A writer for The Atlantic applauds Santorum’s attack on universities as secular, amoral indoctrination machines.

What can UD say to this? Her love for the liberal arts college dare not speak its name! For who would listen to UD?

UD! The very incarnation of the enemy! A denizen of the darkness – Washington DC. A woman who works outside the home. A woman who thinks state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds are a bad idea…

Well but okay, let’s perform a transcranial ultrasound on UD – right here, right now. Let’s ask UD‘s head to respond to the claim that professors value reason more than faith, and intellectual achievement more than moral achievement.

Moving the wand around… Hold on… Left brain, right brain…

Here’s the deal. Liberal arts universities are founded on reason and intellectuality. Reason and the exercise of the intellect are constitutive of the university.

Morality? These constituents are seen to be profound goods. The capacity to appraise your world in an informed, flexible, dispassionate way tends to give you greater depth, sympathy, and agency in your dealings with various aspects of that world.

So universities don’t value intellectuality more than morality; they are intellectual institutions whose foundational commitment – a moral one – is to free thought, and thus they will study every idea and belief of significance, including ideas having to do with morality and faith. While they are studying these things, they will bracket – to the extent possible – the personal contingencies of the people in the room. This one’s a Christian Scientist; that one idolizes Christopher Hitchens. Fine. For the purposes of understanding together a worthwhile object of study, we will put those differences and affiliations aside.

Professors will not indoctrinate you into trashing your convictions, but we will engage you in exercises that ask you to step outside of them for a little while.


Let’s get more personal. Do I, Madame Professor, value intellectual achievement more than moral achievement, reason more than faith?


You know what? None of your business. When I’m in the university classroom, I value the life of the mind, I value modeling for my students “learning for the sheer joy of it, with the aim of deepening their understanding of culture, nature, and, ultimately, themselves.” (That’s Andrew Delbanco, in an otherwise tepid recent defense of liberal education.) The Atlantic writer’s job is not to follow me out of the classroom onto the subway and into my church, synagogue, coven, brothel, gutter, sleazy pickup bar or monastery so as to determine the relative value for me of faith and reason and intellect and morality. His job is to judge me, and my university, in terms of what our peculiar institution is.

A university is – among other things – a hideout from people who don’t understand what it means to make an effort to be intellectually dispassionate.

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17 Responses to ““[I]nstitutions of higher education generally value reason more than faith; they value intellectual achievement more than moral achievement…””

  1. Mike S. Says:

    ‘office of residential life’, ‘office of student affairs’, etc. – they should all be abolished.

    These endeavors are all to often put together and run by mental midgets, unthinking authoritarians who cannot be bothered to learn the first thing about the law, or the limits placed on institutional power by the law.
    It was priceless when The FIRE told the UC that the university was very clearly on the wrong side of 25 years of case law including several Supreme Court cases. It was less than amusing when, 2 years later, the necessary revisions to the UC’s speech code had only been adopted by 6 of 10 campuses.

    In general, it would be a tragic mistake to conflate the rank idiocy of administrative efforts (often abusive toward students) with the teaching and scholarship as directed by faculty. The article in the Atlantic pretty well ignores the latter while heaping (sometimes deserved) criticism on the former. The implication is that universities [read: librul professurs] are brainwashing your kids into sissy-dom.

    Unless I’m mistaken, UD’s entire blog is dedicated to the exposure and discussion of immoral/amoral behavior on the part of universities and their individual actors and agents. Must be quite frustrating to see the issues severely distorted and then compressed to a talking point.
    (Ooh, how about ‘talking singularity’ – did I just coin an awesome new term?)

  2. Stephen Karlson Says:

    The impression the Atlantic column gave me was that the unofficial curriculum from Student Affairs and the dorms was the source of the indoctrination. The faculty taken together … no matter the politics of individual members … ought rightly see the unofficial curriculum as an academically unsound usurpation.

    Applied to the curriculum proper, however, the Senator’s argument doesn’t cohere. There’s a conservative criticism of an etiolated core curriculum in which what the Dartmouth Review calls “victim studies” crowds out serious learning. Nowhere in that criticism is there any argument that the message of victim studies sticks.

