Rick Santorum and colleges as “indoctrination mills”

The more I listen to Rick Santorum, the more it seems like he stepped out of my childhood. It’s kind of uncanny, actually. From a news article:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Thursday that President Obama wants more young adults to go to college so they can undergo “indoctrination” to a secular world view.

On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.

I grew up hearing that colleges were “indoctrination mills.” It was a staple of the rhetoric. It was a given. In college, I was taught, unwitting young Christians are indoctrinated by liberal atheist nihilistic college professors. Oh, and colleges are immoral dens of hedonism.

This is part of why the Stay At Home Daughter movement is growing, and why many fundamentalist families either send their children to Christian colleges, or are ceasing to send their children to college at all, picking apprenticeships and such. For those who DO go to public universities, there are how-to books to help them survive the indoctrination. There are numerous summer worldview programs promising to make sure college students will be able to withstand the atheistic indoctrination they will receive.

The funny thing is, I went to a state university, and the biggest student group on campus was Campus Crusade for Christ, religious services were frequently held in university buildings (seriously, they even held mass), and there wasn’t even a Secular Student Alliance chapter. Maybe I just went to the wrong one. :-/

I would write more on this subject, but I don’t have the time at the moment.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Yukimi

    My boyfriend is quite happy that Santorum wins because he thinks that someone as extremist will make all the moderates vote for the Democrats (kinda like what happened with Le Pen in France) but the simple idea that there are so many hardcore right-wingers in the world to get this man to win is disgusting to me.

    This really reminds of Cambodia. In the 70′s I think it was, they decided that the intellectuals were bad and one signal one was an itellectual was having glasses… so they were by the streets attacking anyone who wore glasses or looked like an intellectual… I think Santorum would probably approve T_T

    • Steve

      People said similar things about before Bush’s second term. It sounds good in theory, but this is America we’re talking about. You can never underestimate the stupidity of people

    • janine

      Please, keep in mind that Cambodia was already a nation in distress, years of indiscriminate bombings, a large percentage of the population killed and camps of hostile armies hiding in their jungles, when the Khmer Rogue took power. Please, you you must use an analogy, make it one that fits the facts.

      Not to sound too insulting but you are using the same tactic as Santorum-For-Brains when he claimed that Obama’s policies will lead to the French Revolution and the guillotine.

      • Yukimi

        I was saying that Santorum’s rethoric seemed to me as absurd as thinking people with glasses are intellectuals and in general seeing being an intellectual as something bad, not that we were going that way or that he was proposing that… The last sentence could be construed as a cheap shot against him suggesting he would approve/condone that type of killing but he has made plenty of cheap shots and hateful comments so I don’t plan on talking respectfully of him until he starts doing the same.

  • brianpansky

    As long as we’re sharing anecdotes, I’ll say that while the university I’m at does have one freethinkers club, there are ten groups that are exclusively christian, one of which is “Calgary Chinese Christian Fellowship” (perhaps unique theology in some way?) , there is “campus for christ” “youth for christ” “catholic community” “catholic outreach”. O:

    Also at my freethinkers club we did a quick survey of who became atheist AFTER starting university. I was the only one (out of about 7 who heard the call for a hand raise) who raised my hand. Though I did meet another person more recently, he said he had gone through 3 or 4 years of university full of philosophy before he actually became an atheist.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Santorum got a BA in political science and a law degree from Penn State and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. The “indoctrination” didn’t seem to effect him all that much.

    • sailor1031

      Well he’s certainly been indoctrinated somewhere! And I don’t think it’s his church; his rabid idiocy is not mainstream catholicism as I remember it. Of course, maybe we are expecting too much when we think that a man’s public statements should have some correlation to what he actually believes…..one might almost suppose that “rick”, just like “newt”, just like “mittens”, will say anything at all, no matter how outrageous, if he thinks it will get a few votes. Hmmmm,seems to work!

  • Ace of Sevens

    The funny thing is, I went to a state university, and the biggest student group on campus was Campus Crusade for Christ, religious services were frequently held in university buildings (seriously, they even held mass), and there wasn’t even a Secular Student Alliance chapter.

    And yet they got you anyway. What I found funny is that I grew up hearing about angry science professors making fun of Christians and trying to destroy faith. When I got to college, outward hostility to Christianity was pretty much limited to the philosophy and women’s studies departments. You can’t walk across campus in the summer without being accosted by a street preacher.

