Columbia students represent worst of American left

Note: This article was also published at as well as Yahoo! News and the WSJ's Opinion Journal. and, yes, the Columbia Spectator! And now, re "Message From the Protesters" (Columbia Spectator letter, 10/9/06) and "STAFF EDITORIAL: The No Spin Zone" (Columbia Spectator editorial, 10/9/06) As a graduate of Columbia College (’87) and the son of a Columbia graduate, I have some perspective on the school and the history of student behavior there. Sadly, nothing has changed in the over 45 years which include my father’s time at Columbia, my time there, and the recent “Minuteman protests.” [You can see video of the protest at:] Around 1960, Ayn Rand was invited to speak at Columbia. My father went to hear her. She was shouted down and, unable to address the crowd, left the podium after properly scolding the students for their bad manners. The protesters spent much of their time railing against the evils of capitalism and liberty. In about 1985, there were protests and scuffles as students barricaded Hamilton Hall to demand the University divest itself of investments in companies which did business in South Africa. The protesters spent much of their time railing against the evils of capitalism and liberty, with somewhat more physical violence than had been seen 25 years earlier. And now, 20 years after those protests, I see Columbia students act aggressively, irresponsibly, and disgustingly, trying to silence another invited speaker. A letter to the editor of the Spectator on October 9th as well as the staff editorial on the same date are informative: The “message from the protesters”, apparently written by a senior majoring in economics, goes out of its way to misstate the goals of the Minutemen (of whom I am not a huge fan, for the record). The writer also makes the typical leftist radical mistake of calling everything she disagrees with “fascist”, a rather silly error for anyone but especially a senior economics major. The writer tries to create a moral equivalence between the protesters’ directly inciting violence against an invited speaker and what she considers to be offensive speech or policy goals of the Minutemen or some of its members. She misses the basic point of America: Political speech, even if you don’t like it, is precisely what the First Amendment was written to protect. Violence against a speaker is unacceptable. Everything you really need to know about the protesters is contained in this sentence: “Shame on the College Republicans for inviting this fascist thug and provoking such outrage on our campus.” In other words, the act of inviting a controversial speaker is worse than violence against that speaker….oh, and the speaker must be a “fascist thug” because he doesn’t agree with the writer’s left-wing sensibilities which are typical of Columbia students. Her protests that “this is not an issue of free speech” makes it all that much clearer that that is exactly what the issue is. The protesters do not have an “equal right” to shout down a speaker, much less to assault him or his entourage. The right answer…the only answer acceptable in our country…is to let him speak and then set up your own event to tell everyone why he was wrong. The Spectator’s editorial was no better: Claims that the University somehow is not getting “fair representation” falls into the same trap of moral equivalence between unpopular speech and violence. From my family’s experience at Columbia, this type of appalling behavior by Columbia students is not “an unfortunate exception” but rather an all too common occurrence. It is a remarkable thing about liberals (or, at Columbia, outright leftists) in free societies: They are far more intolerant than conservatives. The protesters hate people who oppose illegal immigration. They accept the use of intimidation and violence to keep such people from speaking, then blame the victim for having been controversial. Conservatives generally don’t hate people for their views even if those views are as wrong-headed as those of many (or, in my experience, most) Columbia students. The beauty of America is that we have an open political market. People of all views are free to speak, to be a touchstone for debate, and then to win or lose in the court of public opinion and at the ballot box. Unlike the claims of the Spectator’s editorial, mainstream news outlets have “depicted the Columbia atmosphere accurately.” Wishing that the atmosphere were otherwise does not make it so. Throughout all the years that my family and friends have attended Columbia, it has repeatedly represented itself as a truly illiberal institution, in a way that only the most “liberal” institutions can. The students live in a world which would make Orwell shudder: speech can justify violence, economic conservatives are called “fascists”, and any talk the students disagree with is labeled “hate speech”. In this way and others, Columbia represents everything that is wrong with the far left in America today, and I am proud to say that while I do give money to a college, it is not to Columbia.
  • T F  Stern
    Comment from: T F Stern
    10/10/06 @ 09:15:30 am

    Thanks for posting this article as it provides an insight into how freedoms are understood or perceived throughout our varied cultures. How unfortunate that common courtesy and manners are not taught to those attending Columbia; it would make it easier to tolerate their anti American leanings.

  • Lucy Stern
    Comment from: Lucy Stern
    10/10/06 @ 09:47:39 am

    Ross, Those students were way out of order in attacking the speaker. They should have been escorted out of the building and maybe even arrested for disorderly conduct. They call Republicans intolerant, look at them...Good article.

  • Sriraj
    Comment from: Sriraj
    10/10/06 @ 02:37:46 pm

    Ross, What the hell was campus security doing when these protesters walked upto the stage/podium? The University owes a major apology to its College Republicans and the Minutemen, for not allowing them to express their opinions. Fox News interviewed the protestors and/or the President of the College Republicans of Columbia in, at least, three different programs (Hannity and Colmes, Heartland, O'Reilly). The young lady was bent on calling the Minutemen as "rascists" and insisted that their protests were "peaceful". I was chuckling when you mentioned that Ayn Rand received the same kind of treatment many eons ago. My personal take is that many of these students are very well-to-do, or there are others who come under minority quotas and who essentially have the same agenda -- bash America, bash the "white man" for all ills, attempt to relive the golden days of flower power and BOb Dylan, etc. While I have no problems with their views or their lifestyles, I DO have a problenm with them not allowing people to express opinions that they may not agree with. So, these are the kids who'll allow the New Black Panthers to spout crap but will not allow the KKK to do the same. I don't think they are being "liberal" enough and definitely not open-minded.

