As is surely common knowledge to everyone by now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will be speaking on campus this Monday, September 24 th 2007. We believe that this presents an incredible opportunity for the student body to learn about world affairs and to challenge a major controversial figure. In a university setting, no view is too disreputable to be excluded - the goal of a university is to hear and present a wide array of opinions so that they may be challenged and debated in the spirit of free speech and the pursuit of knowledge.
We are disturbed, however, by the extremely short notice given for this event. It should be obvious to anyone that this is an event that will generate a strong reaction from the student body. How can we adequately prepare ourselves in four days for the insightful and productive debate that this event should elicit on campus? How can students who wish to protest successfully organize and plan in four days when demonstrations on campus require a minimum of seven days advance notice for security review? How can students who actually care and want to learn and attend the event if registration is closed before the event is even officially announced?
We understand the University's hesitation to announce earlier, since President Ahmadinejad had not accepted the invitation until Wednesday. But, in an event as controversial as this, the needs of the students should take precedence. The student body should have been informed as soon as the invitation had been extended. Even if the invitation had been declined, students would have begun the debate that the event was originally meant to inspire. To keep information like this from the students actively stifles debate.
As President Bollinger said in his Statement yesterday, "Columbia, as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas—to understand the world as it is and as it might be. To fulfill this mission we must respect and defend the rights of our schools, our deans, and our faculty to create programming for academic purposes. ... We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the powers of dialogue and reason." As student leaders we agree with this statement. For this ideal to be recognized, however, we need to allow real student participation. The entire campus community must have the opportunity to actively engage President Ahmadinejad in order to achieve true academic freedom and discussion.
In recent years, criticism surrounding the administration's handling of major speakers has been prevalent both on and off campus. Let us use this event as an opportunity to improve the process and guarantee student involvement so that we can achieve the high level of academic discourse that this campus deserves.
Paula Cheng, President of ABC
Michelle Diamond, President of CCSC
Chris Kulawk, President of The College Republicans
+ several others (the signature list was incomplete)