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Columbia student union nixes controversial anti-illegal immigration speaker


Jim Gilchrist, founder of the anti-illegal immigration Minuteman Project who was forced off a Columbia University stage last year, will not be coming back for a return engagement at the school.

The Columbia Political Union, a nonpartisan student group that had been planning the forum, said in a statement on its Web site Tuesday that “it has become clear that this event cannot take the form we had originally hoped it would and could not effectively accomplish the goals we had hoped it might.”

Last Oct. 4, Gilchrist had to cut short his talk at the school after students from the Chicano Caucus and other groups climbed on stage with banners denouncing the Minutemen Project, which is based in Laguna Hills, Calif., and advocates action to prevent illegal immigration from Mexico.

That event was organized by the school’s College Republicans club.

The CPU said in its statement that it had envisioned the event as part of its “Friendly Fire” speaker series, created by Columbia history lecturer and author David Eisenbach.

Eisenbach said he was disappointed by the students’ decision.

“The health of a free society and a university depends on the free expression of ideas. Only through a free expression of ideas can we reach the truth,” he said.

Reached for comment, Gilchrist said in a telephone interview that he was surprise at the decision, saying he had already purchased airplane tickets for the event next month a year to the day from his last appearance.

“I think Columbia is making a serious mistake,” he said. “The CPU originally had a majority wanting me to come there. The deans wanted me to come there,” although he said he always expected resistance from the student body.

A university spokesman did not immediately return calls for comment.

The CPU said its executive board voted Monday night “not to go forward with this event” after consulting with other student groups, Eisenbach and other individuals.

“Up until last night, the Columbia Political Union had been considering putting together an event with Jim Gilchrist,” it said. “We had hoped that it might be possible to have him and others involved in the events of last October on the same stage, engaged in a civil but challenging discussion.

“Aware that this is a complex issue, about which many people feel strongly, we felt that it was necessary to consult with other student groups and individuals on campus before making any decisions,” it added.

Gilchrist said there was nothing in Minuteman Project’s “minutes or mantra that smacks of racism. We’re a multiethnic group. Our sole purpose is to force debate, essentially to bring national awareness to issues related to uncontrolled immigration and its consequences.”

He said he thought the CPU was “succumbing to pressure from anti-freedom-of-speech gangsters.”

The CPU, which says it seeks to enhance involvement in the political process, regularly invites speakers to the campus. Past speakers include Sen. Orrin Hatch, former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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–Associate Press

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