    • minuteye

      You’re right about the street preachers! My university has a reputation for being a ‘hotbed of socialism’, but in the last two years I’ve been asked to go to bible study and handed literature from various religions maybe once every couple of months. No one every interrupts you in the library to talk about how Jesus isn’t the son of God!

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Philosophy department veteran here, and, in my experience, and I never observed any hostility towards Christianity. People were very professional and, once again, I mostly did not learn their views unless I got to know them personally. I took one course where we spent a good 3rd of the semester talking about abortion, and I still don’t know what the professor’s personal views were.

      I’m not impugning your own experience, I’m just offering a different one.

  • Yoritomo

    Academia has fallen to Satan. The idea of “coming up with something new and different” is in itself a sign of sinful pride. Spreading the notion that inquiry, research and, by extension, independent thought might be worthwhile is therefore anti-Christian indoctrination, and most professors are likely to profess such beliefs.

    (Disclaimer: That’s what I understand to be Santorum’s opinion, not my own.)

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    My mom is a professor at a blue-state public university. She is very politically liberal, and outspokenly so but she would never DREAM of imposing her political views on her students or allowing her politics to come through in her teaching. She doesn’t even have any kind of political slogan in her office because she wants all of her students to feel equally comfortable if they come to speak to her during her office hours. She takes very seriously the responsibility of creating a learning environment that is a safe space for all students and so, I find, do most of her colleagues (I’ve had my own experiences taking classes at a blue-state public university, often about very hot-button issues and, most of the time, I couldn’t even tell what my professor’s politics were unless I developed more personal relationships with them, and then they would always let ME make the first move when it came to discussing our politics). She would consider it an abuse of her authority to allow her politics into her classroom. Of course, it’s not always so easy for her to keep them separate. She doesn’t do it because it’s easy, she does it because that’s what she believes is right. I think she, and many others like her, deserve some freaking credit.

    Of course, since her blue state is also a large and diverse state, she gets all manner of students in her classes, including fundamentalist Christians. And while she never bothers THEM about their beliefs, many of them feel quite entitled to berate HER about various things she does, including occasionally dropping phrases like “oh my God” and “what the hell” and having the audacity to teach that the turn-of-the-century arguments against abortion differed from those today, and did not include the fetal-rights argument. (As usual, reality has a liberal bias.) Some of these students have gotten quite aggressive and inappropriate with her. It’s THEM that need to be reigned in, not my mom!

    Also, ROFLMAO at the “intellectual diversity requirement.” What’s that, like some sort of affirmative action program for neanderthal conservatives? Looks like the Republicans have finally found a kind of diversity that they care about!

    • Meggie

      ‘Intellectual diversity?’ – if that means that colleges have to employ a certain number of conservative, Christian lecturers then surely they would also have to employ a certain number of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, socialists, liberals, conservatives, etc. If Santorum and conservative Christian parents feel liberal secular professors are leading all their (previously sheltered) little darlings astray, I wonder how they would feel about a conservative Hindu? a liberal Muslim?

      For the record, there are four lecturers in the XXX department at our local uni; Professor A (E.European-socialist-atheist), Dr B (Mid.Eastern-liberal-Muslim), Dr C (Asian-conservative-Muslim) and my husband (Aussie-liberal-Christian). Religion/politcs are not discussed at work as it would be unprofessional. Trying to influence students would results in a professional misconduct hearing.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com tommykey

    While I initially was liberal in my early college years, I ended up veering sharply to the right and became very conservative, even though I was also an atheist.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Does it make it worse that Santorum stole this schtick from Gingrich?

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      Gingrich was a college professor so surely he would know.

      Oh wait, the indoctrination didn’t stick to him either.

  • coragyps

    I can certainly appreciate that Santorum and his ilk don’t like the idea of an educated populace……

  • calicocat

    At 4 am one morning I turned on the TV and caught a snippet of a religious talk show where a man who looked a few years out of University was talking about “secular atheist professors who’s job it is to talk you out of your faith.”

    Quote pretty much verbatim.

  • Buffy

    Basically what he’s saying is it’s easier to keep uneducated people beholden to religion.

  • Otto Tellick

    Santorum really is a phenomenon unto himself. Because I live in Philadelphia, the Catholics that I know (even the ones who still sincerely support their local Catholic churches and schools) tend to all be democrats, and whenever Santorum’s name comes up, they just shake their heads, some with visceral repulsion, because in their view, he has become such a shameful and embarrassing spokesperson for religiosity in America.

