I don’t think there is anything that I hate more than sanctimoniousness and there was plenty of it on display when Lee Bollinger’s sandbagged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday. As the NY Times reported, “Mr. Bollinger praised himself and Columbia for showing they believed in freedom of speech by inviting the Iranian president, then continued his attack.” Bollinger was also praised by the ultraright media, starting with Rush Limbaugh:
Rah-rah, way to go! I apologize for being critical of you, Mr. Bollinger. I really do. But, on the other hand, where’s this been for five years?
One can only wonder whether Columbia University’s moral compass has been broken in years past since its aversion to evil dictators seems to be rather selective.
In 1933, Hans Luther, the German Ambassador to the United States, was the featured speaker at the Institute of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University. As he began to speak, a woman in the audience called out “Why did they burn the homes of exiled professors?” The NY Times reported that an usher and a cop pounced on her at the same time and dragged her out. Another two protesters were subsequently removed from the audience. After Luther finished his remarks, Russell Potter, the head of the institute, denounced them as “ill-mannered children.”
President Nicholas Murray Butler: did not care about Nazi official’s views
Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University, was even more outspoken in his support of Hans Luther. After he learned of campus unhappiness with the invitation extended to the Nazi official, he made clear his determination to ignore it. He never would have dreamed of insulting Luther in the manner that Bollinger insulted Ahmadinejad. In an excellent paper titled “Complicity and Conflict: Columbia University’s Response to Fascism, 1933–1937“, U. of Oklahoma professor Stephen H. Norwood details Butler’s deference toward the Nazi official:
Dismissing the student criticism, President Butler indicated that he held Ambassador Luther in high esteem. He declared that Luther “is the official diplomatic representative to the Government of the United States on the part of the government of a friendly people,” and was entitled to “the greatest courtesy and respect.” Butler announced that the Nazi ambassador was a “gentleman,” and that Columbia would provide him with “a welcome appropriate to his distinguished position.” He was pleased to receive any guest like Ambassador Luther who was “intelligent, honest, and well-mannered”; he did not care what his views were.
When protestors attempted to pass out leaflets in front of the building where the Nazi ambassador was holding forth, the university had them arrested. So much for free speech. As might be expected, the NY Times was most deferential to Luther’s boss Adolph Hitler, who was described as saying that the differences between Poland and Germany were “not important enough to justify the shedding of blood.” Then as now you could always count on the newspaper of record for its probing analysis.
Perhaps you can excuse the university since the Nazi regime had not yet descended into the kind of murderous behavior that it became associated with later on. But by 1936 there could be no confusion. The labor movement and all opposition parties had been smashed and thousands of opponents of the regime had been imprisoned or executed. The moral stink of the Nazi regime was by then too rank to ignore.
Evidently the stink was not that great to persuade the university to turn down a 1936 invitation to help the Nazis celebrate the 550th anniversary of the University of Heidleberg, an event that the Columbia University teacher’s union and the Columbia Spectator strongly opposed. British universities were in the forefront of opposing this celebration, with Oxford and Cambridge turning the Nazis down. Unlike Columbia University, they couldn’t stomach the declaration of Berhard Rust, the German Minister of Education, that “It is the duty of the National Socialist student to create a National Socialist university.”
I can imagine that Professor Arthur Remy, who was chosen to represent Columbia, must have had a swell time at this bash. On June 27th he and a bunch of other professors from upstanding institutions like Cornell, Vassar, Yale and U. of Michigan did have to listen to a bunch of Nazi bigwigs, a small price to pay for all the Gemulichkeit. The April 28 NY Times reported:
Despite assertions made here that the event would have purely academic local significance, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi functionaries will be among the most prominent hosts to the scholars and scientists who have been invited to represent the universities of the world.
Something tells me that Columbia’s Arthur Remy didn’t create a scene in the audience like the woman who wanted to know “Why did they burn the homes of exiled professors?”
Not everybody at Columbia was so mature and so restrained as Arthur Remy. Robert Burke of Youngstown, Ohio, who was the Junior President-Elect of the Columbia student body, was advised by the administration that it would be “in the best interests of all” that he not register for the Fall term, according to the June 29 NY Times. His crime was “taking part in a demonstration on May 12 at the home of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University.” The students were protesting the university’s decision to go to Heidleberg. Burke, who was an amateur boxer and extremely popular on campus, crossed the line when he ruined President Murray’s alumni gathering. Dean Herbert E. Hawkes told the Times, “The demonstration on this occasion employed insulting, obscene and profane language and even invaded the foyer of the president’s home while he was entertaining at dinner the surviving members of the class of 1881.”
Without a doubt, Robert Burke was far too good for the likes of Murray Butler. Turning once again to Stephen H. Norwood, we learn:
President Butler, Dean Hawkes, and other Columbia administrators were personally uncomfortable with Burke, a “rugged face[d]” Irish-American from Youngstown, Ohio, who was working his way through Columbia. Burke had become a leader of the radical American Student Union (ASU) on campus, and in March 1936 had led a picket line of Columbia students to support striking building service workers employed by the university. Former Spectator editor-in-chief James A. Wechsler noted that Dean Hawkes “always lamented” that Burke’s “manners were not sufficiently elegant.”
