Columbia In The Spotlight

Tony Maciulis is host of CBSNews.com's "Irregularly Scheduled Programming."
(AP Photo/Pool)
On "Irregularly Scheduled Programming," we cover the top few stories making waves online, the quirky news and videos that have people talking. They tend to be silly, irreverent, or just plain tacky.

Every so often the news in the mainstream and the most popular online topics are in lockstep, as they were today.

The top online video is a clip of the acting dean from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs on Fox News, defending the university's decision to bring Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad onto campus for a public forum.

As a graduate of Columbia, I've watched the events of the last couple of days with anticipation, and with mixed emotions.

As the faculty and administration defended the event in the face of some tough criticism, some students and activists took to the campus in protest to state their belief that Ahmadinejad should be turned away.

And the defense, the notion that a university should be a place for the free exchange of ideas seemed naïve. Is there no line that can't be crossed, no boundaries?

Critics on right leaning blogs like Little Green Footballs speculated that Columbia would open its doors to Ahmadinejad and shower him with liberal, East Coast guilt.

I feared it was a possibility.

Then, I watched the forum.

Lee Bollinger, Columbia's president, stood strong before his guest, saying that Ahmadinejad "exhibited all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." And the audience, filled largely with Columbia students, denounced and challenged his controversial positions on everything from the Holocaust to women's rights, but allowed him a chance to speak uninterrupted.

One standout moment happened when Iran's president was asked about his horrific record of abuses against gays and lesbians.

"In Iran, we do not have homosexuals," he said.

The Columbia audience, as anyone could predict, broke into uproarious laughter. He smiled. The hosts and their guest would not end up on the same page, but for a moment they may have been reading the same book.

I went to YouTube to take a look at some of the videos on the subject of his visit. I was surprised to see several of them taking the university's side, defending the right for a free exchange of ideas and discussing the responsibility to challenge dangerous thinking in a free environment like the Columbia campus.

Even President Bush responded today by saying it is a testament to the greatness of America that the doors could be opened to even Ahmadinejad.

And it is a testament to the strength of my alma mater that they did not cower in the face of opposition, or let emotion stand in the way of academic growth.
  • Tony Maciulis

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