  • http://www.sustainablemommy.wordpress.com Naomi

    Similar to your experience, at the large Midwestern research university where I study and teach as a graduate student, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a street preacher yelling at students, or a Bible study, or someone inviting another student to a Bible study.

    Fundamentalists’ notion that the aim of college professors is to destroy faith and to indoctrinate students in “secular humanism” reflects an adolescent fantasy that they are the center of the universe. Frankly, it’s the least of the concerns of the professors I know.

  • geocatherder

    Just finished an M.S. in geology at my local state commuter school. I have suspicions about my professors’ political and religious beliefs, but they’ve not but once come up in public or private conversation. I suspect they all tend to vote democratic, give or take the odd candidate, and are mostly atheists and agnostics. There may be the occasional liberal Christian in the bunch. Quite frankly, the things they want to think about are not religious. They want to think about rocks, the stories they tell (yes, rocks tell stories), landforms and how they’re produced, or fossils and what stories they tell. They want to think about science education, and how to make it better. Most of them are extraordinarily hard-working. There’s just no time left in a day to think about religion.

    My thesis advisor, who teaches an upper-division general ed class called Prehistoric Life, makes a point of announcing up front that he doesn’t care what religious beliefs students have, only that they learn the class material and are able to write about it on exams and in papers. Whether they believe it or not is up to them. Privately, he gets fiercely annoyed with creationists sometimes, not because they’re religious, but because they are so good at ignoring evidence. But we knew each other for quite awhile before he would admit that to me.

  • Meggie

    Just to make everyone feel a bit better….

    President Obama makes the Aussie news every couple of days, usually in relation to foreign policy as it influences our country. For example, if the USA pulls all of its troops out of Iraq we might be able to get all of ours out too. Financial policies also affect us and are reported.

    Romney and Gingrich make the Aussie news once, maybe twice a week. Again, foreign policy and financial policy of a potential president are interesting to us because they may affect us in the future.

    The only mention of Santorum in our media that I have seen has been on late night comedy shows!

  • ladydreamgirl

    I read the entirety of the how to book you linked (at least all of it that was available online) and I was troubled by several of the events that Abby described as well as her reaction to them. Taking her at her word, she did have some professors who behaved rather unprofessionally and one of the welcome week events she described was troubling to me as well (though for totally different reasons). Her reaction to her experience seems rather passive-aggressive, she’s only willing to be critical on a very strongly Christian website and expresses how hard she works to be particularly nice in her personal interactions. That sort of behavior just doesn’t seem very comfortable to maintain.

    • lucrezaborgia

      One of her depictions of how a professor made her viewpoint less valuable was kind of wonky. She speaks about how the professor brought up a cautionary about statistics right after she discussed a divergent point of view. Without being in the classroom, I can’t tell whether or not the professor was targeting her or just using that moment to make a comment that would make everyone think.

      • ladydreamgirl

        Her professor’s failure to intervene when a class discussion got intensely focused on her also seemed a bit problematic to me. Even though I thought her fellow students were raising good points it is a professor’s job to regulate discussion and a single student facing a crossfire of classmate questions deserves some professorial regulation even when the students are raising legitimate points.

  • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

    It is entirely fitting that Abrahamic faith such as Santorum’s is so fearful of knowledge. Lest we forget, they believe the most dangerous thing in the universe is knowledge while we know it’s ignorance.

  • richardt

    What the poor stupid man is actually saying is that universities and colleges produce the capacity in their students to question what they are told, to think critically and to think for themselves. This is what leads to scepticism and honest doubt. Santorum arguably has the same mind set as the Roman Catholic hierarchy before the Reformation which kept the Bible and their other holy works in latin and hence inaccessible to the ordinary reader.

  • Macattack

    I find it kind of funny that Christians have the first 18-19 years to “indoctrinate” children but yet it only takes 4 years or less to “unindoctrinate” them from Christianity. Why do you suppose this is so? Could it be because by attending a school with a much broader student and faculty base is actually enlightening them? It also doesn’t take that much time to poke so many holes in the Christian story, that the kids begin to really seek out and see the truth for what it is.

  • ragarth

    I read chunks of that how to book, Fish Out of Water, and I must admit it was exceptionally surreal. That said, there’s one thing in it that I’m very curious about.

    The first page of it is a quote of a quote, and to quote the quote of the quote ( :-) ):

    “The girl made the honor roll first quarter with grades of A in calculus, physics, and organ and a B in chemistry. The University is not permitting the girl to return next year. Why? ‘She has refused to take the university’s three-quarter, four-unit-per-quarter, total-immersion indoctrination course in the Oregon State Religion,” a religion the father describes as the university’s own brand of “atheistic secular humanism.’

