New Yorkers," the speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, said yesterday in a letter to the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger. "He can say whatever he wants on any street corner, but should not be given center stage at one of New York's most prestigious centers of higher education."
Mayor Bloomberg yesterday defended the university's right to host Mr. Ahmadinejad. "I think who Columbia invites is up to them and that's what academic institutions do," Mr. Bloomberg said at a press conference. "I am not part of the management of Columbia or a student there."

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has stated in the past that Israel should be "wiped off the map" and that the Holocaust did not happen, has been invited by Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs to speak and answer questions as a part of its World Leaders Forum.

Last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad was invited by SIPA to speak on campus, but Mr. Bollinger withdrew the invitation when the university could not come to an agreement with the Iranians on the format of the event. Because Mr. Ahmadinejad has agreed to devote at least half of his time to answering questions from an audience of 600 students, faculty, and invited guests, Mr. Bollinger this year approved of the program. "That such a forum could not take place on a university campus in Iran today sharpens the point of what we do here," Mr. Bollinger said in a statement. This was an example of "America at its best," he said.

"A man who is directing the maiming and killing of American troops should not be given an invitation to speak at an American university," Senator McCain, a Republican of Arizona who is running for president, said in a statement.

The dean of SIPA, John Coatsworth, defended the invitation as an exercise in good citizenship. "Opportunities to hear, challenge, and learn from controversial speakers of different views are central to the education and training of students for citizenship in a shrinking and dangerous world," Mr. Coatsworth said in a statement.

A broad coalition of student groups, including Jewish groups and the college Republicans, yesterday were busy organizing a peaceful rally on Low Plaza in the center of campus for Monday. "Students are outraged, everyone's talking about it," a sophomore at Columbia, Emily Steinberger, said. A petition was also circulating yesterday among students and faculty members urging participation in a week-long boycott of classes.

Other students said they supported the university's decision to host Mr. Ahmadinejad. "This wouldn't have happened at any other institution," a junior history major at Columbia, Lydia Depillis, said. "The invitation does not represent an endorsement of his views."

Student leaders representing 12 groups, including the college's Queer Alliance and the student council, issued a statement yesterday calling the forum an "incredible opportunity for the student body to learn about world affairs and to challenge an influential and controversial figure." The student leaders met with Mr. Bollinger to express their concern that they were not given more notice of the event. Mr. Bollinger told them that the university could not publicize Mr. Ahmadinejad's appearance on campus until the details were finalized.

"It is a very embarrassing moment," a professor who is the co-coordinator of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East at Columbia, Awi Federgruen, said. "The university doesn't need to provide a platform to anybody regardless of how repugnant and absurd they are." The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, said Columbia's invitation smacked of hypocrisy. "Iran is having the largest brain drain in history because he makes life intolerable for academics. For those reasons alone he ought not to be invited to a campus," Mr. Hoenlein said.

"Last year, Columbia almost made the same mistake," the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement. "Ahmadinejad didn't get better since then. He's gotten worse." The ADL yesterday called on the university to reconsider an invitation that it said was "inappropriate and a perversion of the concept of freedom of speech."

All 600 tickets to hear Mr. Ahmadinejad speak were distributed online in less than an hour on Wednesday on a first come, first served basis. Some students immediately started selling their tickets on to the highest bidder. "The only debate that Ahmadinejad is interested in is over the veracity of the Holocaust, nuclear anarchy, the survival of Israel, and liberal rights, even in academia," a junior at Columbia who was selling his ticket on Craigslist, said. "I'm not interested in these debates. I'm selling my seat."

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