Stating their case
Written by Bwog Staff
The air has been thick with statements over the last few days, as every group tries to decide what they think and student leaders rush to stake out their positions. In case you care, we’ve pasted or linked to most of them after the jump–but first, a little context.
Wednesday night, student heads of things cobbled together this statement complaining about the lack of notice given by the University for the event. ESC President Liz Strauss, whose name found its way onto that statement without her consent, printed her own own the next day taking issue with the lack of consultation before it went into the day’s Spec.
Unrelatedly, at 2:00 AM Thursday morning, Bwog received a statement from Ariela Rosenberg of Hillel about the formation of the “Columbia Coalition,” a loose group handling protest logistics to allow every group to have a 15-minute soapbox on Monday as well as live feeds of the event in Wien and John Jay. At that time, Dems president Josh Lipsky said his group would not be participating in the forum because “we want our members to actually engage in the event.”
At a more reasonable time in the morning yesterday, CCAW announced that they would also not participate, fearing the event would be hijacked by those in favor of a war on Iran (which is, you know, not the most unlikely thing in the world). In the afternoon, the College Democrats sent an e-mail to their members accusing CCAW of waging an “unfortunate campaign of misinformation,” and announcing their decision to participate in the Columbia Coalition event after all.
Meanwhile, Hillel president Josh Rosner and SGB chair Jonathan Siegel issued a by-now-redundant statement of their own condemning the way in which the University handled the announcement. Oh, and the Republicans said something too.
Just after midnight this morning, Bwog received the official mission statement of the Columbia Coalition, which is spearheaded by Rosenberg and Aaron Krieger, among others. Also during the night, Bwog heard that CCAW and the Dems have reached a rapprochement of sorts, with the Dems admitting to have misunderstood CCAW’s position. We expect a new statement from them soon.
Ariela Rosenberg, 2:00 AM, Sept. 21
I am one of the students who spearheaded the Columbia Coalition, a group of student leaders who have come together in an attempt to preserve what little opportunity remains to promote academic freedom and free exchange when Ahmadinejad arrives on our campus on Monday.
What are we doing? The plan is fairly simple. Many students recognized that with such a controversial figure coming to campus and so many voices that need to be heard, chaos would inevitably ensue as we battled for the same protest permits, limited space, and cooperation from the University. So instead, we have come together to give every recognized University group the opportunity to express their view in a public forum on Monday. We are coordinating live feeds of the lecture so that the many students who got closed out can watch it in real time. We also plan to disseminate information to the student community about other related opportunities, such as discussion groups hosted by various student groups before and after the lecture.
Although the plan seems fairly simple, I strongly believe this coalition is necessary, important, and demonstrates an incredible degree of intellectual integrity and maturity on behalf of Columbia students. But I do have one complaint. As much as I would like to promise that the absolute highest degree of academic freedom will be preserved on Monday, I am aware that this is impossible. Firstly, the lecture format was decided before students could even think about getting involved in the decision-making. Namely, the Q&A is limited to prescreened questions that will be asked by moderators instead of students. However, my major complaint is that the Columbia Coalition is working its hardest in seriously strained circumstances because the University did not provide enough notice, time or resources to organize the campus as effectively, appropriately, and as safely as possible.
I am not a tool of the University; I am a concerned student. In addition to believing strongly in the ideal of academic freedom and the importance of voicing all opinions, I too have strong opinions about President Ahmadinejad’ss presence on my campus. As a contributor to the Coalition I am not quite sure how much of my own opinion I will be able to express on Monday. Instead, I will be running around, barely able to stand after not sleeping or eating for three days, because I was filling a void the university should have filled in its own capacity, or at least it should have provided an environment for student response more compatible to ensuring that the delicate balance of academic freedom could be adequately upheld.
So on Monday, many students and students groups are going to come together- not as a united group, but as a united campus committed to the ideal of academic freedom. From the positive response the Columbia Coalition has received, I am pretty certain about the position of Columbia students on the matter. My question is directed to the administration- what do you think about the importance of academic freedom on our campus? Apparently, not much.
