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Columbia Students Petition Against President’s Remarks

Posted by vmsalama on September 28, 2007

An e-petition is circulating among Columbia Students calling for the university’s President Lee Bollinger to explain and apologize for his blistering introductory remarks to a forum featuring Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the petition (see full text below), students insist Bollinger “disgraced the spirit of academic exchange and diplomacy that our institution promotes.” 

They also explain that the comments limited their ability to benefit from such a rare opportunity, adding “it is particularly distressing that [Bollinger’s] inflammatory words were delivered at a time when dialogue with Iran is of the utmost importance in an effort to forestall war.”

The students are right.  As a fellow Columbian, I was shocked at the nature of the introduction.  I believe that while politics is a driving force in our society, it should be left outside the doors of such a forum which claims to promote open academic discourse.

For more, click here to read my article on the Washingtonpost.com news forum PostGlobal – “Columbia Students and Iranian Academics Respond to Bolinger.”

See below to read the entire petition written by Columbia students:


October 1, 2007

Dear President Bollinger:

We, the undersigned students of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, express our deep concern over the nature of your recent introductory remarks addressing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As members of the school that hosted this event, we believe that you disgraced the spirit of academic exchange and diplomacy that our institution promotes. The World Leaders Forum, created to enable the Columbia community to “examine global challenges and explore cultural perspectives,” is an important platform for students to engage with divergent and pressing worldviews. Your remarks limited our ability to fully benefit from this opportunity. It is particularly distressing that your inflammatory words were delivered at a time when dialogue with Iran is of the utmost importance in an effort to forestall war.

In the past Columbia has welcomed many world leaders of all political stripes while maintaining proper decorum. But by introducing Columbia’s invited guest, the president of a sovereign nation, with disparaging and invidious language, you have done a disservice to our academic community.

As you stressed in countless announcements preceding the event, Columbia is a university committed to free speech and academic freedom. President Bollinger, when you speak in the name of Columbia University at an event sponsored by our school, we expect you to speak on all of our behalf. It is our concern that your disrespectful language was delivered primarily to appease certain individuals and groups at the expense of vigorous intellectual discourse.

We feel our values were grossly misrepresented and that SIPA’s reputation as a training ground for public servants has been tarnished. As future diplomats we will undoubtedly be tasked with repairing damage that remarks like yours cause.

We the undersigned represent people of many countries, creeds and political views. Despite our differences, we all agree that you must explain and make amends for your unfortunate actions. We call on you to hold a forum to explain these actions to our SIPA community and account for your statements.

We look forward to working with you to bring a dignified resolution to this issue.



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