Columbia President Passes Buck on Noose Incident

By Malena Amusa Oct 12, 2007

The president of Columbia University Lee C. Bollinger is trying to distance Columbia from its graduate Teacher’s College where the recent noose hanging outside a Black professor’s office took place. In a letter to campus, he wrote:

"As most of you now know, a terrible incident of bias occurred at Teachers College yesterday, directed at a member of the faculty. Teachers College is a cherished affiliate of Columbia University with its own president, Susan Fuhrman, to whom I have offered our support and assistance. We may be two independent institutions, but we are one community; and we stand together in our commitment to oppose the frightening sentiments that lay behind this act."

Here, Bollinger hesitates to totally embrace the Teacher’s College because he calls it an "affiliate." But the Teacher’s College is a graduate program of Columbia, as much as the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism I attend. Further, his letter is a careful condemnation that reads so cautiously, it doesn’t come close to calling event what it is: an atrocious act of pedestrian racism. So why is Bollinger calling this a "bias incident? No where in the letter does he marry the words "hate" and "crime." Does he know his referencing the threat of a lynching as "sentiments" is a naive understatement? My guess is after Iran’s president controversial visit to Columbia two weeks ago, Bollinger is struggling to keep his hands clear of the left. With right wingers boasting cutting funds to Columbia, Bollinger is so obviously reluctant to fight using any progressive rhetoric. But in this, Bollinger is messing up left and right. With the noose hanging, he’s holding back too much and missing an opportunity to join a booming civil rights movement. And with Iran he said too much. During the meeting with Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bollinger’s so-called free-speech forum was undermined by his American exceptionalism and lack of critical self-reflection. Bollinger was right to call out the Holocaust denier on his egregious gender and policy record. But to save words like "cruel and petty dictator," just for Iran rings of a sad inattention to American politics that, though different from Iran’s, have in common: rogue patriarchal order, dubious laws against gays and lesbians, and overall, unfortunate attempts to deny others self-determination.