Josh Rosner and Jonathan Siegel, 2:00 AM, Sept 21
This Monday, September 24th, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will be addressing students and faculty at Columbia University. As would be expected, this has revived debate on Academic Freedom and the boundaries of acceptable discourse. Lee C. Bollinger, the President of Columbia University, has defended the decision to invite President Ahmadinejad on the grounds that only through actually hearing and challenging President Ahmadinejad’s ideas, can one fully comprehend the odious and ignorant nature of his views.
As students, we agree with President Bollinger on this point and welcome the opportunity to engage and challenge any view on campus, especially ones with which we strongly disagree. Discourse and debate are essential components of the university ideal.
The actions of the administration of Columbia University in planning and executing this event, however, undermine these very values. Although President Ahmadinejad is speaking this Monday, the Columbia University administration did not announce the event until late Wednesday afternoon. For effective discourse and debate to occur, adequate preparation time is necessary – thoughtful questions must be thoroughly researched, counter speakers must be arranged, protests and rallies must be organized. Four days is simply insufficient.
At a meeting on Thursday, President Bollinger argued that he could not have released information about the event any earlier because President Ahmadinejab did not confirm until Wednesday.
But why? If students had been told of the invitation as soon as it was offered, the students would have begun organizing, preparing, and debating earlier. Had President Ahmadinejad canceled, the only cost would have been time wasted on the intellectual discourse that the event was meant to provoke in the first place.
At the event itself, students will be unable to address and challenge the views of President Ahmadinejad directly. All questions from the audience will be filtered through the Dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. How can students benefit fully from the dialogue if they are not allowed to participate in it completely?
All of these conditions combined demonstrate a fundamental distrust of students on the part of the administration. This is certainly not new – at universities across the county and throughout time students have been reduced to wards of the university as opposed to full participants in the academic process. University officials and faculty have time and time again tried to define Academic Freedom, but any definition that excludes student input is inherently flawed.
The lack of concern for students in the planning of President Ahmadinejad’s speech turned what should have been a great opportunity for students into a betrayal of university ideals. Although this event Monday undermines the values of true Academic Freedom and symbolizes the suppression of adequate student participation, we urge students on every campus to actively engage in the ongoing process of defining Academic Freedom in universities nationwide.
At Columbia University, the students are the ones teaching the University about Academic Freedom. We can only hope that the University decides to have an open mind and actually learn.
College Democrats, 3:58 PM, Sept. 21
Over the past few days the news of President Ahmadinejad’s appearance has sparked intense debate on our campus.
As your President and Vice President we want to take a moment and outline some of the controversies happening right now and explain our organization’s role in this process.
It is our belief that the general body of students at this school has been shut out of these important decisions and we’d like to change that right now.
Many of you first learned about the Ahmadinejad’s appearance at our general body meeting this past Wednesday. By the time we announced the event, registration had closed, meaning few if any of us were able to register. This was the product of the administration only announcing the event to a select few campus leaders before opening the registration process. The leadership of the Democrats spoke with President Bollinger on this issue and he assured us it will not happen again.
Over the past 24 hours we have worked hard to ensure that this event live up to it’s billing – ‘a free exchange of ideas.’ It would be difficult to meet that standard if most of the students on this campus were not allowed to participate. We’re proud to say that through the leadership of the democrats, the councils and various other campus groups, we have gotten the administration to agree to simulcast the speech in both John Jay and Wien Lounges. Additionally, students will be allowed to email in questions from now until the middle of the speech. Please send any questions to [email protected] . These are relatively small concessions but they can help turn this event from a spectator show into an opportunity to challenge one of the most controversial figures of our time.
