The Dean of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University has abruptly left her position after her invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got cancelled by University president Lee Bollinger. Lisa Anderson resigned from her position, and the big question on campus is if Bollinger’s intervention caused it or whether the exposure of her politics drove the decision:
The big question at Columbia University this week is whether the tensions between President Lee Bollinger and the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, Lisa Anderson, led Ms. Anderson to step down.
The press office at the university confirmed yesterday that the dean, who has come under criticism for siding with anti-Israel factions on campus and for taking a junket to Saudi Arabia paid for by the regime in Riyadh, is leaving the post she has held for 10 years. Professors at SIPA said Ms. Anderson circulated an e-mail message at the end of the summer announcing her resignation, effective at the end of the academic year. It cited her desire to get back to teaching and research.
However, speculation is spreading on campus as to whether Ms. Anderson is stepping down because of tensions with Mr. Bollinger in the wake of his abrupt decision to overrule Ms. Anderson’s plan to welcome the Iranian president to the World Leaders Forum on campus. Ms. Anderson’s offer of hospitality to a leader who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and who has denied the Holocaust drew criticism on campus from professors and students alike.
The Ahmadinejad invitation was not just a one-off, as it turns out. Anderson also invited rehabilitated Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gaddafi to speak at Columbia earlier this year. Gaddafi, who has ruled the North African nation for decades by force, lectured Columbia students on democracy and proclaimed Libya “the only democracy on the planet”. That, along with her paid junket to Saudi Arabia and her apparent anti-Israeli stance, had to have heads scratching at the university and among its alumni.
Some question whether Anderson left on her own volition. A political science professor told the New York Sun’s Eliana Johnson that he believes Bollinger pushed her out. That seems unlikely. Bollinger’s cancellation of Ahmadinejad’s visit was predicated not on outrage over the selection of speaker but over a more technical point about the nature of the venue. Bollinger said publicly that Anderson could invite Ahmadinejad to a function sponsored solely by Anderson’s school rather than at the university-wide Leadership Forum. That doesn’t sound as if Bollinger cared enough about the ludicrous nature of having the genocide-threatening Iranian president speak at Columbia to fire someone over it.
It does, however, look like exposure of the invitation made a difference in this case. Ms. Anderson will undoubtedly find somewhere else to teach, and hopefully the Great Dictators Lecture Series will come to an end at Columbia.