Each year in homes across America anxious parents and high school students undergo the familiar ritual of trying to decide which college or university to attend. In recent years, several widely-respected national magazines have helped spawn a small cottage industry that rates the best of the nation's institutions of higher learning.
One of the most widely-read of these surveys is the one compiled by the U.S. News & World Report. Another is a survey offered by Money Magazine. While U.S. News offers what I think is a rather objective analysis, the same cannot be said for Money Magazine's recently published 9th annual college survey.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find explicit anti-religious bias in the Money survey. After all, the magazine is owned by Time Warner, Inc., whose corporate leaders take a long time to learn why they shouldn't publish murderous song lyrics by hoodlum "artists." And the U.S. media in general have been under fire for years for religious bias they apparently consider permissible, even chic.
But I was outraged when I heard Money's response to a complaint from Thomas J. Savage, president of Jesuit-run Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Mo., which was purposefully excluded from the 1996 Money survey, having been included in 1995. As Jillian Kasky, Money's associate editor for statistics, wrote back to Savage: "We exclude colleges whose primary purpose is to turn out members of the clergy, colleges that require an affirmation of faith from students, colleges where the curriculum or extracurricular activities significantly reflect the ideology of a specific faith, and colleges where religious study of any nature is a significant academic requirement."
On its face, this is a perplexing standard. Why should a college -- any college -- that seeks to produce people of high moral character and fortified personal religious beliefs be left out of such an important survey? How is it that other Catholic schools such as Georgetown University -- also run by the Jesuits -- and the University of Notre Dame made the survey while Rockhurst and other lesser-known schools did not?
This begins to look like prejudice of the worst kind: the kind that falsely bows and scrapes before the high and mighty while sticking it to the little guy.
Such prejudice is also ignorant, both of the place of religion in education and of its history in the United States. After all, all education used to be religious education -- run by clergy, the most highly educated class in any Western society. Many of America's best-known colleges, Harvard University among them, began with the sole purpose of educating men for the clergy. None of this was seen as inconsistent with the highest intellectual standards. Why? Because it wasn't.
A fact unknown in the chic salons of Time Warner and the high and mighty media newsrooms is that today many scientists see a lot more room for belief in a Creator -- as a result of 20th-century discoveries in quantum physics, astrophysics, molecular biology and many other disciplines -- than did their 19th-century counterparts. As Henry Margenau, retired Yale professor of physics and natural philosophy and a colleague of Albert Einstein, told a friend of mine a few years ago, "High school science teachers, Carl Sagan, people like that -- they still carry around the old bias against religion. But to the real scientists -- the ones making the discoveries -- religion no longer poses a problem for them."
There are still a few parents and students in this country who choose a college for reasons other than its proximity to pubs, beaches, malls or nightclubs. With the frightening decline in standards, values and civility ripping at America's moral and social fabric, colleges that offer students moral, as well as practical instruction still rank high on many families' lists.
Too bad they don't even show up on Money Magazine's list.