    The father says, ‘The course text opens with a thirteen-page article on rape, including detailed descriptions of actual rapes—which sets the stage for teaching feminism—and goes downhill from there.’”

    I searched google for the quote, found nothing, I searched google for classes approximating this or references to the text book, nothing, I went to the university’s website and looked at the course requirements and found nothing remotely matching this. I considered whether it might be referencing required bio classes, but the associates of science doesn’t require bio explicitly and a 13 page opening on rape doesn’t seem to fit for a bio course.

    Anyone have any leads on this? I’m leaning towards the story being a fabrication considering its utter lack of evidence thus far.

    • lucrezaborgia

      The constant references to relativism make me wonder too. Where was there room for this in the classes she took? And why would there be a gun debate in any of these classes or was that a different student?

    • lucrezaborgia

      http://www.sou.edu/access/acadvising/freshmen.shtml

      Found it. It’s a special 3 part class for all freshman regardless of degree. My uni had something similar. I don’t see anything controversial about it.

      Also, I was wrong. It is a different girl.

      • http://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/ Markita Lynda–Happy Darwin’s Birthday!

        What, this?

        A.B.C. University Seminar. Communication: Communicate effectively using writing, speech, and image. Thinking Goals: Conceptualize ideas holistically, logically, and creatively. Information Literacy: Access and use information resources effectively and ethically.

    • lucrezaborgia
      • ragarth

        You’re right, I think that’s it, but from the description its pretty much just 2 classes of college level english and one class in communication. I can’t really fathom why someone would have a religious dislike of that.

        My college does something similar, only they don’t roll it all into one: I had to take English 111, English 112, and Principles of Communication. Between those three, its essentially read modern lit, read Shakespeare, write papers on them, write papers on personal topics, give speeches, and a little bit of effective debate technique is covered for the persuasive speech. I don’t see the issue–there’s gotta be way more going on to warrant such hyperbole diverging from reality, shoot, in the speech we gave this week, one girl was giving a pro-missionary speech.

      • Sheena

        So communication and critical thinking skills are “liberal indoctrination”? How, exactly, does that logic work again? It does not resemble our Earth Logic.

        I’m wondering if this is a fabrication. If the daughter in question is performing that well academically (and does not have learning disorders related to communication), she wouldn’t have a problem with intro to writing classes. There is a lot of context missing. Was this initial essay a “read this and react” assignment, or an “analyze the argument being made” assignment? Were there scheduling conflicts (i.e., she has prerequisites in her major that were held at the same exact time)? Does she dislike the teacher? Is she trying to get her adviser fired? What’s going on, beyond “liberal school is trying to indoctrinate me and I won’t let them” claims?

  • Anat

    Libby Anne,

    Did any of your siblings attend college or did your parents decide that your ‘straying’ meant it was not a good approach to take?

  • Tex

    Giving a flip sided story about my current college (In Louisiana- go figure) but pretty much all of the professors are very conservative politically, and very christian, and while several of them don’t out right state their views, many of them do, and I have a really good idea where most of them stand on most issues just from what they say in class.

    • Sheena

      My alma mater is similar; most teachers won’t mention political beliefs, but some do (and it’s well known around campus). Most are conservative, some VERY conservative, and a select few are moderate (the liberal professors are well-known-secrets).

      If you can find them, your liberal classmates might help you stay sane. They were much more common in the education and communication departments at my tiny, religion-focused, private college. We had good luck with things like book clubs for more “mainstream” novels and memoirs (like “The Kite Runner” or “Reading Lolita in Tehran” — nothing controversial or overtly anti-conservative, but definitely less appealing to the junior patriarchs and Modesty Club) but knew better than to try starting a Liberals’ Coffee Hour. There’s a difference between spending time with those who share interests/beliefs and provoking others, you know?

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  • Jessica

    My dad is less religiously oriented and more politically oriented, but the basic idea of evil liberal brainwashing professors is there. Funnily enough, conservative professors trying to get people to believe their viewpoints somehow don’t count as brainwashing, only liberals do. Also, even if that “62 percent” is anywhere close to reality, I’d bet that a good number of them actually started questioning or stopped believing some time before going to college, and only became comfortable expressing those ideas once they were away from their parents. I know that when I started the process of enlisting in the Air Force, I marked my religion as Christian, even though it hasn’t been for a long time, because I knew that my parents would see, and I didn’t want them asking questions.


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