The Democrats have also decided to organize a ’10 Questions’ campaign. The concept here is to craft, along with other student groups, a series of 10 questions that we feel President Ahmadinejad must address. A copy of these questions will be submitted to everyone entering Lerner on Monday in the hope that a few of these questions are asked. Everyone is encouraged to submit these questions through email before the event. If anyone would like to help in the process of putting together these questions please email Kate Redburn at [email protected]
You may or may not also know that an adhoc coalition of students- the Columbia Coalition- has formed in response to the event. We’d like to take this opportunity to explain how the Dems board has been involved up to this point, and to solicit your input as to how we should go forward.
Today, there has been an unfortunate campaign of misinformation by another coalition, the Columbia Coalition Against the War (CCAW). Although none of their
representatives have attended any of the Columbia Coalition meetings, they have issued an open letter accusing the Columbia Coalition and any forum participants of advocating for a war with Iran. This could not be further from the truth.
The Columbia Coalition itself is a non-partisan group which itself is expressing no views on the Iranian President or his visit to our campus. It is not advocating for any action toward Iran, belligerent or otherwise. It is providing a public forum on Low Plaza giving any and all interested student groups the opportunity to speak for around 15 minutes each. The forum will not be a pro-war rally, and it will include only Columbia
affiliates, not outsiders. To suggest anything to the contrary is a ploy for attention, not an informed comment.
The board feels that the forum is a positive and appropriate response to the event, and that it is in keeping with our dedication to free speech on campus. Our board has also voted to accept a slot during the Columbia Coalition’s Forum. We welcome and encourage your input in helping prepare our remarks for the event.
As Democrats, we seek to engage in dialogue with Iran, and we endorse the decision to invite him unto our campus. This is a unique opportunity to challenge and expose one of the most radical leaders in the world, and as Democrats we welcome this chance. We believe in preventing another war in the Middle East. And we believe that Iran’s state sponsored terrorism represents a serious threat to the United States and her president’s anti-antisemitism and Holocaust denials represent a serious threat to moral sensibilities across the globe.
And that is precisely why we need to grill and engage Ahmadinejad in every forum possible – not avoid him.
Hopefully everyone made it through the email – it’s a long one.
Everyone is invited to attend a debriefing of the day’s events on Monday at 9:30PM in Hamilton 516
Thanks to all of you who have joined in this debate in the last few days and we hope more of you email us and get involved and continue to give us feedback.
– Josh & Chris
College Republicans, 4:45 PM, Sept. 21
On Monday, September 24, following a visit to the United Nations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak at Columbia University. The Columbia University College Republicans find his views and actions to be heinous and repugnant. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad is one of the greatest threats to global security today and an affront to American values. As Americans, we are blessed with the freedom to express our opinions in a way that the citizens of Iran are unable under Ahmadinejad’s oppressive regime. The Columbia University College Republicans and all like-minded peers
will be there, protesting his demonstrable hatred.
Please get involved and come out to protest, as we join with the
Columbia Coalition this coming Monday.
Columbia Coalition, 12:30 AM, Sept. 22
The Columbia Coalition is a non-partisan, non-political organizing group committed to providing the entire Columbia community with the opportunity to participate in and react to the presence of Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on our campus this coming Monday the 24th. The visit of this world leader has aroused an incredible array of emotions from individuals and organizations on this campus, and it is our intention to provide a safe and public forum for the expression of these feelings.
Toward this end, we are in the process of organizing a rally – to take place on Low Plaza – that will give representatives from all interested student groups the opportunity to express their views publicly, as well as coordinating a way through which all students will be able to see and hear Ahmadinejad’s speech and the following Q&A via live broadcast.
No opinion is too radical to be expressed through this group, nor is anything too mainstream. We welcome all kinds, and will strive to make the culminating event represent the viewpoints of every individual on this campus.
Mitt Romney, sometime on Friday
“It’s really amazing when our academic institutions can’t draw a line between those that are legitimate differences and perspectives, versus those who are completely out of touch with reality, delusional, who come for purposes of propaganda and outrage. Khatami was one of those, obviously Ahmadinejad’s his predecessor [sic].”
“It’s really unthinkable that the UN or an organization like Columbia would come out and say, we want to hear what you’ve got to say.”