Citing the campus protests that caused luminaries including former
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and International Monetary Fund
head Christine Lagarde to back out of planned speeches, Bloomberg
criticized students and faculty for being hostile to ideas that
clashed with their own ideologies.
Standing amid the centuries-old stone buildings of Harvard Yard, he
compared the atmosphere in U.S. academia to that which prevailed
during Senator Joseph McCarthy's 1950s campaign to ferret out
Communists in public life.
"In the 1950s the right wing was attempting to repress left-wing
ideas," said Bloomberg, who started his career on Wall Street before
launching the news and data company that bears his name. "Today on
many college campuses it is liberals trying to repress conservative
ideas even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming
an endangered species.
"A university's obligation is not to teach students what to think
but to teach students how to think," he said. "That requires
listening to the other side, weighing arguments without prejudice."
He noted that during the 2012 presidential election, some 96 percent
of political contributions from faculty and staff at Ivy League
universities such as Harvard went to Democratic candidate Barack
Obama, with few backing Republican Mitt Romney.
Bloomberg's speech followed commencement speech cancellations by
Lagarde, who backed out of an address at Smith College after a
student petition that criticized the IMF for supporting "imperialist
and patriarchal systems," and by Rice, who backed out of speaking at
Rutgers University after student protests over her role in the Iraq
Bloomberg also mentioned Brandeis University, which dropped plans to
award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born women's
rights activist who has drawn fire for her sharply worded criticisms
Bloomberg, who started out as a Democrat but became a Republican in
his initial bid to become the mayor of New York and later became an
Independent, since leaving office in January has vowed to spend $50
million of his fortune on a gun-control initiative he intends to
stand as a counterweight to the powerful National Rifle Association.
[to top of second column]
He said that an unwillingness to listen to political opponents has
led to gridlock in Washington.
"The two parties decide those questions not by engaging with one
another but by trying to shout each other down and by trying to
repress and undermine the research that counters their ideology," he
said. "The more our universities emulate that model the worse off we
will be as a society."
Attendees expressed surprise at the tone of his speech.
"It was more political than I expected," said Tina Schwartz, 36,
whose husband graduated from Harvard. She said she appreciated
Bloomberg's points about "standing up to the liberals on campus and
being more open-minded to speakers."
But Don Louria, a retired medical school professor from
Bernardsville, New Jersey, took issue with Bloomberg's reference to
"You still have an obligation to object about actions, but not about
opinions," said Louria, who graduated from Harvard in 1949.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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