January 18, 2002
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By BENJAMIN SMITH
A key element of the dispute is the students' reluctance to make available a list of participants in their gathering, which, like the conference of business leaders that is usually held at Davos, Switzerland but this year is to be held in New York, begins January 31.
The "students, activists, rabble-rousers, and concerned citizens" invited to attend the Columbia conference will join thousands of protesters expected to flock to New York for the World Economic Forum. The forum is one of a number of global meetings that have been enveloped in recent years in demonstrations against capitalism, corporations and globalization. Clashes between police and demonstrators last July in Genoa, Italy, left one protester dead, and similar protests marked meetings in Seattle and in Gothenburg, Sweden. The outcome of negotiations between Columbia and the students organizing the conference could set a tone for the New York event.
"The administration is throwing roadblocks in our way," a member of Students for Global Justice, a group of student activists formed to organize the counter-conference, said. The member, Columbia junior Michael Castleman, accused Columbia of a "clampdown on academic freedom."
The counter-conference could draw from 250 to 1,000 participants, not all Columbia students, Mr. Castleman said. It is scheduled to take place at Columbia-affiliated Barnard College, and will run from January 31 to February 3, the first four days of the five-day World Economic Forum. The Columbia event is scheduled to avoid conflicting with the Midtown protests against the forum, according to information on the Web site studentsforglobaljustice.org. The workshops at the Barnard counter-conference will say "NO to the war on terrorism" and participants will discuss "US imperialism" and "global corporate domination," the Web site says.
The students met with the administration last Thursday, and the students complain that, in that meeting, the administration offered them too little space for the workshops and speeches. But Mr. Castleman said late yesterday afternoon that the university has made more space available.
"We're glad to work with them," Columbia spokesman Virgil Renzulli said, calling the students' claims "misinformation." "We haven't banned anything," Mr. Renzulli said.
The university's request for disclosure of the names of the participants in the counter-conference, however, remains a source of conflict. Barnard College Director of Safety and Security William Plackenmeyer met yesterday with Mr. Castleman to request that the students agree to give him access to the list of participants who register for the counter-conference. But Mr. Castleman said he refused, on the grounds that "the administration might share" the list with the police.
"I am interested in having that information available in case of an emergency," Mr. Plackenmeyer told Smartertimes.com. "I am not interested in the names of the people attending."
The students, he said, are "being paranoid."
Mr. Castleman said his group was exploring its options in case the university refuses to compromise. The conference could relocate to New York University or Hunter College of the City University of New York, he said. Mr. Plackenmeyer would not comment on what the university will do if the students try to hold the conference without making names available.
Now, the political stakes could go up for the university: the Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network took up the students' fight Thursday.
"We are very concerned about protecting civil rights and civil liberties on the college campus," said an aide to Rev. Sharpton, Dedrick Muhammad.
Terrorists and Militants: Dispatches from London and Washington in today's New York Times refer unblushingly to Osama bin Laden's "terrorist network." But a front-page article from Israel seems to bend over backward to avoid describing as a "terrorist" the Palestinian Arab who walked into a bat mitzvah reception yesterday and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, killing six and wounding at least 25. The Times article refers to a "militant group" that claimed responsibility for the attack, and makes reference to another "militant Islamic group," Hamas. The bat mitzvah crasher himself is not described by the Times as a terrorist but rather as a "gunman" or an "assailant." If the Times is willing to use the word "terrorist" to describe Al Qaeda in news articles, it is hard to see why the term would not also be applied to Palestinian Arabs who launch attacks that target Israeli civilians to advance their political goals.
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