The Tragedy of American Higher Education


What every parent and student needs to know

Imagine wide, manicured lawns, lofty brick building, and doors bearing nameplates inscribed with authoritative credentials. When tour groups walk through my college campus, this is what they see. Indeed, such an inspiring environment prompts well-meaning parents to smile in anticipation and makes incoming students scan the campus in a mixture of wide-eyed terror and excitement. Although parents send their children and students come to college with well-intentioned hopes of a bright future, my experiences as both a college student and college-level instructor have shown me that such elevated expectations are usually naïve and misguided.


When I first entered the beautiful campus of the public university located in conservative southwestern Virginia, the autumn trees had begun to usher in their glorious fall colors, and like them, I had readied myself for my own personal metamorphosis: I had entered graduate school to pursue a Master’s Degree in English. In addition to working on my degree, I had also earned a valuable teaching assistantship that came with a sizeable scholarship and stipend. What an amazing opportunity to earn a degree and pursue my passion for teaching! Sadly, however, after nearly two years in that environment, what most impresses me about my college experience is not the beauty of the campus, the intellectual exercise it requires, or the joy of introducing young minds to the pleasures of learning. Instead, I’m struck by the way the school’s carefully-crafted exterior contrasts with the dark, hidden truth of America’s higher education system. My personal experiences during this time and seeing the inner workings of the university have opened my eyes to some terrible problems within our public university system that every parent and student should know.


Anyone wanting to understand the systemic flaws within our college system first needs to learn this: more than anything else, most schools are interested in their financial bottom line. Financial concerns take preeminence over everything else. Student wellbeing, academic proficiency, and basic decency all take a backseat when it comes to bringing in money. I saw this firsthand when I began teaching freshmen how to write college-level essays. I thought that I had a decent grasp of my job: teach students the required material, expect them to demonstrate mastery of the material, and the level to which they do so determines their grades. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, what I came to learn is that such a seemingly fair and unbiased system isn’t too popular with those who value financial concerns above all else. I was routinely encouraged to grade students “holistically.” By this, my superiors meant that I was to overlook the most basic parameters of good writing such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Instead, I was told to grade “ideas.” Furthermore, when I suggested that their future employers would, in fact, expect their college-degreed employees to write intelligently, many faculty members took exception to that idea. My faculty mentor even questioned the idea of a basic test that graded my students’ subject knowledge.


In addition, even if an instructor wants to grade students based on performance, schools have set up a system that actually encourages instructors not to do so. For instance, consider the practice of allowing students to evaluate their professors. Although I’m not opposed to evaluations per se, unfortunately, a large contingent of students reward professors who sacrifice academic standards. “Good” evaluations (those with high marks) often come with comments like “let us out of class early” or “didn’t care if I turned work in late.” In contrast, professors with high expectations can receive low marks because some students almost always resent the professor who will not dumb down the course. When universities make instructor advancement dependent—at least, partially so—on these evaluations, they encourage instructors to lower standards so as not to risk offending students. I regularly saw this tendency in lower-level instructors, but I also saw tenured professors grade graduate students too easily because doing so offered various rewards.


What I came to realize is the college is extremely hesitant to fail anyone because doing so will impact the school’s bottom line. Although my school is relatively inexpensive, most students pay around $20,000 per year in tuition. One can easily surmise how losing even a handful of students—even if those students are honestly suited for endeavors other than college—would frustrate college administration. Unfortunately, sacrificing academic proficiency is just one way in which colleges shortchange their students in order to financially benefit schools. A more detailed analysis of the situation will reveal a host of other symptoms of the same disease; skyrocketing tuition that takes full advantage of guaranteed federal student loans and a plethora of exorbitant fees that schools force onto uninformed students are two examples of the same problem. When I see groups of potential college students touring my campus, I wish I could tell them that even if they do manage to graduate, they will have earned degrees of little intellectual worth. Even worse, their degrees will cost them a fortune and enslave them to enormous debt for a great deal of their adult lives.


