Minuteman Project leader Jim Gilchrist will not be coming back to Columbia.
Gilchrist wrote in an email that “after careful thought, I will not entertain, nor will I accept, an invitation from Columbia” to speak on campus. The Columbia University College Republicans had been considering inviting the controversial figure to speak at an event, although they had not formally invited him.
The Minuteman Project, which patrols the Mexican border for illegal immigrants, calls itself “a citizens’ vigilance operation monitoring immigration, business, and government.” Critics have accused the vigilante group of pursuing a thinly veiled racist agenda.
“It seems pointless to speak to a campus where witch-hunters of free speech so often dictate, through intimidation and disruption, who will be allowed to participate in liberty and who will not,” he wrote in a comment on the Spectator website.
Gilchrist’s last visit to campus, at a CUCR-sponsored event in October 2006, led to rowdy protests. The incident garnered national media attention and sparked a debate over free speech on college campuses.
“If Columbia University ever establishes a universal policy of free speech, then I might have an interest in speaking there,” Gilchrist said in an email explaining his decision not to return to Columbia.
He had previously told Spectator that he “would gracefully accept an invitation to engage in free speech at Columbia.”
On Wednesday, Gilchrist wrote in a comment on a Spectator staff editorial about him: “I am going to resolve your controversy surrounding the possibility that I might be invited to speak at your campus. … I would not be reaching an audience with the caliber of intellect and reasoning necessary to stimulate progressive and productive debate.”
CUCR President William Prasifka, CC ’12, said in an email that “no final decision with regard to Jim Gilchrist had been made.” The purpose of inviting Gilchrist to speak, he added, would be “to discuss academic freedom and the freedom of the University.”
Megan Kallstrom contributed reporting.