The Worst College Op-Eds

The Columbia Spectator, an accomplished publication by collegiate standards, reliably features the wackiest student op-ed pieces I see anywhere. They’re holding their end up with Tuesday’s “Is Professor Constantine Guilty of Plagiarism.” Guilty? Couldn’t be. The piece has been attracting a fair amount of incredulous attention; it’s not especially surprising; it’s another in a string of ludicrous op-eds for which the Spectator seems to have a fondness. Here are a few stellar examples:

1) In September, if you may recall, a contentious speaker was slated to appear at Columbia. His appearance there provoked considerable debate over the opportunity/respectability provided by the provision of a university platform. One Spectator op-ed reflected these concerns.

A university’s free speech is not the same as a country’s free speech, and failing to distinguish the two is hazardous to the intellectual and social climate we are all striving to maintain. After all, we are a special community with our own set of values and priorities and a unique obligation to our community members. One such value is scholarly exchange-but that must be preconditioned with the safety of our students.

It continued:

Whatever lessons I could have learned when [blank] came to speak would not have been worth the consequences: more lethal to intellectual freedom than preventing [blank] from speaking is further alienating and silencing fellow students.

Concerns about Ahmadinejad? Nope. This column, running the day after the Ahmadinejad speech was announced, concerned Jim Gilchrist, of the Minutemen. Gilchrist’s return engagement was of course canceled; Ahmadinejad, as we know, appeared.

2) The noose incidents at Columbia brought out some puzzling responses. In November, a student wrote

In the past weeks’ furor about nooses and graffiti, which dramatize age-old concerns about our Eurocentric curriculum, paternalistic gentrification efforts, and feelings of marginalization from students and faculty.

Columbia’s Euro-centric curriculum was an age-old concern as a spur to lynchings? Huh? Unsurprisingly, the author called for more ethnic studies program funding to salve the problem.

3) Then there’s Tuesday’s piece. A long excerpt is really necessary to grasp its flavor.

These allegations of plagiarism, some claim, are continuations of the historical devaluation of black womanhood and should be recognized as such.

Personally, as an advocate of black radical feminism, I am drawn to the latter view. But, as a seeker of truth, I must reflect on the situation in its totality and take all aspects into consideration. Neither one of the aforementioned views contains the complete picture. The former ignores the historical legacy the latter wishes to reveal, and the latter completely victimizes Professor Constantine without even considering the possibility that she may have committed acts of plagiarism.
Let us assume for a moment that Professor Constantine plagiarized the work of others. Instead of punishing (or “sanctioning”) her, we should be making special efforts to extend compassion to her and those who feel wounded as a result of her actions. We should be having community dialogues to emphasize the importance of academic honesty. At the same time, we should critique the environment of competitiveness here at Columbia that only breeds dishonesty and mistrust.

Get that? I thought the competitive environment at Columbia was widely considered an asset. I suppose not. The full article is a warm rhetorical bath of more such wooly intentions and slippery phraseology; see if you can read it without wanting to open a vein.

The Spectator outdoes itself, again. If any of you know a Columbia student, urge them to write an op-ed; there’s clearly no bar to getting published there.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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