To be fair, although school administration and many faculty members primarily concern themselves with financial issues, there are those who disregard monetary concerns in favor of another important factor: ideology. In my opinion, political ideology is the second most important motivator within the university. Because “faculty at colleges and universities of all kinds in America are overwhelmingly liberal in their political ideology, creating a strong campus political culture … faculty are heavily weighted towards the Left” [1] you will find a majority of faculty promoting extreme leftist agendas both in and outside the classroom. For example, in my field, English, “fully 54% … identify as Democrat and 60% as liberal, and only 11% as Republican … a 5-to-1 ratio.” Their political biases have led my professors to champion everything from Marxism, environmentalism, postcolonial and feminist ideologies while denigrating any position that doesn’t square with their pet causes.


I’ve had a wide range of experiences that confirm the left-leaning tendencies of college faculty. For example, during my first week of grad school, my linguistics professor—a man who esteems himself as an enlightened intellectual—encouraged students to mock creationism. However, when I revealed to both him and my classmates that I was, in fact, a creationist and presented a list of 400 respected scientists who espouse Intelligent Design Theory, he ignored me and refused to engage in discussion. A more aggressive expression of ideological bias occurred when my Native American Literature professor incessantly mocked Christianity for every maltreatment suffered by the Native American communities. When I asked him to explain himself, he first refused to answer my question and then yelled at me, accusing me of wanting special treatment. The saga continued during the following semester when my Appalachian Literature professor exclusively assigned radical feminist novels that portrayed men as abusive, uninformed jerks. In general, although my cohort contains other professing Christians, I’m the only one who challenges my professors’ ideological biases. However, in this last case, even the less conservative students started to catch on to her pattern; one student realized that the professor wanted to “redefine the canon.” His astute observation is one that can be applied not only to one professor but also to college faculty in general.


Rather than promoting the long-held tradition of free intellectual inquiry or exposing their students to the best academia offers, leftist professors actually want to persuade students to embrace their pet beliefs. The linguistics professor whom I mentioned earlier actually said that he had “a missionary purpose” to persuade students to his opinion! During my time in graduate school, I have yet to meet a professor who championed a conservative cause, but I have met many who think Hillary Clinton is Christ incarnate, that guns are inherently evil, and that abortion on demand is a righteous cause. When I see groups of hopeful parents touring my college campus, I want them to know that these are the people who will inform their child’s opinions for the next four years. These young people will repeatedly hear liberal ideologies promoted by the most educated people they know, and I doubt that many of these students are prepared for such a challenge.


Unfortunately, my experience has taught me that the ways schools manipulate students to meet their financial goals and the ideological biases of many professors are probably the least worrisome aspects of America’s collegiate system. Author J. Budziszewski points out, “Modern institutions of higher learning have changed dramatically in the last half-century, and from the moment students set foot on the contemporary campus, their Christian convictions and disciplines are assaulted.” [2] Sadly, this quote perfectly describes my time in graduate school. Although I’m fairly well-read in Christian apologetics and cultural criticism, my firsthand experiences revealed the surprising extent of higher education’s moral degradation about which I had been pathetically disengaged. After all, it is one thing to read about something in a book, but it’s completely different to actually experience it.


When I see groups touring my campus, I want them to know that many of the professors I’ve met encourage much of the behavior that parents fear. For example, I can point to the drag show that the school hosts each year to celebrate diversity month, how nearly all my professors use profane language in class, the rampant promotion of LGBTQ sexuality, and the numerous faculty members who promote drug legalization. Last year, for instance, when a graphic pro-life demonstration came to campus and exhibited photographs of mutilated aborted babies, a large contingent of professors protested by handing out flyers that mocked the exhibition. As usual, though, no faculty could be found to represent the issue’s conservative side. When a professor led an in-class discussion questioning the pro-life position, I pointed out that, as a person born to an alcoholic and a homeless prostitute in 1975 (two years after Roe v. Wade), Planned Parenthood would have most certainly advised my mother to abort me. Did my narrative receive any credence from the faculty? Of course not. They are too devoted to ideology to consider the opposing opinion.


