The dementia which has gripped much of the leftist intellectual elite is spreading through the Ivy League, once—upon—a—time the most prestigious universities in America. Harvard fired its president and published anti—Semitic claptrap, Yale invites the Goebbels of the Taliban to be a student, and Columbia has a Middle Eastern Studies department where Jewish students complain of harassment, and has accepted money from Libyan dictator Ghadafi and hosted a speech (via television) in which he called for the overthrow of democracy.
Now, Columbia University President Lee Bolinger (formerly the head of the University of Michigan) finds himself facing serious ethical questions, with implications for the corruption of the judicial system. Curt Levey writing in the New York Sun reports:
Columbia University and its president, Lee Bollinger, have some explaining to do. The university recently announced that its law school had awarded a coveted faculty position to Olatunde "Olati" Johnson, a woman with a scandal—plagued connection to Mr. Bollinger.
Ms. Johnson played a central role in the two—year—old Senate scandal known as Memogate, which involved, most notoriously, her recommendation that the judicial confirmation process be rigged to influence the outcome of a pair of pending federal court cases. The cases were the landmark challenges to affirmative action at the University of Michigan, and the defendant was the university's president at the time, Lee Bollinger. That Ms. Johnson should now find herself working under Mr. Bollinger raises questions about a conflict of interest and a possible payoff for services rendered.
The scandal came to light in late 2003 with the disclosure of memos prepared by Ms. Johnson and other Democratic staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The memos — whose authenticity was never denied — disclosed that Senate Democrats were cynically manipulating the judicial confirmation process, and that liberal outside interest groups were calling the shots on which of the president's nominees would be blocked. It was all very unseemly, though probably not unethical — with one exception.
In April 2002, Ms. Johnson recommended a delay in the Judiciary Committee's hearing for Julia Smith Gibbons, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the court that was poised to decide the University of Michigan cases. Johnson, who was working for Senator Kennedy (a Democrat of Massachusetts), was surprisingly blunt about the reason for the delay: "The thinking is that the current 6th Circuit will sustain the affirmative action program, but if a new judge with conservative views is confirmed before the case is decided, that new judge will be able, under Sixth Circuit rules, to review the case and vote on it."
The problem in all of this is that
If Ms. Johnson landing at Columbia is not just a strange coincidence, what is it? Is it an expression of Mr. Bollinger's gratitude or even an explicit payback? Is it possible that Mr. Bollinger sees nothing wrong with what Ms. Johnson did, because he and the University of Michigan were also involved in the Sixth Circuit scheme? And, if it is just a coincidence, did Mr. Bollinger consider that Ms. Johnson's hiring might, nonetheless, result in the appearance of impropriety to anyone doing even a cursory Google search on Ms. Johnson's name? Moreover, did Columbia take into account the potential conflict between Mr. Bollinger's interests and those of the university? Finally, did the Law School think about the message it was sending to its students concerning ethics and conflicts of interest?
I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions. And it is entirely possible that Mr. Bollinger is guilty of poor judgment rather than anything more malfeasant. But only he and his university can fully address the issues raised here. They should do so forthrightly and without delay.
Lee Bolinger is a member of the Columbia Law faculty. The fact that he saw no problem with the appearance of a conflict of interest is very disturbing. Having once served on the faculty of Columbia University, I am deeply saddened by this morass.
Hat tip: Ed Lasky
Thomas Lifson 3 24 06
Dennis Sevakis adds:
The even bigger scandal is how the media and the Republicans themselves reacted to the memos. The Democrats spun the story into one of how their internal memos were 'stolen' and the Republican staffer who leaked them was fired/resigned. What is most disturbing is how the Republican leadership kept rolling over and lifting a leg for the Democrats. Here are a couple of WSJ articles on the subject.