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Spring 2012 Columnist headshots Credit: Justin Cohen , Kyle Henson

On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has repeatedly described universities as “indoctrination centers.” He claims that they spread socialism and secularism to our nation’s youth.

As a college student apparently undergoing this process of indoctrination, I can’t help but feel overtly patronized.

The way Santorum describes higher education, you’d expect a university like Penn to be a liberal haven, but that is certainly not the case.

One need look no further than Career Services’ annual survey to see that of the 60 percent of students who enter the workforce upon graduation, over half join the consulting or financial industry.

While these fields are not inherently conservative, or for that matter political, they serve as the lifeblood of our capitalistic economy. Clearly, the heart of capitalism beats true at Penn.

Likewise, religious groups have a strong and passionate following as evidenced by Penn’s Hillel organization and the great variety of Christian organizations. While students may ultimately leave Penn less religious than when they entered, as Santorum claims, they have many outlets to cultivate their faith if they so choose.

Penn perfectly exemplifies a university striving to balance diverse points of view. In the past two years, we’ve hosted two of the GOP’s major presidential candidates (Jon Huntsman Jr. and Newt Gingrich) and would have hosted House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) if his talk had not coincided with the Occupy Philadelphia protests.

While Penn surely doesn’t perfectly represent all universities, wouldn’t its indoctrination agenda prevent such conservatives from appearing on campus?

Certainly, there must be some grain of truth to Santorum’s assertion that schools like Penn shape their students. After all, much of our education comes directly from the mouths of Ivy League professors known for their “ivory tower” view of the world.

Santorum is correct in asserting that universities change their students. I, however, contend that this process is both consensual and beneficial for those involved.

Thus it seems that Santorum’s most alarming assumption in labeling universities “indoctrination centers” is not that professors proselytize, but that college students sponge up whatever they are told. While some students may fall prey to this exact type of influence, it is ultimately the responsibility of each and every student to develop and defend his or her own beliefs.

If one’s beliefs coming into Penn are so easily replaced by a few professors standing behind a podium, it might be that those beliefs were never very strong to begin with. Shouldn’t college be a place to test students’ ideals, whatever they might be?

I had a similar experience last year thanks to a professor I had in a healthcare management course. While this professor’s conservative beliefs were certainly an exception to those of most professors I have encountered, he was not afraid to let us know his opinion.

No topic can be taught in an entirely objective manner, nor should it be. While his beliefs often verged upon the extreme, at no point did I feel that he was intending to indoctrinate the class.

Many of my classmates and I appreciated his point of view. We don’t spend $50,000 a year over four years just to read textbooks and have our beliefs reinforced. We want to hear brilliant opinions and arguments from our professors.

I feel confident that most students are cognizant of external biases that influence their beliefs but remain adamant about their ideals. Santorum’s comment should, however, serve as a warning to the dangers of accepting everything that we’re told.

Santorum would agree that we, as college students, are here to think for ourselves and tell our professors when we think they’re wrong. Even when we lack the confidence, no one forces us to agree with our professors’ beliefs.

So, regardless of our political affiliation or beliefs, as we analyze debates and choose our next president this year, prove Santorum wrong by acting as a critical and free-thinking voter.

Kyle Henson is a College junior from Harrisburg, Pa. His email address is The Logical Skeptic appears every other Tuesday.

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