Given the reality that the college’s authority figures offer little in the way of moral authority, is it any wonder that students feel little compunction to uphold any ethical standards? The sad truth is that the school is overrun with nearly every kind of immorality that you can imagine. For example, you may find nearly every campus bulletin board advertising free STD testing at the University Health Clinic, flyers providing intricate explanations of abuse, stalking, and rape posted in the bathroom stalls, and public service announcements urging students to limit their alcohol consumption playing on the campus televisions. This may sound like the university is taking a proactive approach to curbing unwanted student behavior, but in actuality, the school’s permissive attitudes towards student sexual activity, alcohol consumption, and drug use encourage the very behaviors such efforts attempt to curtail. In other words, schools think it’s normal for students to engage in premarital sex, drink, and experiment with drugs, but they don’t want students to do those things too much because doing so would tarnish the school’s reputation! In short, the school sends students a double message, and the posters, flyers, and announcements I mentioned are simply to soothe student and parental fears.


As evidence for student disregard for moral decency, I can cite the many emails that I receive from my university that inform students of various types of campus criminal activity; sexual abuse, suicide, robberies, and assault are far from uncommon on most college campuses. In 2014, for example, at my school of just under 10,000 students, the campus police reported 453 criminal violations. In addition, one should consider that crime is generally underreported. However, even these basic statistics reveal college as far different than the innocent places many envision it to be. What a travesty that this is the environment for which many schools are charging exorbitant fees!


Predictably, the faculty with whom I work don’t see the connection between their own ideologies and the behavior of their students. When I see—as I did recently—a large group of young men loudly chanting “Beer and porn!” at a visiting campus preacher or young women kissing each other to distract from the preacher’s message, I wonder if the Native American Literature professor understands that his rabid anti-Christian proselytizing is partially to blame for the behavior of these students. Of course, that same professor defended another student’s explicit in-class discussion of erotica, so he probably saw the chanting of “Beer and porn!” as a virtuous expression of free speech rather than a vice. On my campus, and on many others throughout the country, both students and faculty consider perversion normal.


In closing, I must say that as much as I feel burdened for the state of college campuses, what concerns me more is the church’s relative disinterest in America’s higher education system. In general, we seem to be virtually unaware of this horrific fact: if the church fails to wake up to the terrible reality occurring on most college campuses, and if we fail to act, every four years we should expect the hopeful excitement of new college students to warp into the ill-educated minds and hardened hearts of new liberal ideologues! Although many Christians know that college campuses are “dens of iniquity,” for far too long the vast majority of churchgoers have almost entirely ignored this state of affairs. I understand perfectly; after all, it took my own firsthand experience to impress the truth on me.


If we want a revival on college campuses, we need a strategy. We need the church to consider college campuses a serious and important place of ministry. Adopt a local school and make serving a priority for your congregation, and pray for America’s colleges and universities consistently! We also need more well-equipped Christians to pursue higher degrees so that a Christian perspective is well-represented within secular college faculties. Serving Jesus on a secular college campus is an incredibly difficult and honorable work, and more people need to view it as such. Most importantly, though, we need to engage with young people far earlier and far better than we typically have done. A passion for worldview instruction—the work of Renewanation—is an absolute necessity! The people of God need to catch a vision for this work so that we are preparing children to think and behave as Christians. We need to diligently train young people so they can detect error and courageously impact culture; we need them to see beyond these schools’ impressive exteriors into the corrupt heart of the matter!


Dear friends, the time for change is now: what can YOU do to minister to your local schools? How can you address the travesty of America’s colleges and universities? Are you like those well-meaning but naïve groups touring my campus, or are your eyes wide open so that when you see those columned buildings and perfectly manicured lawns, you see a mission field ready for harvest?


Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by a college instructor known to Renewanation, who requested to remain anonymous.


Footnotes

1. Tobin, Gary A. and Aryeh K. Weinburg. “Political Belief and Behavior.” A Profile of American College Faculty: 1.0 (2006). Web. 27 Dec. 2015.

2. Budziszewski, J. How to Stay Christian In College. Colorado Springs: Th1nk, 2004. Print.


Volume 8 Issue 1 - The Renewanation Review