Was Columbia president Lee Bollinger actually taking his cues from NYU president John Sexton when he decided how and why to host Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a speaker? It seems like that might have been the case and that Bollinger’s much-abused decision to host the Iranian leader would have been the same had it been made by Sexton. Ooh, geek synergy! In a November 2004 speech, Sexton outlined the exact protocol that should be addressed when inviting a controversial guest. “It is hard to make a case that the university’s sacred space should be available to the likes of a bin Laden or a Hitler,” Sexton said then, arguing that bin Laden and Hitler’s disrespect for freedom, safety, and open dialogue should prevent them from taking advantage of a university’s adherence to those exact values. But Sexton, who has been accused of censorship himself, outlines how and why an exception should be made to that rule.
“This is not to say that Hitler, bin Laden, or a racist may never appear on campus — there may be circumstances where they might be invited — not because that person has a claim to be there, but because a judgment has been made that the space can be used to expose him or her for what they really are,” Sexton explained. Based on his logic, if there is an opportunity to confront a controversial guest, it makes it okay. Sexton specifically suggests matching time for questions and the inclusion of comments from a university president himself if they’re based upon the consensus of campus opinion. He also insists that if a controversial guest is invited to campus, his presentation should be open only to members of the university community. And lo and behold, Columbia’s prez decided to go abide by all of those rules! It’s a very slick move, using Sexton’s thinking to justify his own actions. Though, it makes you wonder: If Sexton took all the time to think this out, why isn’t Ahmadinejad speaking at NYU?