A somewhat serious post, for a change.
In response to the recent article entitled, "Too Controversial for Columbia", posted on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, I have composed this open letter to its author, Ross Kaminsky. I know I should have written this earlier -- like the day it was published -- but to my defense, it was my birthday, and I had some important birthday obligations to attend. Like drinking until I puked. (And the rest of the week has been spent recovering.)
Anyways, I will be sending this comment to his blog as well, thus making it, I suppose, not a true open letter. But still...
An Open Letter to Mr. Ross Kaminsky, or: Too Controversial for A Lot of Places
Dear Mr. Kaminsky,
I was forwarded your recent article regarding the Columbia protests by a friend of mine. Having read your article and your responses to the comments you have received on your blog, I am not misguided enough to think that I can change your mind about your article or your opinions of your alma mater. Furthermore, I fully realize conversations and correspondences like these fall dangerously close to that realm I hate — "intellectual masturbation". Those awful self-consciouses established, I still feel compelled to write you personally.
Mr. Kaminsky, you are absolutely right that the offending students should be admonished. They were misguided, obtuse, and to put it simply, wrong. That said, however, I must contest your grouping all Columbia students together as "radical leftists". Perhaps the university is indeed a hotbed for such activity, as you would have us believe. I cannot say with any veracity either way for I have only been spent two months so far at the school. Regardless, I feel you are off target when it comes to asserting that "a remarkable thing about liberals (or, at Columbia, outright leftists) in free societies: They are far more intolerant than conservatives." I say this at the risk of generalizing myself, Mr. Kaminsky, and I intend no disrepect, but have you ever been to the South?
As a current Columbia graduate student and an alumnus from Clemson University, a large public university in Clemson, SC, I have had the opportunity to view student activity from both sides of the political coin. At Clemson University, like nearly all large public universities in the South, conservative views hold the minds of the majority in the same degree liberal ones prevail at Columbia. The only difference, I posit, is due to Columbia’s status as an Ivy League school located in New York, America’s largest city and media center. The following examples, while not explicitly related to the Columbia protest, hopefully serve to elucidate my point:
Earlier this year Clemson’s conservative student newspaper held a raffle for an AK-47, an event whose sole function, arguably, was to enflame. When the inevitable protests came from groups around campus, the newspaper fell back on a kind derivation of the freedom of speech argument, even though the raffle had little to do with speech, or really freedom, other than to own an automatic assault rifle. In 2005 the editor-in-chief of the same student newspaper held a faux anti-war rally. Holding the protest while disguised in a black ski-mask, wearing an orange “Cuba” t-shirt, the student stood at a microphone making half-baked arguments he deemed to be stereotypically “anti-war”, and the protest was little more than an attempt to mock and villainize liberal protestors. Neither of these protests did anything to further discussion, and the stories were only reported in the local news, not nationally. Still, while these incidents at Clemson were fundamentally different on several levels, what these incidents illustrate is that on college campuses regardless of their political views, there is a similar desire not only to protest, but to act proactively to display one’s point of view and to denigrate another’s.
These kinds of incidents are isolated, certainly, and no more indicative of Clemson’s student majority nor its administration anymore than Columbia’s. The only difference I see is that at Columbia there is less political apathy, and because of that, when there is some fiery idea for protest, there is more kindling for the fire and more smoke to be generated.
Perhaps you could say that there is more hypocrisy present in “radical leftists” in that they are, generally viewed as proponents of free speech. Perhaps you could even go further to say that it is most disappointing that these so-called "liberals" would not see the fallacy of their protest. But to say that they are any less tolerant of opposing views than a radical conservative on a college campus — or any place where radical conservatism resides — is simply erroneous. Both parties are just as full of so-called “radical” anti-free speech proponents as the other.
In conclusion, Mr. Kaminsky, I applaud for your public condemnation of those students. But shame on you for blanketing all liberals, particularly Columbia students. I know you are better educated than to just throw around blanket statements like that — after all, you have a pretty decent degree from a pretty decent school.
(Special tanks to E at MUSC for linking this to me.)