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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

What is Michael Bloomberg talking about?

Michael Bloomber published an op-ed in Sunday's Wall Street Journal (on the "crisis in higher education" reflected in on-campus speech supporting Hamas and the October 7 massacre in Israel.  He presents the usual laundry list of complaints about past campus-speech issues, then claims--without explanation or logic--that those past issues cause the current campus antisemitism. It is nonsense.

Some commentators really want to argue that pro-Hamas campus speech is beyond the pale and universities should and can restrict it. But people spent a decade opposing--and crying "cancel culture" over--efforts to keep TPUSA and Milo Yiannopoulos off campus on the grounds of the speech being offensive. So we end up with Bloomberg's word salad.

1) College presidents have accepted and allowed conformity of views and intolerance for opposing views and students have not been "taught to engage in constructive argument and debate." This leads to "support for terrorism, dressed in the language of social justice" and students "default[ing] to slogans and slurs." What is the causal logic here? That students support Hamas because they were not exposed to brilliant competing ideas that would have changed their minds? That resistance to listening to offensive ideas leads one to support authoritarianism? That pro-Hamas students can do nothing but muster slogans and slurs, as opposed to the brilliant and well-thought-out civil and scholarly debate of "build the wall" or calling LGBTQ+ people "groomers" or whatever the hell Milo used to talk about.
2) College presidents issued statements over George Floyd, etc., but said nothing about October 7. Oh, and they ought to adhere to the Chicago Principles. I agree that the timing  is suspicious and that we have reason to fear presidents will return to prior practices when events target a group other than Jews. But if Bloomberg believes universities should get out of public statements, it seems to me he should welcome them seeing the light, regardless of when or why. So either Bloomberg wants presidents to speak out, contra Chicago principles, or his criticism of them is moot.
3) We need affirmative action for conservative faculty, apparently because conservatives are better able to "teach students how to engage in civil discourse." Obviously he has no support for that conclusion--some conservatives outside the academy certainly engage in plenty of uncivil discourse, so I do not know why it would be better if they are brought into the academy.
4) His paean to academic freedom ends with a call for trustees and university presidents to "manage" faculty, contrary to notions of shared faculty governance that form one cornerstone of academic freedom.
5) He gives the game away with these two sentences, several paragraphs apart, but revealing of just where he wants to take this. First, he says "[s]tudents who wish to hurl epithets and reveal their bigotry should be able to do so." But he closes the piece by saying "[t]he bigotry infecting campuses will spread until college presidents directly address its causes and their own role in fostering them." But if bigotry is constitutionally protected, as the first sentence suggests, what does Bloomberg want these presidents to do, as he raises in the last sentence? Kick the speakers off campus? Create safe spaces away from the offensive speech? Speak out and denounce antisemitism? That is, Bloomberg seems to want presidents to do to left-wing supporters of Hamas what Bloomberg and others complain universities have done to right-wing speakers over the past several years.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 21, 2023 at 09:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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