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REILLY: Santorum is right about colleges

Facts back up perception that campus life is faith-killer

- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2012

Chiding presidential candidate Rick Santorum for calling America's colleges "indoctrination mills," MSNBC host Ed Schultz recently accused Mr. Santorum of citing a "bogus study" from the Cardinal Newman Society.

What's bogus is MSNBC's reporting. Mr. Santorum is right about the indoctrination.

What has the liberal media all flustered is Mr. Santorum's frank criticism of America's colleges and their frequent hostility toward traditional religious values. What goes on today at most colleges is offensive and destructive from a moral perspective.

Unlike most media reporters, Mr. Santorum's audiences understand his language. "Religion" is not the same as the undefined "spirituality" claimed by many young people today. In some respects, the two are polar opposites.

But liberal reporters seem to distrust anyone they can deride as old-fashioned religious folk. So they have set their sights on Mr. Santorum and a curious statistic that he cited recently, claiming that 62 percent of students lose their "faith commitment" during college.

It seems no one can find the source of that statistic, but the focus on it is something of a red herring. There's plenty of data to back up Mr. Santorum's concern about the leftist and secularist biases of higher education in the United States.

What I know, as president of the Cardinal Newman Society, is that MSNBC falsely attributed the statistic to us while failing to cite an actual study that we published. We're not the source.

So why would Mr. Schultz drag the Cardinal Newman Society into his rant against Mr. Santorum? I have a guess.

In advancing our mission to renew Catholic identity in Catholic higher education, we have vocally opposed the Obama administration's efforts to force Catholic colleges to insure both students and employees for sterilization and abortion-causing drugs. In 2009, we also organized a national petition with more than 367,000 signers protesting the University of Notre Dame's honors to President Obama - a point noted by Mr. Schultz with disdain.

So that's it. Mr. Schultz doesn't like those who stand in the way of Mr. Obama, even a nonpolitical religious organization. We're those old-fashioned religious folk.

Our focus is Catholic students at Catholic institutions. For instance, in 2010, we reported on a finding from Georgetown University that 12 percent of Catholic students leave the faith by graduation from a Catholic college or university. For us, 1 in 8 students is alarming.

But the even greater problem is that among those graduates who still say they're Catholic, many are no longer truly committed to traditional Catholic practices and morality. There is evidence of a similar problem among other religious faiths. That could be the meaning behind Mr. Santorum's stated 62 percent decline in "faith commitment" among students of all religions.

Consider again the results of the Georgetown study, which used data from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Researchers found that 16 percent of Catholic students at Catholic colleges and universities were more opposed to abortion by graduation, yet nearly twice as many (31 percent) had shifted toward support for legal abortion. Sixteen percent had strengthened their commitment to traditional marriage, but 39 percent had increased support for same-sex "marriage." Seven percent attended Mass more often, 32 percent less often.

The data is similar for students at non-Catholic colleges and universities. The Higher Education Research Institute's 2009 survey of college seniors found declines in traditional religious practice and morality across all types of four-year institutions:

  •  Self-described affiliation with most Christian denominations declined only slightly, except among Catholics (5 percent). But the number of students claiming no religious faith - 1 in 5 college graduates - increased nearly 50 percent over students' freshman year.
  •  The number of students frequently attending religious services declined 48 percent.
  •  More than 40 percent of seniors said they never prayed, an increase of 43 percent over their freshman year.
  •  More than a quarter of students who opposed abortion as freshmen became "pro-choice" by graduation, and nearly a third switched from opposing same-sex marriage to supporting it.
  •  With regard to political persuasion, the number of students who self-identified as "liberal" or "far left" increased 30 percent from freshman to senior year.

There is a plethora of studies claiming that college graduates retain a healthy sense of spirituality, implying some experience of the supernatural. But that's hardly the same as traditional religious practice and morality.

The hubris of college professors who think they can exclude religious perspectives from the study of science, literature, history and other subjects is why the Cardinal Newman Society thinks it so important to restore authenticity to Catholic colleges and universities.

For the nation's sake, helping our students at all colleges and universities retain a healthy respect for God, religion and traditional values would be a good thing, too.

Patrick J. Reilly is president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

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