By Brinda Gurumoorthy
Any student taking US Government and Politics can tell you that political beliefs don’t just appear out of thin air. They are formed by your environment, experiences, and background; the lifelong process by which people acquire their political tendencies is called political socialization. But there are numerous sources that contribute to political development.
One of the most frequently discussed factors in political socialization is a college education. In March 2012, Presidential candidate Rick Santorum called universities indoctrination mills for liberalism, because professors are largely liberal. The claim about professors tending to be liberal is valid, a trend that can be seen throughout history. During the Vietnam War, professors encouraged anti-war sentiment, a liberal ideal at the time. More recently, a 2006 study by Solon Simmons and Neil Gross concluded that around half of professors surveyed identified themselves as liberal, compared to 1/5 of American overall at the time.
Since professors seem to gravitate towards a liberal mindset, it makes sense that they teach in a somewhat biased manner and therefore college students begin to perceive situations and philosophies in an increasingly liberal manner. The same logic can be applied to the argument that college makes students stray from the path of religions, because higher numbers of professors report being atheist or agnostic. Knowing this information, the question is whether or not Santorum’s assessment of colleges as ”indoctrination mills” is correct.
A New York Times article, “The Indoctrination Myth”, argues that the bias in postsecondary education does not have a particularly substantial impact on students’ political beliefs. Although it acknowledges that over the course of four years, students do become slightly more liberal, it argues that the change is one that affects the entire 18 to 24 age bracket. In essence, it is stating that although students are becoming more liberal, it is because of changing societal values, not because they are getting educated by a liberal faculty for four years.
The debate boils down to whether or not correlation implies causation. Many conservatives believe the answer to that is a firm yes, while liberals are more likely to disagree. Conservatives attack higher education and its alleged legal brainwashing by calling it an element of “liberal elitism” and claiming that professors and similar intellectuals are looking down on the common man and trying to manipulate the ideology of our nation. Whether the liberal “indoctrination” is intentional or not, it is occurring and can be irritating for conservative students.
Bottom line – America is growing more liberal by the minute, no matter what anyone has to say about it. Our generation is getting ready to take center stage in a world that requires problem-solving, cooperation, and street smarts; and usually, college is the place to acquire those skills. Learning from a group of people with liberal leanings will most likely influence the youth of today to process and solve the pressing problems of today with a liberal mindset. This could imply that future political decisions will be implemented more quickly because there will be less difference of opinion if everyone thinks alike. However, it could also imply that our nation will lose the benefit of having multiple perspectives on an issue. The issue is far from black and white, and whether the effects of increasing liberalism in the future generation will be positive or negative is a question up for heated debate.