Do institutions of higher learning help or hurt students in attaining a memorable post-college life?

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I recently received a copy of the University of Georgia’s alumni magazine, Georgia, that is promoting a 1.4 Billion Dollar Fundraising Campaign. Having attending the University of Georgia on scholarships, I am indebted to what I teasingly say to non-Bulldogs is that “great and grand institution of higher learning.” My Auburn and Ga. Tech fans would often squirm in their pew when I described Georgia that way; of course, now my successor is an Alabama fan, though his wife is an Auburn alum.

Feeling indebted to Georgia and other schools that helped me financially stirs me to help in their fundraising. However, this is also a time for me to ask what I call “A Question for Colleges and Universities: Are they helping or hurting students in the quest for a good life, a satisfying and fulfilling, meaningful and memorable post-college life?”

When I began graduate school in Connecticut, I bought a book by William F. Buckley entitled God and Man at Yale. William Buckley wrote in the Foreward:

“During the years 1946 to 1950, I was an undergraduate at Yale University. I arrived in New Haven fresh from a two-year stint in the Army, and I brought with me a firm belief in Christianity and a profound respect for American institutions and traditions. I had always been taught, and experience had fortified the teachings, that an active faith in God and (an) adherence to Christian principles are the most powerful influences toward the good life.”

As a student, William Buckley was surprised and shocked to find that many Yale professors were busy “persuading” students to give up their Christian faith and become “atheistic socialists.” During the 70 years since he started college, millions of students at Yale and many other colleges have been encouraged to give up the faith of their fathers and mothers to become if not atheists then secularists who live without any meaningful reference to God and “Christian principles.”  

The big question for these “secularized students” who have cut themselves off from God and “Christian principles” is this: Are you finding a “good” and “meaningful” life? This past Spring a Yale professor wrote in a Yale Journal called Reflections about how universities like Yale have discovered that the answer for many is “No.” Therefore, Yale has started offering a course to help students find a “Life Worth Living.” It has become a “crash course on the crisis of meaning that is afflicting millennials” whom “repeatedly express a fear that the world, ultimately, has no meaning.”

This problem has caught many colleges and universities by surprise, if not off-balance and unprepared for the fallout from their assault on Judeo-Christian principles. The course’s teacher refers to how he had been “taught that students were fundamentally held in bondage by ‘regimes of truth’ and desperately need the liberation that comes in the form of deconstruction and destabilization” (p. 36). After years of such deconstruction and destabilization, is it so surprising that many students are floundering when it comes to truth, meaning, and a real purpose in life?

A more recent edition of Reflections contains an article entitled “A New Search for the Good Life” that refers to an Oxford-trained English shepherd who lays down on the grass near a stream with his sheep and looks up at the clouds racing by while his two sheep dogs come and lay down beside him. He breathes in the cool mountain air, listens to the ewes calling to their lambs, and he thinks: “This is my life. I want no other.”

He has found the Good Life! We then read the author’s follow-up words where after referring to the shepherd’s words he adds: “an extraordinary declaration that one rarely hears anyone make.” He even goes on to write: “The sense of outrage that currently grips so many in America is, I think, an indication that people are profoundly unhappy with the lives they are living or have lived.”

Have we not always assumed that a “liberal education” would help us find a meaningful and memorable life? The poet Robert Frost once wrote about being at “two roads diverged in a yellow road” and he “took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”

The most travelled road in America today is the one mentioned in the Declaration of Independence; it is of people in “pursuit of happiness.” America is known as the land of liberty and opportunity, where we are free to pursue our dreams in hopes of being happy, happy, happy! Based upon what we are constantly told by advertisers, if we want to be happy, happy, happy then we just need to indulge ourselves by buying material treasures and enjoying physical pleasures.

Much if not most of academia – aided by the entertainment media – would emphasize the need to jettison our “old time religion” with its legalism in favor of a libertinism that knows no limits. But, the Founding Fathers of America came here not just looking for happiness to be found in the material treasures and physical pleasures of life, but to live a good and meaningful life rooted in God and His “Christian principles.” Would they be saddened and startled by the unhappiness and unsettledness we are seeing on college campuses and beyond?

Let’s ask our colleges and universities to reconsider the foundations upon which they and our country were founded! Next time let’s discuss Jesus’ prescription for the good life, for choosing “the road less traveled,” yet also most fulfilling!

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