Last week, I discussed Senator Rick Santorum's plan to prevent government interference in education by imposing a federal requirement for accreditation of ideological balance in teaching ("A new opportunity for linguists", 2/20/2012). I saw this a major source of new jobs for linguists, though I also worried about the impact on the teaching loads of conservative faculty members, and also on the possibility of the vetting process being outsourced to the large pool of experienced and under-employed accreditors in places like the former Soviet Union and its satellites, where up to a quarter of university staff were on retainer to accreditation agencies such as the Stasi or the KGB. In the end, though, I decided that neither the opportunities and the perils were serious, since the proposal was really just a joke, meant to make liberals think twice about things like Title IX constraints on sex inequalities in collegiate athletics.
But Thursday evening, Senator Santorum gave a long interview to Glenn Beck; and at around 33:50 of the version on YouTube, they discussed at some length the idea of enforcing ideological balance in higher education. And this version didn't sound like a joke.
|Beck:||I'm going to give you a pass and not uh have you necess- you don't have to respond yes or no on this
but I think the biggest cancer in our country comes from the educational system, especially higher learn- uh learning
our universities and uh *that* should be
you know proposed controversial things on these things in the past
the bottom line is that if you look at
sixty two percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it
|Santorum:||Uh I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college|
|Santorum:||Cause they're fac- they're indoctrination mills|
|Beck:||Oh, it's indoctrination, yeah.|
I- I've- I've floated the idea and I-
I'm trying to figure out how we can-
we can make it work
of somehow or another requiring
you know colleges and universities
who receive public dollars
in their pr- in their uh in- on their- on their campus …
|Beck:||It's pretty easy, you're sp- you're getting the money from
you're getting the money from the federal government, you're getting it from the taxpayers
|Beck:||You want it, then you have to do- you have to have a balance|
|Santorum:||So- so I've-
I've- I threw that out as a concept, I don't
|Santorum:||I've- several people have come to me with ideas|
|Beck:||I throw a concept out
Shut 'em down.
well I'm not- I'm not going to shut down the universities of America
but I- I am …
|Beck:||That's why I'm not running for president!|
|Santorum:||Yeah, I understand that.|
|Beck:||I would, shut 'em down and restart 'em
uh from- from scratch and uh because this is
this is destroying us, Rick, it's destroying us.
|Santorum:||Absolutely, there's no question, they- I- I- I-
don't disagree with that, that-
that what's- what the indoctrination that's going on at the university level
is- is a harm to our economy. Harm to our country
|Beck:||They're hiding behind- hiding behind tenure
and- and they're the ones breeding this Occupy Wall Street nonsense
|Beck:||And notice nobody is protesting the universities. It's crazy.|
|Santorum:||I understand that.|
|Beck:||OK. Back in just a second.|
As I said earlier, there's plenty of opportunity here for linguists — entity tagging and sentiment analysis to help classify lecture transcripts; expert testimony about word sense disambiguation, point of view, use vs. mention, and so on. Solzhenitsyn explored an analogous situation fictionally in The First Circle, and Kopelev described the same situation in his non-fiction memoir Ease my Sorrows.
But after thinking about it a bit more, I have a further concern. I've been sitting in on some of the committee meetings involved in my university's planning process for its periodic re-accreditation, and I've been impressed by the scope and complexity of the process. I haven't seen any estimates of the amount of labor required, but it's clear that it involves many people putting in many hours over several of years. Ten person-years seems like a plausible guess for the amount of work involved in one major university's accreditation process.
A similarly serious attempt to define, test, and validate ideological balance would be at least as large a project — except that the terms of reference would be contested and argued at every step. Enforcing equality of opportunity for male and female athletes is simple in comparison, since for the purposes of the law, there are only two sexes, and you can keep score in terms of number of athletes and dollars spent. Political ideologies are harder to enumerate, and then there's the problem of distinguishing matters of ideology (say, should contraception be legal?) from matters of fact (say, did different species evolve by descent with modification?). Even in the case of clearly ideological questions, it won't be easy to reach consensus on how wide a spectrum of opinions ought to be balanced, and to what degree. Establishing and enforcing a policy will require a large and coercive bureaucracy.
I get the impression that Senator Santorum is genuinely puzzled about how to craft a fair and workable plan for accreditation of ideological balance and of moral and spiritual instruction in higher education. In Glenn Beck's case, it seems that his aim is not to create balance, but rather to use the power of the federal government to replace the current educational system with one that reliably disseminates his own ideas about individual freedom. As someone who would have to sit on the committees dealing with either plan, I strongly prefer what I expect would be Ron Paul's opinion of the whole business — or Thomas Jefferson's.
Update — It seems that Senator Santorum's statistics about the effects of college on faith are somewhat problematic. According to Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, "How Corrosive Is College to Religious Faith and Practice?", SSRC:
As we might expect, recent data from the Add Health study reveals that nearly 70 percent of all young adults who attended church at least once a month during high school subsequently curtailed their church attendance. Contrary to our own and others’ expectations, however, young adults who never enrolled in college are presently the least religious young Americans. The assumption that the religious involvement of young people diminishes when they attend college is of course true: 64 percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution have curbed their attendance habits. Yet, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.
In other words, attending college is associated with a 19% (= 100*(1-76/64)) improvement in religious participation. According to another survey:
[A] quarter of students (25%) say they have become more spiritual since entering college, as opposed to only seven percent (7%) who say they have become less spiritual.