Michael C. McCarthy of Santa Clara University offers a thoughtful response to Rick Santorum's recent remarks on higher education. From The Jesuit Post:
People lose their faith in college. Or so Senator Rick Santorum believes if his bold and intemperate statements of a few of weeks ago are taken at face value. As (yet another) Jesuit with too many degrees and who teaches at one of these colleges so maligned by Mr. Santorum (Santa Clara University in California), I’m sure it surprises no one that I respond negatively to such accusations. Yet there is evidence that he is right.
According to a 2006 survey by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, 62% of college Republicans complained that religion is losing it’s influence on American life. Whether or not Mr. Santorum is adverting to this survey when he says that “62% of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it” is unclear. If so, the senator’s claim exaggerates the issue. Far more significant, in my mind, is the statistic cited in Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s 2010 book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. According to a General Social Survey, over the last forty years or so, the cohort of those young people who claim no religious affiliation has risen from barely 5% to roughly 25%.
Such statistics are telling. I’m just not sure how much they tell us. But if Mr. Santorum’s intention was to show that he could “feel the pain” of a demographic whose children don’t go to church, who disagree with the traditional values of their elders, and favor “being spiritual” over “being religious,” then he surely connected.
And he connected because there’s a familiar story here, one that goes something like this: parents love kid and kid grows up going to Church with parents. At 18 parents pay for kid to go off to high-priced college. Kid returns with a troubling disregard for what their parents hold sacred. Unpopular opinion alert: I’d be angry too if I had shelled out nearly $200K for my son or daughter to enjoy four years on some neatly manicured campus only to return and smirk when the family said grace before meals.
We should not be surprised that college is the context where such a turn often takes place. On that point I am fairly confident that Mr. Santorum is right. I’m just not sure it is helpful either to blame liberal professors or imply that the godless academy undermines religious values. Much less should we blame the students themselves!
In fact, I would argue that college is not only a place where young people lose faith. It’s also a place where they find it. Maybe the real problem is that this new found, college-influenced faith of the young looks a little different than what their parents were expecting. And that’s a familiar story for at least one reason: it’s mine.
Read the rest here.