Michael Bloomberg is a typical rags to riches American success story, having become one of the richest men in the world over the last generation.
Like universities, in the business of searching for knowledge and information, the reason is mainly through instant access to large amounts of financial information to invest money. But he also made a name for the state, sometimes as a republican, sometimes as a democrat, and even as a lawyer.
In three ways, Bloomberg has been a huge friend of higher education, in some cases without the universities realizing his contributions.
First of all, his financial contribution is tangible. Bloomberg has probably given more money to American universities than any other individual, and his multibillion-dollar donation is to Johns Hopkins University (his alma mater). easily it became the largest for a single institution in history (even after adjusting for inflation). But he also gave huge sums of money to other schools – Harvard and Cornell come to mind first.
This is the point that the tax-rich programs of Sen. Bernie Sanders (1-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) rarely acknowledges the diversity: Historically, most of the wealthiest Americans have given away large portions of their fortunes. to private charity—often more than to his children. Look at Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. When Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s widow Helen died, most of her estate went to charity. Bloomberg follows in that great tradition, promoting charitable purposes at probably much lower administrative costs than government officials do.
But Bloomberg has also stimulated higher education with a couple of initiatives that I think are quite useful. (Full disclosure: many years ago I did some writing for Bloomberg that received little or no financial compensation).
At the beginning of 2014 Harvard, he criticized the growing attempt to restrict free speech within the academy: “If you want to have the freedom to worship as you want and speak as you want. He added, “Isn’t it the academy to debate, not to be silent? It is wrong morally and pedagogically to deny other students from listening He recognized that freedom of speech and the participation of different opinions provide intellectual vigor, and promote learning and tolerance.
Compare Bloomberg’s perspective with that too often found in today’s universities, which no doubt inspired his Harvard credentials.
To pick one example, the University of Pennsylvania seems to be getting rid of Amy Cera, an outstanding professor who has remained at Penn Law for decades and has received outstanding recognition (the Lindbeck Award) for outstanding teaching. Wax seems too anti-exciting for law school students.
This fact makes Penna contemptuous of its great founder, Benjamin Franklin, who once said, “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom, and no public freedom without freedom of speech, which is the right of every man.”
In recent days, Bloomberg has become the voice of common sense on another issue of higher education: the use of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT to aid admissions decisions. As Bloomberg noted in a recent opinion piece, “The crisis in US K-12 public education continues to widen, and decisions by many colleges and universities to abandon SAT and ACT scores are making it worse. Instead of demanding more accountability from high schools, colleges are expecting less.”
As recently as 2017 the national average composite ACT score was 21.0; in 2022 it would reach 19.8, the lowest in three decades. High school has declined abysmally, partly but not entirely because of the recent pandemic. Therefore, standardized objective testing of students’ academic performance is more important than ever. However, many schools, including bellwether institutions such as Harvard, have stopped requiring it, but continue to admit to such factors as affirmative action rather than purely academic achievement.
Mike Bloomberg, an innovative leader in financial information consulting, also advises on increasing the quality and quantity of intellectual discourse in universities. Let us hear him.
Richard K. Vedder is a distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and a board member of the National Association of Scholars. He is the authorRestoring the Promise: Higher Education in America”.