Members of the Columbia University International Relations Council are reportedly set to dine with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he blusters into New York next week as part of his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly. As of now, it’s unclear when or where the dinner will take place, but the conversation is sure to be stimulating, given Ahmadinejad’s propensity to crush domestic dissent, rig elections, imprison American citizens, and deny the Holocaust.
Yet it’s also extraordinarily ironic, considering Columbia’s appetite for punishing its own student organizations for ‘offensive’ speech (see the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s page on Columbia University , which lists numerous examples) and the preamble to its own “Administrative Code of Conduct”, which establishes “respect for others” as a core value of the University. In this document, the academy asserts that:
respect for others is the central principle that governs interactions between people at Columbia University. A primary expectation that flows from this principle is civility and a refrain from abuse of power. Respect for others is expected in peer-to-peer relationships, between service providers and people within and outside of the Columbia community [ . . . ] People have the right to disagree, even strongly disagree; however, there is also a responsibility to be civil and to maintain respect while disagreeing.
The document, it should be noted, makes no mention of dictators, so perhaps Ahmadinejad has found a loophole.
This event, of course, begs the question of what students at Columbia (and other “top-tier” universities) consider acceptable speech and whom they consider worthy of engagement. On one level, it exposes the often-stupefying results of those who advocate “dialogue” on university campuses above all else. When truth claims are excluded from education as a matter of principle, it becomes difficult to run towards them when they might really be needed.