Dear President Bollinger:
I am a constitutional scholar who has admired your writing about First Amendment freedoms. I am also an Ethiopianist who must take strong exception to your posting an ill-advised encomium of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia prior to his speaking at the Columbia University World Leaders Forum on 22 September 2010. I was pleased that the words of praise for the Ethiopian leader provided by the embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia have been taken off the World Leaders Forum website, but the damage has been done. By publishing such editorial comment even for a short while, you have violated your own self-proclaimed neutrality of sticking to “basic factual information” in such activities.
I hope the party responsible for demeaning Columbia University’s good name as a bastion of free speech will be appropriately disciplined and that you will have the courage to make such action known to the public. The only way you can redeem the damaged reputation of the World Leaders Forum is by publicly making known the shortcomings of Prime Minister Meles and his government in your introductory remarks—a refutation similar to what you did in introducing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejab of Iran in 2007. The deficits of democracy and abuse of human rights by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front are too well known and documented for you to miss. If you need additional information about the totalitarian practices of the Ethiopian leader you honor, please see my book, Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State (Praeger).
With best wishes,
Theodore M. Vestal, Ph.D.