A Message on the Columbia World Leaders Forum Event with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Columbia’s World Leaders Forum provides our University community with an opportunity to hear about issues facing other nations and our world directly from individuals in positions of authority and responsibility.  In response to concerns expressed by several student organizations about the Forum event scheduled for Wednesday, September 25, President Lee C. Bollinger shared these comments: 

“Columbia has long defined itself as a university that serves as a forum for its faculty and students to confront and debate the critical issues of the day.  While no one has a right to come onto the campus and speak, faculty members, academic centers, student groups and the University itself may extend invitations to guest speakers for many reasons but, in particular, to provide us with the opportunity to engage people who shape our lives — for good and ill.  This form of open, public engagement can sometimes be difficult, even painful at times.  But to abandon this activity would be to limit severely our capacity to understand and confront the world as it is, which is a central and utterly serious mission for any academic institution.

It is very important to note that, when Columbia or one of its faculty members, student groups or institutes invites an individual to speak, that is neither a validation of that particular leader, nor is it an endorsement of her or his views.  In fact, invited speakers sometimes express opinions antithetical to our values.  You are right that I find the antisemitic statements of Prime Minister Mahathir to be abhorrent, contrary to what we stand for, and deserving of condemnation. Nevertheless, it is in these instances that we are most strongly resolved to insist that our campus remain an open forum and to protect the freedoms essential to our university community.”

All World Leader Forum events include an opportunity for audience members – especially students – to pose questions and offer comments.  For more on upcoming events and videos of past events please see the World Leaders Forum website.