  • Chuck Patterson
    Comment from: Chuck Patterson
    10/10/06 @ 02:54:47 pm

    I attended Columbia B-School in the mid-seventies and found a weak, compliant administration, focused on diversity above competence in staff and studentbody . I'm not surprised at the recent disruption and won't be surprised when no one's permanent record is marked with an "F".

  • A Hanson
    Comment from: A Hanson
    10/10/06 @ 03:34:10 pm

    I am a Barnard College grad from the class of 1993. I have been reading about this incident with interest, remembering my exciting days on campus. I can remember numerous protests--students against the administration re financial aid, black students against Jewish students, students against the NYPD (those were the days of the Rodney King riots). At least once a month barricades were put up along Broadway and van-loads of NYPD were brought in "just in case" the latest speaker incited some kind of violence. We Barnard girls would watch the action from across the street and discuss the issues over dinner in the basement of Sulzburger Hall. I was the only Republican I knew on campus, although I appreciated the differing perspectives of my friends. Only a few of my friends actually got involved in these things. Alas--these students will soon have to face the "real world"--a world in which they must pay rent, healthcare, raise families. It is humorous to think that some of the most "anti-capitalist" student activists will, in a few years, probably be the movers and shakers on Wall Street, or in various law firms around the city. Funny how becoming an adult changes one. But I appreciate this blog's discussion of the mis-use of the word "fascist." Drives me crazy!

  • Mark
    Comment from: Mark
    10/10/06 @ 03:43:10 pm

    I am a CC graduate, a liberal and a big donor to the university to whom I owe a great deal of my subsequent success in life. But I also am very disappointed in the actions that took place last week. When news articles indicated that a number of the disrupters were General Studies students -- for those who are not familiar with Columbia, they are people who are not part of the mainstream undergraduate admissions process but are essentially local residents - that was something of a relief to me; the university does not really apply itself to evaluating those students for admission. But I am disappointed to see any effort by the campus paper to legitimize, explain or excuse it; rather they should condemn it unconditionally. However, although agreeing with much of what you say in respect of the disruption, I do have to disagree strongly with the following statement you make:"Conservatives generally don’t hate people for their views even if those views are as wrong-headed as those of many (or, in my experience, most) Columbia students." I think the conduct of the right over the past 14 years completely belies that statement; the tone of national discourse over the past 14 years has been devastated by the hatred and anger flowing from leading media figures on the right as well as numerous quasi-religious but ultimately political figures espousing social conservativism.

  • J.W.
    Comment from: J.W.
    10/10/06 @ 04:02:36 pm

    As left-leaning person, I echo Mark's comments. I think the word "liberal" and "open-minded" are too often melded as if they are one and the same, but having attended Georgetown for law school, I can say with confidence that some of the most close-minded and intolerant people I know are liberals. That being said, as a Southerner, I have encountered the intolerance of the right-wing first hand, and while most conservatives I've met at universities are quite different, those who I've met elsewhere can be very hateful and intolerant, especially to homosexuals. Many make the mistake that the Columbia student made in her letter, labeling her political opponents with an inaccurate and slanderous term in an effort to discredit them. All in all, worthwhile piece for the shrinking number of us (on both sides) concerned with having a thoughtful debate.

  • Larry Ferrell
    Comment from: Larry Ferrell
    10/10/06 @ 08:47:29 pm

    You state that "It is a remarkable thing about liberals....they are far more intolerant than conservertives." Most liberals are very tolerant as are (gulp!) most conservitives. The true problem lies with the extemes of both left and right!

  • Stephen
    Comment from: Stephen
    10/10/06 @ 08:56:36 pm

    I am a CC and P&S grad, and grew up on Morningside Heights. I trace the decline of my alma mater to Edward Said and his malign influence on the College. Columbia is now a hotbed of anti-Israel leftist, politically correct sentiment, a la Said. Bollinger is a pusillanimous wimp--if he had any balls he'd expel the rioting students-- presiding over the decline of a once great university.

  • N Tolman
    Comment from: N Tolman
    10/10/06 @ 08:58:15 pm

    As a PhD student at the University of Washington I saw alot of the same type of behaviour there. It is one of the main reasons I left my program there.

  • John
    Comment from: John
    10/10/06 @ 09:29:43 pm

    The actions of the students were appalling and should not be tolerated. The authors broad generalizations against what he calls liberals are also appalling. Liberalism is liberal, i.e. tolerant. These students are no more representative of liberals then the lying free spending members of the current administratiion are representative of conservatives.

  • Mike DePinto
    Comment from: Mike DePinto
    10/11/06 @ 11:50:16 am

    Ross, I appreciate you pointing out the hypocrisy of these students' actions. Their methods, as opposed to their beliefs or passion, should not be tolerated. Honest debate does not promote fascism, squashing it does.

  • Dianna
    Comment from: Dianna
    10/11/06 @ 02:02:15 pm

    Good editorial. There's too much venom in the ranks of the extremes on both sides, unfortunately, and a dearth of reasoned, adult debate about the issues on the merits, rather than expressions of personal animus. The students who leapt on the stage and assaulted the speaker and his people (breaking the gentleman's glasses, I believe) should have been arrested for assault and battery. One other thing: the "news" programs here in NY described the Minutemen program as "anti-immigration." Way to throw gasoline on the fire, folks! They're actually anti- ILLEGAL immigration, as are the laws of the United States (remember them?).