    There’s another criticism in which there’s little learning going on at college. That one advances the argument that there’s little writing or calculus being learned. Per corollary, there’s probably little hope-‘n-change being learned either.

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  4. theprofessor Says:

    Transvaginal ultrasound…only the Republican fanatics would advocate such a barbarism. Take, for example, the fanatical Republicans at Planned Parenthood:

    “Ultrasound is a very safe procedure — no x-rays are involved.”

    “During a vaginal ultrasound, your provider will insert the ultrasound wand into the vagina. This may feel similar to a vaginal exam. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.”

    So opposed are abortion providers to inflicting this barbaric procedure on women that only 83% of them always perform it before an early surgical abortion and another mere 16% “under certain conditions.” So only 99% do it all or some of the time. (J. Benson et al., Contraception 67 (2003), 287-294.)

  5. Alan Allport Says:

    Did the words ‘state-mandated’ get excised in your copy of the post, TP?

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi tp: What Alan said. No problem with the procedure – problem with it being state-mandated for women considering an abortion.

  7. DM Says:

    “The Atlantic writer’s job is not to follow me out of the classroom onto the subway and into my church, synagogue, coven, brothel, gutter, sleazy pickup bar or monastery so as to determine the relative value for me of faith and reason”

    Margaret, you often decry certain professors or administrators for matters related to their private life (e.g. having car accidents or consuming alcohol while off-duty). How do you reconcile this with your stance that discriminates between what people do and think in private, and what they teach in the classroom?

  8. Margaret Soltan Says:

    DM: Illegal activity isn’t private thought. I don’t decry people consuming alcohol on their own time – in fact, I think it’s a very nice thing to do, in moderation.

    If they’re drunk and causing car crashes, that’s of course fair game. But I don’t recall having written about drunk professors causing crashes.

  9. DM Says:

    @Margaret: Illegal activity may be private and be wholly unrelated to academic life. Consider smoking marijuana in your own home, away from children; how is that related to teaching or research?

    Many countries have criminalized private, victim-less behaviors; it seems to me that “illegal” vs “legal” is thus a perilous distinction.

  10. Shane Says:

    So let’s see if I have this: It’s BAD if there is state-mandated use of a particular ultrasound technique related to a serious medical procedure, but GOOD when the state tells you what kinds of things to pay for when you provide medical coverage to an employee.

    But that’s just an interim…in the near future it will be DOUBLE PLUS GOOD when the state tells you which procedures you can and can’t have altogether, because they are the only ones paying, and they’ll tell you what’s what and how much. Oh brave new world!

  11. Alan Allport Says:

    Shane: it’s bad when the state insists that doctors perform an invasive medical procedure on its citizens regardless of whether it’s medically necessary or not.

    And that’s it. All the whataboutery in the world doesn’t alter that simple truth. Back in the days before the Republicans went barking mad, this would have been a straightforwardly conservative position too.

  12. Shane Street Says:

    Alan: I agree, more or less, with your first para, in the sense that the government shouldn’t have much to say about medical decisions between patient and doctor.

    The gotcha lies in the newfound interest liberals get in their liberty over the oddest bits. You know what’s barking mad? Complaining about abortion law mandates when the plan is to have all your medical decisions made by the taxman.

  13. Alan Allport Says:

    So state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds are a bad idea, yes? Glad we got that sorted out, all attempts to change the subject notwithstanding.

  14. AYY Says:

    The case that universities indoctrinate is stronger that you acknowledge. Here are some examples:
    http://thefire.org/article/9063.html (Re Delaware residence life program)
    http://thefire.org/case/841.html (Hamilton College mandatory “She Fears You” anti-male film)
    (Thought reform at Gustavus Adolphus College)
    (Freshman pledge at Harvard)

  15. DM Says:

    @AYY, Mike S.: What I find curious indeed in these stories is that they do not concern academic curricula per se, but off-curriculum activities and training sessions apparently administered by academics.

    In France, we generally stick to a separation between the private lives of students and academic activities; it is not the job of the university to lecture students on what is “good” or “bad”. In recent years, however, there has been political demand for such activities; for instance, mandatory classes about alcohol and drug abuse. I personally do not see how it is the university’s business to tell students how they should lead their lives outside of the university.

  16. DM Says:

    I meant, NOT administered by academics.

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