Burke had struggled to earn his Columbia tuition, working in Youngstown for two years as a truck driver and for one year in a steel mill before he had saved enough to enroll. Burke had developed into a tough amateur boxer good enough to win New York’s Golden Gloves middleweight final, and he earned money at Columbia teaching young men to box. Almost alone among Columbia’s athletes, he became active in the movement to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He often worked thirty hours a week outside of class to pay his tuition, “roam[ing] through every conceivable job which promised a dollar or a meal.” He washed dogs, and even sold his blood.
The administration considered Burke’s apparently exemplary academic performance irrelevant in expelling him. President Butler insisted that the university was under no contractual obligation to give a diploma for “achievement and excellence” if it disapproved of a person “for any reason whatsoever.”
After Nazi Germany became an official enemy of the US, it would have been inappropriate to send somebody to a gathering such as this. As should be obvious from Lee Bollinger’s talking points about Iran killing US troops in Iraq, it is imperative to not stray too far from foreign policy imperatives about which the ruling class is united. Today, unfortunately, the consensus across the political spectrum is that Iran needs to be taught a lesson. The difference is only how severe that lesson should be.
When Bollinger told Ahmadinejad that he exhibited “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” the Iranian president might have wondered whether great and cruel dictators are judged by a different yardstick at the university. After all, the Shah of Iran was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree only two years after the CIA organized a coup to overthrow Mossadegh. By any measure, the Shah was one of the most horrible dictators of the post-WWII period. One supposes that as long as he was on the State Department’s A list, Columbia University would be happy to put down the red carpet for the torturing beast.
President Grayson Kirk: enjoyed cozy relations with the CIA
Columbia University certainly had the right connections to recognize major talents like the Shah when it came to bestowing honors. In 1968, Columbia students published an eye-opening pamphlet titled “Who Rules Columbia” that established the university’s institutional connections to the CIA, especially with the Asia Foundation:
The Asia Foundation has received much if not all of its financial support from the CIA. It has a budget of about $7 million a year to provide “private American assistance to those Asian groups and individuals working for continued social and economic improvement.” The foundation has resident representatives in 14 Asian countries, with American offices in New York and San Francisco. At various times, representatives have been kicked out of Cambodia, Indonesia and more recently, India, reputedly for their various intelligence activities.
The person who makes the link between the Asia Foundation and Columbia is Grayson Kirk, president of the University. Kirk has been on the board of the Foundation for many years, and is one of its most influential trustees. In 1962, when Robert Blum, president of the Foundation, resigned, Kirk was appointed Chairman of the Nominating Committee of the Trustees, whose purpose was to select a new president. In his search for suitable candidates for this position, Kirk sought the advice and suggestions of Dean Rusk and Averell Harriman, a move which indicates the importance of the Foundation. He also encouraged recommendations from George S. Moore, President of the First National City Bank of New York, and A.L. Nickerson, Chairman of the Board of Socony Mobil Oil Company, Inc., concerning members of the bank and of Socony Mobil, which had experience in Asian affairs. One man who was proposed as a possible choice was Robert Amory, but Kirk himself is reported to have feared that he might bring embarrassment to the Asia Foundation. From 1952-1962, Amory was Deputy Director of the CIA.
The relationship between the Asia Foundation and Columbia is a reciprocal one. Since at least 1961, the Foundation has given grants to Columbia’s School of Journalism, recently financing the Japanese Science Writers’ Project and Fellowships for Asiatic Journalists. Grayson Kirk’s long and intimate association with the Asia Foundation suggests what an able and prominent supporter of the CIA this university president really is. It follows that many of his administrative decisions as President of Columbia University have also reflected the interests, priorities and concerns of the CIA. Certainly such decisions would not infringe on these concerns. Consider Kirk’s attitude toward the NSA (National Student Association)-CIA exposure: “One shouldn’t jump to conclusions that the people in these organizations were being used as spies.” The money was donated “more for propaganda purposes than for anything else.” Kirk’s only complaint about the CIA’s funding of non-governmental organizations was that “a certain amount of this seems to have been handled clumsily by people in Washington.”
Maybe one day we’ll find out the extent of Columbia University’s present day connections with government agencies, both covert and overt. As the drums for war beat louder and louder, it will be increasingly necessary for an isolated and discredited Bush administration to rely on ostensibly liberal and humanitarian figures, such as Ivy League presidents.
Just as the student protests of 1968 led to the unearthing of secret documents that revealed such ties, it is entirely possible that continued anger over the war in Iraq and future war with Iran might propel the students of today toward bolder actions that might put them in the proud tradition of people like Robert Burke.