Bloomberg speaks out for tolerance at Harvard
I can’t really give three cheers to Michael Bloomberg’s declaration at Harvard that academia must learn to be tolerant of dissenting views from conservatives, even though his is an important message, and coming from a rich alumnus who may leave the university some of his billions, it may carry some real weight. His unwillingness to tolerate the dietary habits of others makes my praise half-hearted, so let’s give him one and a half cheers. And if he starts applying his words to his own behavior (now that he is out of office), I’ll consider adding more cheers.
Bloomberg View offers an adaptation of an address he gave at Harvard, and he makes some very important points that elite academia must take seriously. He offers a spoonful of sugar, in then form of claiming it is the right which started the fight trying to censor dissenting views, but at least he is letting the left know that it is violating fundamental American ideals:
There is an idea floating around college campuses -- including here at Harvard -- that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.
In the 1950s, the right wing was attempting to repress left-wing ideas. Today, on many campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas, even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species.
Perhaps nowhere is that more true than here in the Ivy League. In the 2012 presidential race, 96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama. That statistic, drawn from Federal Election Commission data, should give us pause -- and I say that as someone who endorsed President Obama. When 96 percent of faculty donors prefer one candidate to another, you have to wonder whether students are being exposed to the diversity of views that a university should offer. Diversity of gender, ethnicity and orientation is important. But a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous.
Today, if tenure is going to continue to exist, it must also protect conservatives whose ideas run up against liberal norms. Otherwise, university research will lose credibility. A liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism.
This spring, it has been disturbing to see a number of college commencement speakers withdraw, or have their invitations rescinded, after protests from students and -- to me, shockingly -- from senior faculty and administrators who should know better.
It happened at Brandeis, Haverford, Rutgers and Smith. Last year, it happened at Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins. In each case, liberals silenced a voice and denied an honorary degree to individuals they deemed politically objectionable.
As a former chairman of Johns Hopkins, I believe that a university’s obligation is not to teach students what to think, but to teach students how to think. And that requires listening to the other side, weighing arguments without prejudging them, and determining whether the other side might actually make some fair points.
I hope that behind the scenes he is letting Harvard know that if they want some of his fortune, it is time to start balancing their faculty.