Victor Davis Hanson: The University Madhouse

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War." You can reach him by e-mailing]

Have American academics lost their collective minds?

This week, Columbia University allowed Iran's loony President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be a lecturer on its campus.

In the circus that followed, Ahmadinejad weighed in on everything from Israel to homosexuals, and came off, as expected, like a petty bigot. All the same, by his very presence on an Ivy League stage, Ahmadinejad showed the world that a top American university considers his odious views worth showcasing.

Ahmadinejad has denied the first Holocaust and all but promised a second one. His country's government is on its way to having a nuclear bomb, sends Iranian terrorists into Iraq to kill American soldiers and customarily jails journalists and expels politically active students from their universities. But all that apparently still earned Ahmadinejad his publicity coup -- and occasional applause from the Columbia audience.

Yet in this time of war, Columbia won't allow our own Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) on its campus.
One wonders whether Columbia would have invited Hitler as well. Don't laugh -- a foolish dean did indeed announce two days before Ahmadinejad's visit that he would have likewise invited the Nazi fuhrer to speak.

Along with a general lack of common sense -- and decency -- the powers that be at Columbia, for all their erudition, don't seem to understand the line between responsible debate and crass propaganda. But sadly they're not alone in failing to understand how free speech works in a free society, especially on university campuses....

[HNN Editor: Mr. Davis goes on to castigate Stanford professors for objecting to the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to a temporary post and UC professors for objecting to the lunch invitation to Larry Summers.]

Here's a simple tip to the clueless tenured class about why a Larry Summers or Donald Rumsfeld should be welcome to speak, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shunned: former Cabinet secretaries -- yes; homicidal dictators killing Americans -- no.

Finally, universities should be free of sin before casting ideological stones at others. There are enough self-inflicted problems on their own campuses to keep them busy -- from the declining skills of today's college students to skyrocketing tuition and exploitation of graduate students and part-time faculty. They needn't create more where they don't exist.

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Louis Nelson Proyect - 10/1/2007

William Mandel - 9/29/2007

I wrote as both one of the first two (simultaneous) senior fellows of the Hoover Institution (1947, by invitation of its then director, Prof. H. H Fisher)and as an individual with no degree (I have taught at six universities) thanks to expulsion from CCNY at age sixteen for opposition to ROTC on campus. That opposition is a good old American custom, as my experience 74 years ago shows. There is a strong anti-militarist tradition in this country, and a decent anti-horror tradition in our military. The latter is manifested by the very recent refual by Pentagon officials to permit a flight by a bomber carrying nukes in the Middle East, even though there was no intention to drop them. An accident would have been as bad as intentional release, or worse, because calling it an accident would have been laughed out of courtl