Where Sustainability, Public Policy, and Higher Ed meet – a guest post

The  following is a guest post by Meika Jensen of mastersdegree.net . It is worth reading among other things in relation to http://www.uea.ac.uk/phi/courses/MA+MSc+ENV+HUM+Leaflet / http://rupertread.org/search?q=masters , the brand new interdisciplinary Masters course (that was originally my brainchild) now starting at UEA:

Where Sustainability, Public Policy, and Higher Ed meet – a guest post by Meika Jensen

Schools Should Not be Political Battlegrounds

Students in higher education tend to worry mostly about getting papers turned in on time, finding that last necessary reference, or simple waking up. Professors, in turn, typically worry about grading said papers, finding effective methods to reach students, and simply waking up. Outside of university walls, however, politics play a major role in nearly every higher education decision, from how many students can be accepted to how much online masters degree programs can charge. Amidst the constant rhetoric from all parties, the heart of education itself is misused or forgotten entirely.
It is difficult to blame the schools. After all, public universities receive their funding from government organizations, while private institutions are forced to take a side by their major contributors. They need the money to operate and are bound by both federal and state laws. More blame falls political leaders who use schools as scapegoats for their own platforms.
Under Attack
Indoctrination is a buzzword that rightfully invokes fear, but is incorrectly use as often as it is used correctly. If you can make voters afraid that institutions are brainwashing youth – especially their own children – winning votes for your “protective” measures is far easier. Perhaps this strategy lies behind Republican nominee Rick Santorum’s education comments in early 2012, where he called President Obama a snob for saying all Americans should go to college and labeled universities as indoctrination mills that would tear youth away from their religions, communities, and morals.
On one level the attacks make sense: politicians will be politicians. Santorum’s comments, along with similar conservative statements, are an easy way to call attention and prove key party differences. But in the process of winning votes, these politicians are involving every higher education organization in the U.S. at a time when colleges have other things to worry about. Further, as the achievement gap in this country widens and our students fall behind at a time academic excellence is more imperative than ever, these comments could be viewed as detrimental to progress.
Academic Trends
While professors do tend to be liberal, Santorum’s argument is a little disjointed. College professors rarely speak to students about what they do on Sundays. Religious voters can take quick comfort in studies that show college students shift their religious habits and political leanings no more than other American kids their age. While many are decidedly less religious than previous generations, only 22% of students would say they have no religious preference. In some cases, education even supports religious affiliations rather than, as common punditry suggests, tearing it down. Further, it is generally believed that it is their parents, not their teachers, who have the most effect on students’ church attendance. After all, it is their parents who instilled the practice.
The political war, in fact, does far more damage than good to higher education through its basic misunderstandings. Universities are concerned with increasing enrollment, controlling tuition, and making programs applicable to a forever changing and frequently challenging job market. They have little time to constantly switch guidelines in favor of whatever legislative winds are currently blowing. While a hands-off policy is not practical in the U.S., politicians with true respect for the system should think about taking a step back.

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