- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

Columbia University’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at the Ivy League school’s New York City campus tomorrow is a “disgrace,” says conservative author David Horowitz, a Columbia alumnus.

“Why are they inviting the Persian Hitler to Columbia?” Mr. Horowitz said in a telephone interview with The Washington Times. “It’s a disgrace. … What Columbia is doing is giving moral support to genocide, and as an alumni, I am deeply ashamed.”

The debate over extending speaking invitations to controversial public figures is fairly new. In the 1960s, there were campus protests over inviting members of the American Nazi Party and radical groups espousing violence. Today, the backdrop is often the contentious politics of the post-September 11 Middle East.

At Columbia, more than 800 students have joined an online group organizing a protest against the appearance by the Iranian president, who has called for the destruction of Israel.

University President Lee Bollinger has said the Ahmadinejad invitation is in keeping with “Columbia’s long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate.”

Naming a list of current and former Bush administration officials, Mr. Horowitz said, “Just ask yourself … do you think any of those people would be invited to Columbia by the president of the university under the pretext of a ‘robust debate?’ ”

Mr. Horowitz, the author of more than 20 books, said he’s never been invited to lecture at Columbia, “certainly not by Lee Bollinger.”

Currently promoting the paperback edition of his book “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” Mr. Horowitz said: “There are nine professors from Columbia in my book — that should tell you something. No other university has more than about three.”

Columbia’s invitation to Mr. Ahmadinejad is an example of the current climate at America’s universities, he said.

“It shows that these people do not appreciate that we’re in a war,” said Mr. Horowitz, who has promoted legislation and organized a campus group, Students for Academic Freedom, to “end political abuse” at universities. “The curriculum today teaches students to be sympathetic to our enemies.”

The disputes about controversial speaking invitations are usually closely followed by blogs on all sides, whose readers deluge colleges with e-mails. Many schools resolve to endure the bad publicity (and potential fundraising hit) and try to create a “teachable moment.” Others have canceled or rescinded invitations, citing security concerns or a lack of “balance.”

Hamilton College in New York canceled a talk by Ward Churchill, who had called September 11 victims “little Eichmanns,” after receiving threats.

Other controversial speakers have faced opposition less from administrators than from attendees.

At Yale, for instance, speakers such as neoconservative scholar Daniel Pipes and Israel critic Norman Finkelstein have been greeted with campus protests.

While Columbia is going ahead with its plans to host Mr. Ahmadinejad, the University of California rescinded its invitation to another prominent figure — former Harvard President Lawrence Summers.

Mr. Summers, who drew worldwide attention for his comments that biological differences may partly explain the dearth of women among the very highest achieving scientists, was supposed to speak about pursuing academic excellence to university chancellors and the UC system’s board of regents at an informal dinner last week. But the invitation angered some faculty at UC’s Davis campus, who circulated a petition opposing Mr. Summers’ visit and collected more than 300 signatures.

“Inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the University community and to the people of California,” the petition reads.

A few days before the dinner, the invitation was rescinded, Mr. Summers said.

“I was looking forward to speaking and exchanging views with the regents on a wide range of higher-education issues,” he told the Associated Press yesterday. “I talk frequently with groups involved with higher education and find I always learn from the exchange of views. I am sorry the regents do not feel the same way.”

UC spokesman Trey Davis said he could not say why board chairman Richard Blum decided to invite another speaker. He said Mr. Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Horowitz is looking forward to his next campus project, Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, which is scheduled for Oct. 22-26.

“I wish [Mr. Ahmadinejad] would have come [to the United States] during Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” he said, “because then we could have used him as Exhibit A.”

Associated Press writer Justin Pope contributed to this article.

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