March 29, 2003

AN EDITOR OF THE COLUMBIA POLITICAL REVIEW, which has an interesting group blog that I don’t think I’ve seen before, is distancing himself from Prof. Nicholas De Genova’s remark that he’d like to see the United States lose in Iraq to the tune of a “million Mogadishus.” What’s interesting, though, is that the real anger is reserved for Nader supporters.

This post from the same blog, however, betrays muddled thinking, or at least writing:

It’s amazing to me how quickly conservatives forget the first amendment when attacking their ideological opponents but cling to it staunchly whenever a conservative academic makes remarks that draw criticism. DeGenova may not be an enlightened political thinker (his comments were both ridiculously inflammatory and uninformed, and are worthy of much criticism), but the day Columbia starts making hiring and firing decisions based on a person’s politics is not a day we should look forward to.

“The First Amendment” is not actually a synonym for “free speech,” which is what the writer here presumably actually means. Not being the government, Columbia isn’t directly bound by the First Amendment. But principles of free speech should bar firing De Genova — though as someone else commented, it’s doubtful that Columbia would be as enthusiastic about De Genova’s free speech rights if he had called for “a million Matthew Shepards.”

And as for the part about dreading the day when politics start affecting Columbia’s hiring and firing decisions, well, the most charitable thing I can say is that it reveals a charming naivete.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Actually, Columbia’s President is wrong. Columbia U. does not protect free speech. They have a draconian hate speech code that prohibits hate speech on campus. So it seems that by their own rules, they SHOULD fire De Genova for what he SAID (just as they could legally punish anyone who called for a million matthew sheperds). I’d love it if someone put this question to Bollinger.

Interesting. I’m not very familiar with Columbia’s speech code. Neither, I’d bet, is Columbia’s President, Lee Bollinger, who is a pro-free-speech guy, generally.