In October, I received an email from Aristotle Boosalis, the President of the Columbia University College Republicans, announcing an event featuring Herman Cain, a former candidate for the 2012 U.S. Republican Party presidential nomination. I ended up on the CUCR mailing list after directly emailing Mr. Boosalis with words of encouragement and my support for his desire to challenge Columbia University students into spirited debate by hosting events with controversial speakers like Mike Cernovich and Tommy Robinson. To be clear, i do not agree with anything that Cernovich and Robinson have said in the past. Moreover, I think that the CUCR should strive to interface with speakers who are more mainstream and palatable than the ones whose services they have been procuring. Nevertheless, I believe we must never cower when confronted with ideologies from groups or individuals who appear to advocate hatred, always being aware of the fine line between free speech and hate speech. The opportunity to either isolate and verbally lacerate our enemies or give credence to the claims of our allies in a public forum for the world to see is a gift, and Columbia University students should delight in using the tools they have been learning in class to that end, but in my experience, they are unwilling to do so. Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack. As Jeff Sessions has noted, “The American university was once the center of academic freedom — a place of robust debate,but it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.” Sessions’ ideas are not without precedent and steeped in the spirit of Columbia University’s decision to invite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in 2007, the man who vowed to “wipe Israel off the map.” The CUCR also stated in a general email that protestors planned to shut down the Herman Cain event, so they needed support. I decided to pre-register for the event. I ordered my free ticket on October 2nd. All that was required was my CUID, which I supplied to Eventbrite. Within minutes, my ticket to the event was sent to me at my LionMail email address. I looked forward to giving my support to Mr. Boosalis and the CUCR, as well as to Mr. Cain, who is surely not as controversial as Cernovich and Robinson, and whose only “sins” seem to be a love for American capitalism as well as allegations of sexual harassment.
I arrived at the Columbia University campus at 6.15 pm. It was exhilarating to be back on campus once again, as I have not been back to Columbia since my graduation in May of 2017. I walked into Roone Arledge Cinema with a sense that I was a valued member of the Columbia University family privy to events not accessible to the public. Unfortunately, the exhilaration was short lived, as I was denied entry to the event. The reasons cited were that my CUID was inactive, and that for security reasons, I would not be granted access to the event, even though I presented my Columbia University ID, as well as a hard copy printout of my ticket, as well as my driver’s license. I asked the person in charge of the event security to try and locate Mr. Boosalis in hopes that he could somehow resolve the problem. She was unwilling to locate him, stating that there would be nothing that he could do for me, as it was a security issue. As I walked back to my car, reality started to set in. All the talk of camaraderie and school spirit was just a lot of nonsense. I felt like an outsider; unwanted and unwelcome. When I finally arrived home, I checked my LionMail, and was amused to find a message about Columbia Giving Day, and an urgent plea for a donation. It was a fitting end to a very frustrating day. The next day I learned that there were only forty individuals present for Cain’s speech entitled Obamacare and the American Dream and not a single protestor attended.
This incident laid bare the fact that Columbia University might need to reexamine how it oversees events featuring controversial speakers on campus. Moreover, I felt that someone at the university owed me a detailed explanation as to why I was not able to attend the Herman Cain Event presented by the CUCR. I used my CUID to obtain a valid ticket to the event, which I presented, along with my student ID, but even so, I was denied entry. I am an alumnus of Columbia University, not a security threat. If my CUID was inactive, I should not have received a ticket in the first place. Additionally, if something changed overnight because of security issues, and only current Columbia University students were granted access to the event, then I, as well as other alumni that pre-registered for the event should have been notified. I decided to email James Mc Shane, Columbia University’s Vice President for Public Safety, and the person behind the Clery Crime Alerts, which are distributed via mass email notifications sent to all columbia.edu e-mail addresses. Mr Mc Shane promised that he would investigate the matter for me. Within two days, I was contacted by John Murolo, the Director of Special Operations and Events. It turns out that the reason I was turned away on the night of the Herman Cain event was because I was not in possession of a valid Alumni ID, which grants former students of Columbia University access to Lerner Hall as well as the University Libraries. He informed me that an Alumni ID was available at Butler Library, and all that was necessary to obtain one was a valid picture ID, a UNI, school affiliation and graduation date. As Columbia University students scurry around campus worrying about the shame of getting an A minus rather than an A,how to deal with those pesky Republican classmates who are ruining their college experience, or debate who should or should not be entitled to speak on campus, most probably never stop for a moment to consider the daunting task of campus security, what I takes to achieve it, and the efforts of those who make it all come to fruition. While i was initially angered by being denied access to Lerner Hall, and planned to write a critique regarding the way Columbia University handles events featuring controversial speakers, and the possibility that the administration attempts to sabotage them, in retrospect I realize that Columbia University’s Department of Public Safety and the Operations Manager at Lerner Hall did what they deemed necessary to provide a safe environment for the students of Columbia University. They are esteemed professionals and deserve to do their jobs without micromanagement. Considering the events at Charlottesville, it is evident that these are challenging times all over America. We should to be more appreciative and cognizant of the efforts of those who work in public safety and law enforcement who work behind the scenes to keep us all safe. It is a never-ending and often thankless job. Correspondingly, we must uphold the time-honored tradition of the American university as a “safe space” for academic freedom without fear of repercussion.