Cultivating personal beliefs in college

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Throughout his campaign, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has made countless outlandish remarks targeting dozens of groups in the nation. Among his targets is higher education, which he attacked for its “liberal indoctrination,” and called President Obama a “snob” for his efforts to make college tuition more affordable.

Santorum charged Obama’s hope for every “American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training,” as a means to impose liberal viewpoints on young, moldable minds. He argues that many Americans are more suited for vocational training or technical schools. Unfortunately, his charge of Obama’s snobbery falls flat as Obama indeed includes vocational training and technical schools in his educational goals for young Americans, not just university education. In a speech at the National Governor’s Association, Obama reiterates his belief: “We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a $1 million piece of equipment.”

Santorum’s woes with the “indoctrination mills” that are our country’s acclaimed higher education institutions come from challenging experiences he faced at Pennsylvania State University as a student. Santorum asserted, “I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views,” and further speculates the conservative witch hunt in universities could be worse today.

While the student body at UT is viewed as liberal, the professors and course content remain neutral. As a government major at the University, I must constantly address my political views in my coursework. My government professors have been both conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat. At no point have I felt that I’ve “been docked” for my personal political beliefs, but rather constantly encouraged to adequately support these beliefs in the framework of the class. While Santorum argues we have “some real problems at our colleges with political correctness,” I have found that in class, this culture of political correctness protects all students’ political views — from the extreme left to the extreme right. In my experiences, professors are careful to accommodate to everyone’s political views while teaching their course material in a neutral manner.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Santorum erroneously states, “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.” According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, indeed 64 percent of students at traditional four-year institutions curb their church attendance habits. Strikingly, however, the study also shows, “76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.” Furthermore, 20 percent of those not in college no longer identified with a religious affiliation, as opposed to 13 percent of those in college. Santorum’s views fail to account for the generally lower degree of religiosity among American youth, and instead, he attacks higher education institutions.

The University encourages a thriving and open religious community, sponsoring numerous religiously affiliated organizations. These include Christian fraternity organizations such as Brothers Under Christ, youth groups such as Young Life and religious centers such as Texas Hillel. Minority religious groups also have a place on the UT campus, with groups such as Ismaili Muslim Student Organization and Coptic Students of Texas. This past weekend, more than 3,000 UT students participated in the Hindu religious festival Holi. Religious studies sophomore Erica Deitzel recently founded an “Interfaith Prayer Breakfast” to give students a space to discuss college, life and diverse faiths.

While Santorum may have been ostracized during his college days, the University’s neutral teaching policies and vibrant religious life contradict his claims of indoctrination. Higher education gives students an opportunity to determine their political beliefs as they are exposed to new ways of thinking. Students also develop a sense of tolerance necessary for functioning in a country as diverse as the U.S., while still given the opportunity to cultivate their personal beliefs. Santorum’s anti-intellectualism disputes some of the most fundamental American values — tolerance and appreciation of diversity.

Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.