At an anti-war “teach-in” this week, a Columbia University professor called for the defeat of American forces in Iraq and said he would like to see “a million Mogadishus” — a reference to the Somali city where American soldiers were ambushed, with 18 killed, in 1993. “The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military,” Nicholas De Genova, assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University told the audience at Low Library Wednesday night. “I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus.” The crowd was largely silent at the remark. They loudly applauded De Genova later when he said, “If we really believe that this war is criminal … then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine.” … [Teach-in organizer Eric] Foner said that because of the university’s tradition of freedom of speech, it was unlikely De Genova would suffer professionally in any way because of what he said. “A person’s politics have no impact on their employment status here, whether they are promoted, whether they are fired or whether they get tenure,” Foner said. [Newsday, 3/27/03]

Foner’s last comment is presumably said as if it were a good thing, but what it actually reveals is that universities today are powerless to put an end to dishonesty and intellectual malpractice within their ranks. True freedom does not require anyone to provide a platform for anyone else; it leaves people free to boycott or withdraw their support from those they disagree with. Freedom of speech means that force cannot be used to stop you from expressing your views, not that you have a right to other people’s resources in doing so. The idea of “academic freedom” means that academics should be permitted to be intellectually irresponsible and that no one should be allowed to do anything about it. This is one big reason why our universities are such centers of dishonesty today–and they will remain that way, until the public wakes up and stops supporting them.

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