Boycott “unworthy”, Butler Holds in Report on Heidelberg Fete

Attacking the boycott as “an unworthy intellectual weapon,” President Nicholas Murray Butler today justified Columbia University’s participation in Heidelberg University’s recent 550th anniversary celebration in his annual presidential report. He stated:

“The plain fact is that if German scholarship is to be preserved and German freedom of thought and expression is to be regained, those in Germany who must be the instruments for such a development are not to be boycotted, but quite the contrary, by defenders in other lands of that freedom of thought and inquiry and expression without which a university cannot exist.

“Intolerance is always objectionable, no matter at what form of expression it is directed. The boycott is an unworthy intellectual weapon while reason, persuasion and example remain.”

Reviewing the protests in Britain and the United States against participation, Dr. Butler said:

“After fully weighing the facts, it seemed highly undesirable for Columbia University to depart from its usual practice in reference to celebrations of this kind, or yield one jot or tittle of its ideals and its hopes to the repressive and dictatorial government of any totalitarian state. On the contrary, it seemed most important to emphasize the fact that what was to be celebrated was five and a half centuries of steadily increasing freedom of thought and of expression and five and a half centuries of noteworthy scholarship in many fields. If the unhappy developments of the past five years are permitted to wipe out all recognition of the vast achievements of the German people and the German spirit, then indeed are we yielding our university freedom to the rule of force.”

He revealed that the presidents of Columbia, Yale and Harvard had agreed at a conference that should any attempt be made to use the academic celebration for a political demonstration, the universities would issue statements dissociating themselves from it. He added that “happily, nothing of the king took place,” but admitted troops were present and that the Education Minister and a member of the Hddelberg faculty made speeches “which made a profoundly bad impression upon all present, Germans and visitors alike.”

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