Monday, February 21, 2011

Theft in Morningside Heights: "Respectful Debate" Stolen From Some Columbia University Syllabi?

I have always held Columbia University and its offerings in high regard.  Among other factors, its professors are a 'who's who' of talk shows and bookshelves, and the speakers it attracts are world-renowned. 

So, when I had the chance to take two courses from a professor there, naturally, I jumped at it.  I greeted seeing the former President of Latvia and Founder of Doctors Without Borders speak there and being invited to speak at an AIDS conference there with the same enthusiasm.  Finally, I was highly-disappointed when I was not chosen for a job there. 

But, after today's reports of some students at a town hall meeting debating the return of the ROTC to Columbia's campus, heckling, laughing at and calling injured, decorated Iraq war veteran, Anthony Maschek, a racist, this prestigious university has stumbled a few steps down my respect ladder. 

Before I can comment further, I can't help but ask the obvious: "racist"?  Really?  You're going to bring that overwrought-since-Obama's-election topic of race into a debate about ROTC possibly returning to a university campus, too?  Okay, now we can continue.  

Not that the actions of a handful of individuals are representative of an entire student body.  (For example, I would never seat my friend, who is currently a graduate student there, among this jeering gallery.  Nor, would I count my professor among them either.) 

But, it does make you wonder if some of Columbia's professors have forgotten to include one of the main goals of a university education on their syllabi.  I mean, of course, the following set of small skills: learning to clearly express one's opinion, responding thoughtfully to challenges to that opinion, and listening to, then respectfully debating he or she who may hold a different point of view from your own.  

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