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February 26, 2012


Michael Laprarie

There is quite a bit of truth in the idea that universities (particularly upper tier schools, and probably not smaller private schools that maintain strong ties to religious organizations) provide a liberal education that is overwhelmingly skewed to the left, rather than providing students with the opportunity to equally explore diverse schools of thought.

You can watch any number of the YouTube videos of economist Milton Friedman taking questions from primarily university-aged audiences, and it is obvious that the questioners are very unfamiliar with economic and political thought that emphasizes individual liberty and free enterprise. Primary exposure to political and economic theory generally occurs at the university level (unless you are part of the 1% of kids who actually have a meaningful civics class in HS) so it is the responsibility of the school to provide diverse opinions on these subjects.

However, universities generally do not provide first exposure to religious thought. That happens primarily in Sunday Schools, but their religious training is largely based on rules and consequences geared toward kids at a 6 to 10 year old level.

It's easy to teach rules for being good and the consequences of disobeying God. It's a lot more difficult to teach concepts like theodicy or explore differences between Calvinist and Wesleyan-Armenian understanding of determinism and God's sovereign will - especially if SS teachers have been brought up in the same educational system, where they only have a child's grasp of their faith.

If your faith is weak or insufficient, it's better to have a college professor test it rather than a real-life calamity. I've known people who walked away from their faith after it crumbled under the strain of dealing with unexpected, adverse circumstances. Santorum is wrong here; if you give up your faith because you can't explain/defend it, it isn't the fault of your college professor. It's the fault of your church's religious education program and your own lack of will to explore deeper answers to traditional problems (God's sovereignty, determinism, the existence of evil, etc).

Ultimately though, whether the specific beliefs of LDS will figure into the campaign is up to the press. I don't recall any pointed questions about the more radical aspects of Cone's Black Liberation Theology (the cornerstone of Jeremiah Wright's teachings) being directed at Obama 4 years ago, and likewise I doubt we'll see anything about Kolob, temple garments, polytheism, or proxy baptism directed at Romney.

Greg Horton

Michael, that first paragraph is simply not true. Only people who don't work in colleges and universities believe that. I've met more conservatives than liberals in history and poli sci by a factor of 2 to 1. Can't speak to economics, but I suspect the faux paranoia that animates the right is at work in these stories. Even in the English department, the adjuncts I meet are more often conservative than liberal. As to the religion stuff, meh, I've probably said enough over the years. They can't defend it because it doesn't lend itself to rational discussion.


The sense I got at a UC in grad school was that faculty and staff in the math and engineering departments felt strongly that you were wasting your life if you spent any time at all thinking or talking about political issues. I don't have any idea what it was like for undergrads, but "anti-political" seems like a better descriptor than "left-leaning" for the parts of campus I saw. I think that is largely true of the hard sciences in any powerhouse research institution, with the possible exception of department administrators who are left-leaning by historical accident of Republicans being the ones who are trying to de-fund NAS and other scientific research organizations.

I went to a smaller religious college for undergrad, but the natural science division there was largely apolitical. Most professors didn't care about politics (or at least wouldn't talk about it), but wouldn't try to discourage students who did care.


Having spent the better part of the past decade in academia, I find the recurring theme of liberal bias in universities rather silly. It is true that the vast, vast, majority of university professors are areligious, and also that a much smaller majority land somewhere left of center on the political x-axis. However, while that might be a prima facie reason to expect some bias in instruction (confirmation bias hits us all unfortunately) there is no obvious connection between those statistics and the number of students who leave the faiths of their childhood during college. The fact is that almost no professors actively seek to challenge students' faith in college. First, this is because there just isn't much place for such challenges in the curricula of most departments. Second, even in disciplines where such challenges might fit, such as my own discipline of philosophy, virtually no one cares if his/her students are theists. The only reason it might come up in an intro level philosophy class (the only level the vast majority of college students ever take) is to examine the classical arguments for the existence of god. The professor in such a class will likely point out that these aren't sound arguments, but that will be in the context of having examined a whole heap of classical arguments for all manner of conclusions. If the student is paying attention to the method, she will recognize that the debunking of an argument does not make its conclusion false. Finally in economics, liberalism (classical, not leftist) is the dominant view. Milton Friedman is very nearly as far right as it is possible to go, but his view is much nearer to the median than any truly leftist scholar's would be,

Against the bizarre indoctrination mill claim, it's worth noting that students at religious liberal arts universities tend to abandon or revise their faith commitments at rates only slightly lower than students at secular institutions. This lack of disparity seems to suggest that it is not the message but the method that is important. An explanatory hypothesis that makes sense prima facie is that students' distance from the authority of home plays a big role along with the tools of rational analysis that good college education provides.

Greg Horton

I think I'm going to block Michael's comments when he doesn't return and respond to some of the nonsense he writes. Seems reasonable. Drive-by posters are annoying.


Yep, Santorum did win in Oklahoma. Colorado, too, it turns out, though that doesn't surprise me since Republican primaries are always decided by the Colorado Springs crowd.


I know this bit isn't the substance of your article, but it's one of my pet peeves--

It wasn't a "young pothead" that asked "boxers or briefs". It was a student pressured by the MTV producers to ask that. She had a substantive question to ask, and in a later interview (really wish I could find a link, but I can't right now), she regretted not sticking to her principles.

I mention it because your statement has a bit of value judgment, you know, "these kids today" sort of thing. But the problem is more about the encroachment of entertainment into our politics.

Greg Horton

I know the story. The "judgment" was tongue in cheek.


Good article, as you say, the underwear thing has to come up so we may as well talk about it now...and also as you say, every religion believes weird shit...so why is one group of believes of weird stuff banding against another group? All good points. Eric


Mormon Underwear

Wow lovely I love it did you have Mormon Underwear for men and women?

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