Follow-up on Columbia Protests
I have received many comments on my article on the Columbia protests (in no small part due to its being picked up by RealClearPolitics.com, Yahoo News, and the Opinion Journal). Many of these comments were not posted on the site but mailed to me directly and some of them are worthy of public dissemination. I am not used to getting so many comments from people agreeing with me, especially self-described liberals. I suppose it shows that the Columbia students, much to their chagrin, do not represent all liberals.
In 1961 I matriculated at the University of Rochester as a member of NROTC under the Halloway Plan, which paid tuition, books, fees and $50/month. Combined with a Regents Scholarship I had all my college expenses covered. I basically accepted a four year (involuntarily extended to five year) active duty commitment as a Regular officer in the United States Navy to pay my college expenses. It beat waiting tables, and as an immigrant born in France under the Nazi heel, I doubt it ever crossed my mind to avoid military service anyway.
I also worked on the school paper. I was first a reporter, then copy editor, managing editor and finally editor-in-chief of The Campus Times, a paper in existence since 1850. My predecessor was fairly liberal, and my successor, picked at my urging, was very liberal. I happened not to be. There were almost predictably student demonstrations (no violence) protesting my election by the paper's other editors and board, on the grounds that a conservative had no right to run the university's student newspaper. Actually, I doubled the paper's size, made a profit which I turned over to the student government, and gave the Administration fits. Ten years later I went back to campus for a fundraiser and the Dean of the College, a man named Kenneth Clark, came up to me and said, "You know, I've wanted to tell you this for ten years. When you were here we hated you more than any other student in the history of the school. But after you left, we missed you, because we realized how responsible you had been."
That's the standard: responsible behavior regardless of your views in dealing with people of other viewpoints. And I'd say that liberals are failures in the parameter of tolerant behavior, and have been for half a century at least. Columbia may be a more prominent example, but it's common and longstanding.
New Paltz, NY
Comment #2, and my response to it
The thing missing from your excellent piece, as is missing from almost all the hand wringing essays, is that if you really want free speech on campus, as elsewhere, you have to be ready to fight for it. My experiences (CAL Berkeley) indicates that the left is quite willing and capable of turning out violent gangs. While there the student newspapers were burned (twice), the paper was shut down several times, and there were black guys galore who would punch out any lone speaker they didn't like. It's much worse now because Muslim thugs are allowed and encouraged to attack Jews and anyone else who disrespects Allah. The gutlessness of the "liberal" faculties is there for all to see.
interesting point. While I agree with you that we need to be ready to fight for it, I would argue that 1) it shouldn't be necessary and 2) those parts of government whose purpose is to prevent violence and enforce law (or indeed a private security force such as Columbia's) are paid to fight for it for us when the problem is on the scale of a single case like that.
Comment #3, and my response to it
Having read your opinion piece on Yahoo News, I can only say that,
while you are right to censor the students who charged the stage on
which the Minutemen were speaking last week, your blanket
condemnation of the university and its students is unwarranted. As
an alumnus and a legacy I should not have to tell you that the fact
your own ideological convictions, as well as those of your father,
managed to survive the institution, or perhaps be nurtured by it.
Likewise, the vast majority of students at Columbia today would
never think to participate in such a rash and ill-informed
activity, or its justification. Moreover, by isolating three
incidents over the last 46 years, you unfairly condemn Columbia to
a reputation that is wholly undeserved given substantial periods of
time unblemished by such protests. In short, you ought to know such
incidents are rare, and when they do occur, they are perpetrated by
a hardly representative minority of Columbia students.
Mr. Kaminsky, I am not certain what motive you would have to tar
your alma mater so unjustly. It does no service to your degree, nor
your father's, nor to the thousands of current Columbia students,
and hundreds of thousands of alumni, who are not inclined to
disrupt events in the name of politically-motivated misinformation
and unreasonable zeal. By relinquishing your donations to the
school wholesale, moreover, you choose to relinquish control over
the institution's direction. The university needs alumni like you
to place pressure on the administration not to tolerate such
behavior, and this cannot be achieved without working within the
framework of the university and its alumni societies.
I have spent hours over the past week trying to convince many from
across the United States that the protesters' behavior was not
representative of what most of Columbia is- and what Columbia can
be. I have done so because this school, more than any other
institution, has encouraged my intellectual curiosity and fulfilled
challenged my preconceptions. It has not, I believe, done this in
any way that can be objectly described in terms of one political
coloring or another, though, if anything, the experience of taking
CC has actually made me more conservative, and the actions of
groups such as those to which the protesters belong have alienated
many of my friends from even center-leftist causes. One cannot
expect much when we are typecast by the likes of Bill O'Reilly, but
I urge you not to let bad memories overcome what must surely have
been your experience of a far more complex university, or overcome
your understanding that it is surely a complex place today.
And my response:
Thanks (again) for your note. Since you took such an effort to give me your thoughts, I'll put some effort into my response.
While I only wrote about three incidents, that certainly doesn't mean that they were not representative of the school, its students, or its spineless politically-correct administration.
