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University resists lawmakers' call to fire antiwar instructor

Assistant professor blasted U.S. as 'occupying power'

From Phil Hirschkorn

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger condemned an assistant professor's comments about the war in Iraq, but he defended
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger condemned an assistant professor's comments about the war in Iraq, but he defended "freedom of thought and expression."

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Columbia University is resisting a call by some Republican members of Congress to fire an assistant professor who sharply criticized the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq and called for the defeat of the "U.S. war machine."

A letter from Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Arizona, called for the Ivy League school to fire Nicholas DeGenova, who made his comments at an antiwar gathering this month. The letter was co-signed by 103 other House Republicans.

The congressman received no response from Columbia President Lee Bollinger as of Monday.

But Bollinger told CNN in a written statement: "I have a deep respect for the members of Congress and appreciate their concerns. I have already expressed my strong disagreement with Assistant Professor DeGenova's statements. However, under the principle of academic freedom, it would be inappropriate to take disciplinary action."

DeGenova did not return phone messages seeking his comment on the letter.

An uproar began March 26 when DeGenova and two dozen other Columbia faculty members criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy during a six-hour campus teach-in.

As first reported by Newsday and the Columbia Spectator student newspaper, DeGenova told the antiwar gathering: "U.S. flags are the emblem of the invading war machine in Iraq today. They are the emblem of the occupying power. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military."

Newsday also quoted DeGenova as saying, "If we really believe that this war is criminal ... then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine."

DeGenova said he wished for fragging -- a slang term for intentionally killing or wounding one's own officers -- and "for a million Mogadishus," referring to the 1993 battle in Somalia that left 18 American servicemen dead and the body of one of them, a downed Black Hawk helicopter crew member, dragged in the street.

Bollinger condemned DeGenova's remarks last week, calling them "outrageous" and saying his words "properly invite anger and sharp rebuke."

But Bollinger said he would not be pressured to fire DeGenova, who teaches anthropology and Latino studies. DeGenova is not tenured.

"There are few things more precious on any university campus than freedom of thought and expression," Bollinger said in his first statement last week. "That is the teaching of the First Amendment, and I believe it should be the principle we live by at Columbia University."

But in a March 31 letter, Hayworth and his colleagues made clear their disagreement. "We are no strangers to the frank exchange of ideas and vigorous debate, and we have a deep appreciation for America's tradition of academic freedom," they wrote. "However, we also have an equally deep appreciation for the fact that our words have consequences."

No Democrats signed the letter.

"They were all invited," said Hayworth spokesman Larry VanHoose.

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