In the face of growing proof that college students drift left politically and abandon their faith during their college years, the defenders of academia often put forward a series of hollow excuses. Cloaked in various guises, these excuses often boil down to variations on three themes.
1. College student move left because all smart people are leftists.
While some may find it comforting to think that all conservatives (or all Christians) are either evil or stupid, this notion is hardly reasonable. It overlooks the host of serious, respected Christian and conservative scholars, people like Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Paul Johnson, Francis Collins, Ravi Zacharias, and C.S. Lewis. And even the ISI study shows that as students understand America’s institutions better, their respect for our heritage and ideals increases.
2. Christians have no right to complain about university indoctrination because they do the same thing.
This argument ignores the vast chasm that separates private citizens advancing their values from government imposing its values on those citizens. Within the church, individual citizens try to pass along their values to their children and other citizens (just like secular individuals and organizations), and they do it in the context of an increasingly hostile culture. But at public universities, government officials (i.e., professors and administrators) impose their preferred values on citizens, and as they silence all dissenting voices, they do so in an increasingly uniform monoculture on campus.
Thankfully, the Constitution does not ignore this chasm between private persuasion and government indoctrination. It explicitly protects Christians’ freedom to hold, practice, and express their religious views, and even their freedom to persuade others to share their convictions. But, to quote the Supreme Court’s landmark 1943 holding, the Constitution expressly prohibits the government from “prescrib[ing] what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
3. College students move left as they hear leftist ideas for the first time after leaving home.
Of all the excuses, this one would have most merit except that it primarily relies a faulty assumption: that students are merely following the evidence after hearing both sides of the debate. Yet this is simply not the case. Leftists outnumber conservative faculty by eight-to-one or nine-to-one in most departments (and thirty-to-one in some). Half of them inject politics into the classroom, often conditioning grades on whether students parrot back the professor’s politics. And when it comes to hiring, tenure, or promotion, universities routinely discriminate against conservative faculty members, thus preserving the leftist monopoly. In the classroom, dissenting students face abuse from professors. Outside the classroom, they face a gauntlet of vague, selectively enforced speech codes and Star Chamber style disciplinary charges. If they hold events on campus, they face intrusive investigations and threats of expulsion. And if they form a Christian student organization, they risk getting kicked off campus.
So universities are neither dispassionately presenting “just the facts” nor allowing differing perspective to compete in an unfettered “marketplace of ideas.” Instead, they are putting a thumb on the scale by promoting their preferred viewpoints and silencing all others. Hence, the shift in student opinions merely reflects the campus environment, not the merits of leftist ideology.
According to the Supreme Court’s 1967 Keyishian decision, the purpose of higher education is to train the next generation of America’s leaders through the “robust exchange of ideas.” But today, the ideological monopoly on campus produces college students that fail basic American civics but regurgitate university- and faculty-endorsed values. Sadly, higher education is more concerned with teaching people what to think, not how to think.