Michael Bloomberg just wrapped up quite a commencement address to Harvard grads. Titled “Don’t Major in Intolerance,” the political independent and former mayor surprisingly took academia’s thought police to task:
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.
In fact, the whole purpose of granting tenure to professors is to ensure that they feel free to conduct research on ideas that run afoul of university politics and societal norms. When tenure was created, it mostly protected liberals whose ideas ran up against conservative norms.
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spring, it has been disturbing to see a number of college commencement speakers withdraw, or have their invitations rescinded, after protests from students and — to me, shockingly — from senior faculty and administrators who should know better.
Of course, the speech also takes conservatives to task in other areas, such as the 2nd Amendment. Nevertheless, kudos to Mayor Bloomberg for standing up for free speech in the lion’s den.