While such incidents might be "rare", they are most certainly not rare enough. How rare can an incident be if upon hearing it I and other Columbia (and graduates of other "liberal" colleges) uniformly respond with something like "that is just what I expect at my alma mater."?
You give me credit for more influence than I have when you say that I condemn Columbia to a bad reputation. No, Columbia has done that...repeatedly, for several generations. No amount of pontificating by a writer like me would be able to give Columbia a black eye if its students and administration were not already busy punching themselves in the face.
On to your second paragraph...
While I appreciate your zeal in acting as a semi-official fundraiser for Columbia, you have as little chance of getting me to donate to that anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-liberty institution as you would have in getting me to donate to Hamas or Al Sharpton or Hugo Chavez, all of whom could be described in those same terms. And, I suspect, all of whom would garner more support in a poll of Columbia students, professors, and administrators than would Thomas Jefferson, Ayn Rand, or, heaven forbid, the NRA.
You do not need me to pressure the administration any more than I am "needed" to pressure Hugo Chavez. Such pressure is impossible to apply and attempts are generally unnoticed. If anything, the best possible pressure I could apply to Columbia is the public announcement that my donations to an institution of higher education do not go to my own college. Withholding money, and trying to get others to do so, is in my view much more effective than giving money and then asking them to listen to me. I can hear their laughter now: "Hah, can you believe that libertarian/conservative Kaminsky actually objects to professors attacking Israel, or capitalism, or all dead white men? Who does he think he's talking to?"
I am glad that Columbia has been a good experience for you. The best part of my college experience was my short time on the football team...the people that the idiot leftists on campus thought were big dummies. They were the best people I met in my years at Columbia. As for the professors, I have a vivid memory of a Marxist history professor named Metzger whose class I audited one or two times while trying to decide whether to take it and whether to major in history. He talked me out of both by taking most of two classes (the course was "American History from the Revolution to the Civil War") talking about how Ronald Reagan was the incarnation of evil in this world, how everything we knew and cherished would come to an end because of Reagan (and his recognition of the Soviet Union for what it was.)
I had another teacher who essentially called me an idiot when I wanted to talk about "Atlas Shrugged" in class, as something relevant to the political philosophy we were discussing at the time.
I ran for office (and lost), with my posters having had "fascist" and "village idiot" scrawled all over them even though, as editor-in-chief of our short-lived conservative newspaper ("The Hamilton Report"), I spent most of my time keeping the really far-right stuff out of the paper (since I am much more a libertarian than a conservative.)
Bill O'Reilly has not typecast Columbia. Columbia has.
No, Christopher, I do not accept your statement that "a few bad memories" have colored my view of Columbia. It is what it is. It has been for a long time. Yes, it is possible to get a good education there, and maybe even to become more conservative than you were when you arrived (though I suspect your experience in that regard is an extreme rarity). But it is probably to get a head full of propaganda, left-wing mush, and hatred of all that has made America great. It is worth noting that being taught to hate what has made America great is not far removed from teaching you to hate yourself, your friends, your world (if you are American or an America-phile.)
I also note that I have received quite a few comments (some of which are on my web site) from people who went to other "good" schools who had almost the same experience. Columbia is clearly not alone in being a bastion of views that I view as repugnant, but sadly it is a leading vanguard in the service of those destructive and mindless views.
I urge you and all who went to schools which permit or encourage such behavior to withhold any financial support for those institutions. Would you pay the salaries of those who hate everything you stand for and everything you believe is true and valuable in this world? For me, the answer is an obvious and forceful NO.
Best of luck in the real world,
Comment #4, and my response to it
I was disappointed to read your letter to the editor in the Columbia Spectator this morning.
As a 2003 graduate of the College, I cannot tell you how wrong you are in your assumptions about the students at Columbia. More than ever, Columbia’s student body is politically moderate, tolerant of a range of political beliefs and respectful of speakers. I say this having read and studied the University’s past extensively, working as a research assistant for several years to the author of the most recent Columbia history.
Unfortunately, a small minority of very politically active students and writers give Columbia a bad name, especially because commentators such as yourself take the expedient route of assuming that those students represent the entire university. As I am sure you are aware, Columbia, like other universities, is a large institution with a very diverse student body that cannot possibly be defined in a few short sentences. Moreover, the articles and editorials that appear in the Spectator seldom represent true campus opinion and are often not even factually correct.
Perhaps you should spend some time on Columbia’s campus before rushing to judge today’s Columbia student body. I think that you will be surprised by what you find.
And my response:
As a graduate of the college as well (and also in financial markets) I think you miss the point to a degree.
While the number of students who actually take part in violent or aggressive protests may be a minority, it is not nearly as small a minority as it should be and the institution does not take nearly strong enough steps to protect free speech rights of unpopular speakers.
I'm glad you think that Columbia is not so bad, and I freely admit that not every aspect of it is rotten, but far too much is rotten for me to be able to support it in any way. To take an extreme example, only a small minority of people in 1940 Germany was a Nazi. Does that mean 1940 Germany deserved my approval?
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