Heritage News Forum: Colleges awry

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2002


Used to be, parents had to warn their college-bound sons and daughters not to let frat parties and football games interfere with their studies. Now they have to warn them about the studies themselves.

Indeed, parents should pay close attention to the drivel and drool that passes as intellectual inquiry on many, if not most, college campuses. In particular, they should examine what certain courses take as their “starting point” – the premises that students are expected to accept before they sign up.

Consider the “starting point” found at Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland and many other schools, where “Women’s Studies” textbooks denounce marriage as an “instrument of oppression” and portray traidtional motherhood as a tool to instill women with a “slave” mentality.

Equally troubling is the “starting point” of the University of California-Santa Cruz’s course, “Environmental Inequality,” where students learn how “modern society not only assaults nature, it does so in ways that reproduce existing social inequalities.”

Matters aren’t much better at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where students of “Black Marxism” learn that “the growth of global racism suggests the symmetry of the expansion of capitalism and the globalization of racial hierarchy.” In plain English – an endangered species on many campuses – this means one thing: Capitalism equals racism.

Then there’s what you might call Bible studies at Harvard University. Students in its “Multicultural Biblical Criticism” get to “critique” the Bible in the unforgiving glare of “ethnicity, feminist, womanist, black, queer, liberation theology, post-colonial and Third World studies.” (Does God get a chance for rebuttal?)

Wacky courses aren’t new, of course. Done right, they can serve a valuable purpose – to challenge beliefs and make us consider other perspectives. But the courses listed here aren’t calls for useful debate on family structure, society, the environment, or the role of women, race and God in society. They’re transparent, unapologetic efforts to indoctrinate students with viewpoints that, in many cases, slip well past the confines of mainstream liberalism.

College used to be a place where students were exposed to the accumlated wisdom of the ages and tested the values they brought from home against those of other students and their professors. Some of their values weathered these tests, others were found wanting. Either way, students came away educated, not indoctrinated.

Today, professors occupying the margins of any accepted political tradition throw out highly questionable “starting points” from which discussion begins. And dissenters? They often are encouraged to go elsewhere.

But how, in such an environment, can meaningful debate take place? If students are insulated from anyone to the political right of Fidel Castro, are they really being educated for the leadership roles we will expect of them in another generation?

We’ve reached the point where the American flag can’t fly in dormitory dining halls at Arizona State because it’s “insensitive to the international students” who live in the dorm, and where stay-at-home moms are caricatures as unthinking minions.

But do students – not to mention the parents who food some rather hefty tuition bills for many of them – really desire the educational equivalent of fool’s gold? If not, it’s time we started asking why so many colleges are salting their own mines with such trash.

EDWIN FEULNER writes this column as president of the Heritage News Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.