When you think of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (aka Nanny Bloomberg), you probably don’t think defender of free speech. But during his 2014 commencement address at Harvard University, Bloomberg not only defended each and every individual’s right to free speech, he excoriated the American university system for a growing and disturbing trend of silencing non-liberal view points.
While you probably won’t agree with everything Bloomberg says in the 24-minute speech – he couldn’t help but tout his work to curb gun violence via stricter laws – you have to respect his willingness to speak so definitively about the intolerant culture at far too many universities and colleges… during his speech at Harvard University’s commencement.
Below is an excerpt from the speech:
Repressing free expression is a natural human weakness, and it is up to us to fight it at every turn. Intolerance of ideas — whether liberal or conservative — is antithetical to individual rights and free societies, and it is no less antithetical to great universities and first-rate scholarship.
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.
A university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous. A liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism.
The role of universities is not to promote an ideology. It is to provide scholars and students with a neutral forum for researching and debating issues — without tipping the scales in one direction, or repressing unpopular views.
This spring, it has been disturbing to see a number of college commencement speakers withdraw or have their invitations rescinded after protests from students and — to me, shockingly — from senior faculty and administrators who should know better.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. That is an outrage and we must not let it continue.
For tenured faculty to silence speakers whose views they disagree with is the height of hypocrisy, especially when these protests happen in the Northeast — a bastion of self-professed liberal tolerance.
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.
If the faculty fails to do this, then it is the responsibility of the administration and governing body to step in and make it a priority. If they do not, if students graduate with ears and minds closed, the university has failed both the student and society.
Watch the full address below:
Front page image courtesy of the AP