Commence(ment) Firing, Plus a Modest Proposal

The latest news about the infantilism that has overtaken colleges and universities is that Michael Bloomberg unexpectedly came to the defense of common sense and genuine liberal values in his commencement speech at Harvard this week:

“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 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama. Ninety-six percent. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.

“That statistic should give us pause – and I say that as someone who endorsed President Obama for reelection – because let me tell you, neither party has a monopoly on truth or God on its side.

“When 96 percent of Ivy League donors prefer one candidate to another, you have to wonder whether students are being exposed to the diversity of views that a great 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 – and the professors who conduct it – will lose credibility.

“Great universities must not become predictably partisan. And 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.

“Requiring scholars – and commencement speakers, for that matter – to conform to certain political standards undermines the whole purpose of a university.

“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, I’m sorry to say.

“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.

“If a university thinks twice before inviting a commencement speaker because of his or her politics censorship and conformity – the mortal enemies of freedom – win out.

“And sadly, it is not just commencement season when speakers are censored.

“Last fall, when I was still in City Hall, our Police Commissioner was invited to deliver a lecture at another Ivy League institution – but he was unable to do so because students shouted him down.

“Isn’t the purpose of a university to stir discussion, not silence it? What were the students afraid of hearing? Why did administrators not step in to prevent the mob from silencing speech? And did anyone consider that it is morally and pedagogically wrong to deprive other students the chance to hear the speech?

If Bloomberg keeps this up I may have to revise my deep-seated animosity toward his mayorship.  Especially since he is not likely to be invited back to Harvard any time soon.

Meanwhile, the left continues to turn on its own. Hadley Arkes joked yesterday that “Colleges of the second rank may now be seeking to lift their standings by seeking out prestigious speakers to ‘disinvite.’”  Looks like someone got the memo.  Former DHS secretary and wholly loathsome liberal Janet Napolitano was heckled last week at a commencement ceremony at Laney College in California.  No, I’d never heard of Laney College either, but I suppose it figures.  Was this a case of conservative students finally joining the mob?  I doubt anyone would take that bet:

Booing and at one point turning their backs on her, dozens of students, faculty and supporters in the audience objected to remarks by the former chief of Homeland Security, who has been faulted for her stance on immigration issues during her time with the Obama administration. Many pumped their fists as a gesture of defiance.

Here’s a suggestion: since most commencement speeches are utterly forgettable collections of platitudes, who not dispense with commencement speakers altogether, and replace them with computer-generated commencement addresses?  They’d probably be better speeches, and occasion little or no controversy.

Responses