Saturday, December 23, 2006

Columbia Free Speech Problems

Columbia President Lee Bollinger has made a statement on the student disruption of the Minuteman speech this fall. Unfortunately, there are many disturbing aspects to this letter. Bollinger claims, "The Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), however, strictly prohibits the University from divulging details of disciplinary proceedings, including the identities of participants." This is absolutely not true. FERPA might prohibit Columbia from identifying the students it is punishing (although I dispute even that), but it certainly allows Columbia to say how many students are being disciplined, under what provisions, and what the penalties are. It's important to know what these penalties are, to judge whether Columbia's penalties are too light or too severe.

Bollinger also declared that it will require "an express agreement in advance of any event--between the University, the sponsoring student group, and the speakers or groups--about how the events will be staged and who from outside the University will attend." This is very alarming, given Columbia's recent attempts to ban "outsiders" from student events. Students not only should be free to organize an event without any administrative approval, they should also be free to invite anyone to attend. Blaming "outsiders" for problems is a common tactic of administrators.

Also missing from Bollinger's statement (and previous statements) is a very basic principle: whenever a speech is disrupted, Columbia should attempt to restore order and continue the speech as soon as possible. If, for some reason, an event must be cancelled, Columbia's administration should commit to reschedule the speaker, and pay all expenses, as soon as possible. Bollinger's record as a free-speech defender has been severely tarnished in the past two years in a variety of cases too numerous to list here. This announcement doesn't restore any confidence in the state of intellectual freedom at Columbia.

No comments: