As widely reported, a university dean, John Coatsworth, defended the campus’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by saying that Columbia would have offered Hitler an opportunity to speak.
In a rich essay, Bret Stephens imagines “debate” (Coatsworth’s word) with the Fuhrer at Columbia:
So there is Adolf Hitler on our imagined stage, ranting about the soon-to-be-fulfilled destiny of the Aryan race. And his audience of outstanding Columbia men are mostly appalled, as they should be. But they are also engrossed, and curious, and if it occurs to some of them that the man should be arrested on the spot they don’t say it. Nor do they ask, “How will we come to terms with his world?” Instead, they wonder how to make him see “reason,” as reasonable people do.
Coda to Stephens’s scenario:
In just a few years, some of these men will be rushing a beach at Normandy or caught in a firefight in the Ardennes. And the fact that their ideas were finer and better than Hitler’s will have done nothing to keep them and millions of their countrymen from harm, and nothing to get them out of its way.
I for one doubt that Coatsworth and his confreres believed for a second they could reason with Ahmadinejad, and it is irrelevant whether they are committed, personally, to reason. Rather, often out of self-interest, such administrators spin hard to avoid a messy conflict (votes of no confidence and the like) with faculty and students intent on having their way, no matter how unreasonable.
And forget petty considerations such as putting us in harm’s way.