You Can Take the Boy out of Berkeley...
I Try to Get Out, but They Keep Pulling Me Back In

Ugh. The news at Columbia, of late, involves an East Coast version of a story that I saw play out half a dozen times while I was at Berkeley.

In brief: The College Republicans invited a controversial speaker (in this case, Jim Gilchrist, the leader of the Minute Men). Various student groups, including but not limited to the National Lawyer's Guild and the Latino/a American Law Student Association, showed up to protest. There was picketing outside. Gilchrist had security protecting him. Gilchrist got inside, got up to speak, and, before he finished his first sentence, a group of students leapt onto the stage with a big banner expressing their distaste at Gilchrist's presence. After this a group of about 20 more students swarmed onto the stage with Gilchrist and shouted him down. Things got fuzzy and a brawl ensued. Nobody's exactly certain who threw the first punch, whether it was the protestors or Gilchrist's security.

Now we're going through the long, painful process where the Columbia administration attempts to ham-handedly put the protestors up for trial, the right-wing students get to posture and preen for Fox News and Bill O'Reilly, and the various left-wing student groups angrily denounce the administration.

I don't much care who's right and wrong here (though, frankly, everyone's acquitted themselves pretty pooly). I've come to expect undergraduate activist groups to act like children. Still, I had hoped that by the time they got to law school people would have grown out of it. Sadly, though, the Federalist Society, the National Lawyer's Guild, LALSA, and the others involved shot that hope to hell.

To make clear the reason for my annoyance: The Federalist Society, in inviting Gilchrist, was performing the student group equivalent of the "Does this bug you? I'm not touching you!" thing that one sibling does to another so that the other sibling will lash out, incurring parental wrath. The NLG and LALSA, seeing an opportunity for publicity and operating on the theory that all publicity is good publicity, rather publicly planned to intimidate Gilchrist off of the stage. The entire event was staged as protest theater so that a bunch of students would be disciplined and could be made martyrs of.

Moreover, the left-wing group's behavior was not only immature, it was counterproductive. Does anyone remember David Horowitz? The anti-education, anti-affirmative action guy who caused a number of conflicts remarkably similar to this one at Berkeley? He was astoundingly popular in right-wing circles and got a lot of media attention a few years back. And the entire reason he became a public persona is because left-wing student groups decided that the best way to deal with him was through physical intimidation. When student groups stopped paying attention, he faded away. Jim Gilchrist could not have dreamed of better publicity than getting attacked by a gang of angry left-wing New York City Ivy-League intellectual students. And the net result of the whole thing is that the pro-immigration groups look like a bunch of strong-arm thugs, while the actual, honest-to-goodness thug gets to be a martyr for free speech.

It is often said (by Berkeley tour guides) that Berkeley is the Athens of the Pacific. Apparently Columbia is the Berkeley of the Atlantic.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on October 11, 2006 10:56 PM.

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