Since news broke about the Columbia University College Republicans' intention to invite Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist to campus, much of the controversy has been over issues of freedom of speech rather than the immigration issues Gilchrist is better known for. As quoted in a recent Spectator article ("Gilchrist wants to return to Columbia," Jan. 27), CUCR President William Prasifka has stated that the purpose of Gilchrist's visit would be "to discuss academic freedom and the freedom of the University." As Gilchrist's last visit resulted in the audience storming his stage, even the prospect of his appearance is worth comment. Given Columbia's record of inviting dictators and alleged human rights violators—such as Meles Zenawi and Milorad Dodik—to campus, Gilchrist hardly stands out as especially controversial. Both precedent and Columbia's dedication to academic freedom should allow Gilchrist's potential visit to proceed and it is encouraging to see that neither the Columbia University College Democrats nor the Columbia Political Union has expressed objections. Columbia's institutional support and longtime dedication to academic freedom should preclude nobody—regardless of his views—from coming to campus and fostering dialogue. Extending an invitation is not an endorsement of the invitee's opinions and Columbia's reaction to previous speakers—such as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—shows that it is cognizant of this. CUCR is entirely within its rights to invite a public figure for discussion in an open arena and no group or individual should stop it from doing so. As a student group, it should have autonomy over what it chooses to do and how it chooses to do it. While CUCR receives funding from the University, it should be largely free to dispose of that funding however it wishes. While CUCR was entirely within its rights to invite Gilchrist, we question whether the decision to invite him was a good one. Given that Gilchrist's main area of concern is immigration, it is odd to see that CUCR seems to be focused on freedom of speech and freedom of the University during his visit. Understandably, this has led to questions about CUCR's intentions behind inviting the Minuteman Project founder. Taking into account that CUCR is expecting to spend around $2,500 on Gilchrist's yet to be finalized appearance, we have to wonder if it is causing controversy for controversy's sake. Gilchrist's potential invitation has already attracted significant attention to the subject of academic freedom. Yet given the University's penchant for regularly inviting controversial figures to campus, we doubt that the extra attention is necessary or warranted. While we reaffirm that CUCR has the right to invite Gilchrist and that he has a right to speak on campus, we use only our powers of persuasion to suggest that others might be more convincing.
Columbia Spectator Staff