Rick Santorum, the underdog of the GOP presidential primary election, has a tendency to say all kinds of crazy shit. He’s made a splash this fall by raising eyebrows on the left and right with his religious fanaticism and his social conservatism. He is probably the only candidate still in the running who talks openly of the existence of Satan, saying, as reported by the Huffington Post, “If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after, other than the United States.” In all fairness, not everything he says sounds like a fire and brimstone sermon, and in some cases Santorum’s radicalism provides a public voice for widespread political sentiments that are often swept beneath the rug. At times, Santorum is crazy like a fox.
Santorum has come under fire in the academic community for his broadside verbal attacks on higher education, specifically of four-year liberal arts universities like ours. According to Santorum, as reported by CBS, “It’s no wonder President (Barack) Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination.” While some, like PolitiFact and The Washington Post, have challenged whether Obama actually said that he wanted every child to go to college, Santorum’s statement on university indoctrination still stands.
Santorum has taken serious flak in the academic community for comments such as this, but he makes a valid point. Academia is dominated by liberal ideology. The overwhelming presence of liberal political opinion in education is incompatible with the goals of public education, and it marginalizes students with conservative political backgrounds.
Liberal dogmas in university academics are pervasive and often blatantly obvious. Anthropology has effectively rewritten history into a list of ways in which the West, with a capital W, has been a destructive influence on the world as a whole, in which the past 50 years is a description of how truly awful the American multinational corporation is. Many students who take sociology classes for humanities credits struggle with the notion that white, middle-class American men are responsible for everything that is wrong in the world. Most classes assume evolution and global warming as scientific fact, not a subject of debate, and it’s probably only in the geological engineering department that drilling for oil is considered as a worthwhile pursuit.
In general, there may as well be a sign at the entrance to social science classes that says, “Check any disagreements with liberal intellectualism at the door.” In many cases, higher education takes to be axioms such ideas as: cultural, political and moral relativism, evolution, postmodernism and the non-existence of any absolute truth, environmentalism and the conviction that war is inherently and always wrong. Many Americans, and in particular many students, would consider these “axioms” of a liberal arts education to be mere opinions. These students are alienated when they are made to endure opinion presented as fact in the classroom in a way that ridicules their political beliefs.
Over 2,000 years ago, in one of the first major works of political philosophy, Plato argued in his Republic that opinion is something less than truth. I agree with Plato, and I think the goal of higher education is to search for and refine truth. A higher education system weighed down with political opinion is a roadblock to progress, in that it is failing to provide students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in today’s world. Instead, it is providing either a set of liberal dogmas that will no doubt be irrelevant 20 years from now, or a source of constant frustration from drowning in someone else’s political views. Far too often, college education becomes so laden with political opinion that it loses sight of its true purpose — to provide students with truth and knowledge.
With that said, Santorum goes too far in his criticism of higher education. As reported by the Huffington Post, he called Obama a “snob” for supposedly wanting every American student to attend college. The benefits of higher education are significant both for individuals and for the country as a whole, and Santorum is throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water when he argues that higher education should be de-emphasized because it promotes liberal politics. Santorum enrolled his children in an online charter school — which was paid for with tax dollars, of course, as reported by the Huffington Post — but if he were unfortunate enough to require some sort of surgery, odds are he would prefer that his surgeon attended medical school, rather than some for-profit online university.
While Santorum misses the mark because he dramatically undervalues the benefits of higher education to students and the American economy, his criticism of the pervasive influence of liberal politics in academia are timely. He is right to argue that colleges and universities should focus on providing students with the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in the future, not a set of liberal dogmas to live by. Unfortunately, because most of his comments are inflammatory and crazy, this criticism probably won’t have much of an effect, and so far most responses from the academic community fall under the category of “backlash.” Based on Santorum’s assessment of academia as an institution dominated by liberal politics, this is not at all surprising.
Charles Godfrey ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in math and physics.