The Moral Bankruptcy of Higher Education - and the Opportunity it Gives Christians
In a disturbing House hearing this week, the heads of three of America’s most prestigious universities — Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — equivocated on whether calls for the slaughter of the Jewish people are acceptable.
Used to employing the artful dodges of academic jargon, these “educators” did their best to use complex sentence structures and condescending nuance to avoid answering straightforward questions. When asked by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) — herself a Harvard grad — direct questions about massive student demonstrations condoning violence against Israel and Jews in general, Harvard president Claudine Gay said, “We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful — it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, intimidation.”
Calling for mass murder is not “bullying, harassment, (and) intimidation?” And so it went — the cowardly evasions of the ivory tower flowing from the leaders of some of the reputedly greatest institutions of higher learning in the world. So now, alarmed by the unnerving calm of a group of PhDs defending their students’ “right” to call for slaughter, the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees met in an apparent state of panic over Penn president Liz Magill’s refusal to condemn genocide. Magill has now “promised to review the university’s code of conduct after she faced calls to resign for declining to say whether advocating genocide was a violation of the policy.” How reassuring.
For decades, conservatives have been warning that university liberal arts faculties are run by academics who are wandering so far left that were the earth flat they would fall off. Now, we have data to prove this. In a faculty survey published last fall, the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that “more than 80 percent of Harvard faculty respondents characterized their political leanings as ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal.’” Less than 2% characterized themselves as conservative. More broadly, a 2016-2017 study found that 60% of university faculty identified as “left or far left.”
To be clear, being liberal and being anti-Semitic are not synonymous. Rather, it should surprise no one that in environments where young people are taught that Israel is an illegitimate state, that claiming there are moral absolutes is oppressive patriarchal nonsense, and that “heteronormativity” (i.e., the norm of being attracted to the opposite gender) is merely a repulsive social construct that should be crushed, a good number of these young men and women will be swayed.
Post-teenagers are well-known for a proneness to moral indignation. Given that many have had virtually no moral training in the home or churches (just be nice, believe in some kind of deity, and vote Democratic — this is the de facto creed of “mainline” Protestantism) and have not been taught to think carefully and critically in their public schools, it should be unsurprising that when a post-modern professor waxes on about a real or imagined problem, sprinkling his lecture copiously with calls for “justice” and presenting well-culled “facts” to buttress his case, some impressionable youth will fall for his ill-conceived blather.
There is no such thing as values-neutrality. Between Josef Stalin’s celebration of his mass killings (or as he put it, “Who’s going to remember all this riff-raff in 10 or 20 years’ time? No one”) and Jesus’s teaching that we should love our enemies, there is a great gulf fixed. While no one (to my knowledge) stands behind a university lectern actually calling for murder, thousands of my fellow PhDs take their lecture hall podiums and foster theological unbelief, ethical confusion, factual distortion, and logical fallacies day by day, week after week.
So now, as we see major college campuses awash in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric, many university donors and political commentators are shocked by what they are hearing. Why? Have they honestly assumed you can void an education of “the laws of nature and of Nature’s God” and produce men and women of character, moral bravery, and sound minds? Or, at least to some, is this the point: raise a generation for whom hopelessness, rage, and confusion confect into pre-revolutionary radicalism?
The very foundation of our country assumes the existence of a personal Creator Who, in His unmerited kindness, has endowed us with the rights He wants us to enjoy. Try asserting the truth of this claim in any secular university liberal arts faculty lounge. The response you receive will be less than pleasant.
There is another issue at play, as well: Cowardice. Saying no to an insistent child is aggravating; saying no to the insistent, demanding, and continuously outraged Left must be exhausting. But it is also needed. Some voices should not be given space to vent their cries of vicious and ignorant rage. Not every opinion deserves an equal hearing, especially if some of those opinions urge genocide. It is pure dishonesty to suggest that there’s a bright line between rhetoric and action. Fostering hatred leads to hateful actions — this is axiomatic. Evidently the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT missed that class in simple moral geometry.
We should not be surprised by the sudden eruption of indignation now rising among rich donors and many in the major media, especially given the general inattention of much of American society to what’s happening all around us. And while we might hope that the current state of astonishment and anger on the part of wealthy donors and assorted cultural elites will force an accounting of what some of America’s most talented youth are learning, don’t bet on it.
When the president of Harvard — founded as a training ground for evangelical pastors — can’t simply say that when students yell for the destruction of Israel that they have gone too far, such a belief would not be an exercise of either faith or hope but pathetic fantasy.
What we can hope in is that the God of the Bible is real. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan has inaugurated a new kingdom that no power on earth can so much as dent, let alone stop. This is the message we need to bring to a generation desperate for something permanent, something that transcends time and contention and pain.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.