In an email sent to the University of Maryland community Thursday afternoon, President Wallace Loh extolled the virtues of the man selected to be speaker at May’s commencement ceremony: former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“An entrepreneur, philanthropist, three-term New York City mayor, and a champion of education, [Bloomberg] has a compelling story to share with the thousands of graduates, and their family and friends — one that will resonate on our Do Good campus,” Loh gushed.
It’s no surprise to this editorial board that the university’s administration believes Bloomberg will be a compelling commencement speaker. Both pay lip service to the ideals of environmental protection, equality and safe schools without doing anything substantial to achieve them.
Consider Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor of New York City. Perhaps his most indelible mark on the city was his implementation of “stop-and-frisk” policy, which allowed the city’s police to detain and question any pedestrian if they had “reasonable suspicion” that the pedestrian “committed, is committing, or is about to commit” a felony or misdemeanor.
Unsurprisingly, this policy did little to mitigate the city’s crime and facilitated widespread racial profiling of black and Hispanic residents. A federal judge later ruled that stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional, accusing Bloomberg and other city officials of “turn[ing] a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner.”
Consider, too, Bloomberg’s attitude toward women. A sales executive who worked with his company said that when she told him she was pregnant, he implored her to “kill it!” It’s just one of the cases that Bloomberg, an avowed skeptic of the #MeToo movement, has faced at his namesake company. In this regard, he seems to be a kindred spirit of this university, which is currently facing three federal investigations on its handling of Title IX cases.
The similarities don’t stop there. Bloomberg frequently clashed with his city’s unions; officials at this university have frequently testified against collective bargaining rights for graduate students. Bloomberg acted as a cheerleader for the Iraq War; this university is eager to partner with war profiteers such as Lockheed Martin.
Sure, Bloomberg has devoted millions of his own fortune toward gun control through the establishment of his nonprofit, Everytown for Gun Safety. He also stated his belief in climate change and worked to curb New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions during his time as mayor. These are commendable endeavors.
They are also, in this editorial board’s view, merely the baseline for what any elected official or billionaire — let alone someone who is both — should spend their capital on. To say Bloomberg’s actions qualify as a shining example of Doing Good sets the bar insultingly low.
This university could have picked any number of humanitarians for commencement. The Maryland-based chef José Andrés, for one, who has time and time again fed those struck by tragedy, or perhaps former MLS star and Terp Robbie Rogers, the first openly gay man to play in an American professional sports league.
But a person who’s made a positive impact on the world wouldn’t fit with the university’s values. If the school wants a commencement speaker who can show the world what it stands for — empty platitudes about progressiveness and “Doing Good” — then Michael Bloomberg is the man for the job.