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Monday, July 16, 2018

May 25 (Bloomberg) — I rise to defend the faculty lounge, that magical idea factory that has become, in the current presidential campaign, an object of unexpected derision.

Mitt Romney and his supporters have developed the unfortunate strategy of referring to President Barack Obama as a product of “the faculty lounge.” I would like to appeal to them, respectfully, to stop.

Some articles have pointed to the oddity of the swipe against the Democratic incumbent, given Romney’s two Harvard degrees. The problem isn’t the Republican candidate’s resume. It’s his effort to transform membership in a university faculty into a pejorative.

If what he means is that the professoriate at most universities is overwhelmingly Democratic, then the claim might be true if not particularly interesting, akin to criticizing a Republican on the grounds that he’s a member of the PGA. I suspect that those who refer to the faculty lounge, conjuring the image of a physical location, mean to imply something more sinister: a place where the left hatches its nefarious schemes to undermine American values.

I will admit to a certain bias here, having been a professor for 30 years. Nevertheless, I would suggest that university faculties, and the lounges where they do indeed occasionally congregate, constitute among America’s greatest triumphs — and a major competitive advantage.

Families from all over the world — and, here at home, from across the political spectrum — send their children to America’s great colleges and universities. What higher education offers isn’t merely a credential. At its best, the campus remains the world’s freest forum for the thoughtful and reflective exchange of ideas. The symbol of that exchange is the faculty lounge.