Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Mayor Bloomberg's Saturday Commencement Speech at Michigan is a Call to All for Tolerance and Openness on the College Campus

University trustees and administrators should watch or read Mayor Bloomberg’s Commencement Address last Saturday morning at the University of Michigan. Most commencement speeches are not memorable. His August 30, 2016 presentation should be one for the ages. Mayor Bloomberg’s premise is that “An open mind is the most valuable asset you can possess.” He warned against demagogues in politics and campus intolerance. The political independent cautioned “Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, and each demonizes the other unfairly and dishonestly.” He reminded us of past demagogues of the past, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Governor George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan. He then mentioned the current demagoguery against Mexicans and Muslims on one side of the partisan divide and Wall Street and the wealthy on the other. He mentioned no current names, but we can fill in the blanks. He recognized “the fact that some university boards and administrators now bow to pressure and shield students from … ideas through ‘safe spaces,’ ‘code words,’ and ‘trigger warnings’ is, in my view, a terrible mistake.” Let me add that much of the problem often revolves around supine administrators and trustees who readily accede to the protestor’s demands, thereby encouraging them. He added “A microaggression is exactly that – micro. And in a macro sense the most dangerous place on a college campus is a so-called ‘safe space,’ because it creates a false impression that we can isolate ourselves from those who hold different views.” This statement received scattered boos and even epithets from some of the attendees - the ones most intolerant of free speech. I have referred to these speech intolerant administrators, faculty, and students as “Academic Neanderthals.” (See May 3, 2014 blog: “Condoleezza Rice, Rutgers, Brandeis, and the Intolerance of the (Academic) Left”). Mayor Bloomberg has not had a recent epiphany. He similarly spoke out two years ago at the Harvard Commencement about liberals silencing voices “deemed politically objectionable.” He was upset about the number of commencement speakers who either withdrew because of opposition or had their invitations withdrawn due to the pressure from leftist faculty and students. He spoke of Senator McCarthy’s Red Scare of the 1950’s, but recognized: “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.” He spoke out at Harvard against the developing trend of Liberals silencing voices they deem “politically objectionable. The purpose of college is to educate and open the mind, not to indoctrinate and close the mind Mayor Bloomberg reminded us that “the whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations, not to run away from them.” Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged the change from an industrial society to an informational society. Thus, “The most useful knowledge that you leave here with today has nothing to do with your major. It’s about how to study, cooperate, listen carefully, think critically, and resolve conflicts through reason. Those are the most important skills in the working world, and it is why colleges have always exposed students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas.” Trustees, Regents, Curators, Visitors, Presidents, Chancellors, Provosts, and Deans, Heed Mayor Bloomberg’s words!

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