“A liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told an audience of Harvard graduates and their families today in his commencement speech, a barn-burning attack against progressive intolerance and a call for more ideological diversity in academia.
In a speech titled on Bloomberg’s website “Don’t Major in Intolerance,” Bloomberg elaborated on the topics expected of the big government advocate: the elimination of gun rights, a scolding of the 2010 criticism of opening a Muslim center near Ground Zero, and acceptance of natural selection in schools. The bulk of his speech, however, focused on telling academia to its face that it is intolerant of conservative beliefs and that it is up to the graduates present to work to turn the tides of liberal intolerance.
“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,” he told the crowd, adding that “the forces of repression [at universities] appear to be stronger now than they have been since the 1950s.” He noted that, in 2012, “96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama,” and, despite being a supporter of the president himself, “that statistic… should give us pause.” “Diversity of gender, ethnicity and orientation is important. But a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous,” he insisted.
The former mayor used the warning to take a shot at the inefficiency in Congress: “If students graduate with ears and minds closed, the university has failed both the student and society. If you want to know where that leads, look no further than Washington.”
Bloomberg also indirectly referenced a movement known as Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which seeks to take funding away from those who do business with Israel in order to cripple its economy into accepting Palestine as a nation. The group, widely populated by academics, has targeted academics who seek to do research in Israel. “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,” Bloomberg explains. “There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.”
To make his point clear about the intolerance of liberal academics, he noted that several commencement speakers, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were barred from speaking after extended invitations. He noted, “in each case, liberals silenced a voice and denied an honorary degree to individuals they deemed politically objectionable.”
Bloomberg completed his speech on an optimistic note: “On every issue, we must follow the evidence where it leads and listen to people where they are,” he told students. Through the tolerance of all beliefs and differences in people, he advised, “there is no gridlock we cannot break, no compromise we cannot broker, no problem we cannot solve.”
Watch an excerpt of Bloomberg’s speech below: