One of the interesting aspects of Tom Wolfe’s new book “I Am Charlotte Simmons” (and here) is that kids at an elite college (as portrayed by Wolfe) seem so morally bankrupt. About the only person in the book who has any sense of moral bearings is Momma, Charlotte’s unsophisticated mother.
Tom Wolfe isn’t the only author exploring the campus right now. Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new “God on the Quad” (St. Martin’s, 274 pages, $24.95) tackles the subject of America’s burgeoning (and older, already burgeoned) religious colleges and universities. Are they any good? Or are they diploma mills for not-so-bright kids who hail from religious households?
My co-Charlotte has a piece on Riley’s book in today’s Opinion Journal. TOC notes that enrollments are soaring at these religious schools:
“But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Many religious schools, traditionally regarded as second-tier or worse, have improved the quality of their students and of their academic offerings, sometimes dramatically.
“The evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois and the Reformed-affiliated Calvin College in Michigan now rank among the nation’s leading liberal-arts institutions. Baptist-affiliated Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has embarked on an ambitious program to boost itself into the nation’s first rank by hiring 220 new full-time faculty members. The percentage of Ave Maria’s law graduates who passed the Michigan bar examination last year was higher than that of the University of Michigan’s graduates. Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva University is on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the nation’s top 50 research universities, while Wheaton ranks 11th in percentage of graduates who go on to receive Ph.D’s.”
I’m not sure that I buy Tom Wolfe’s portrait of complete immorality (even the nerds have no sense of right and wrong). But Charlotte Allen reports that that is not what Riley found on the campuses of religious schools. The impact on American society could be profound:
“Ms. Riley suggests that the ’missionary generation’ of religious-college graduates is changing America. To be sure, their moral seriousness and their alma maters’ new intellectual rigor benefit society, and it is true that Brigham Young graduate Mitt Romney is governor of Massachusetts and that Wheaton graduate Dennis Hastert is speaker of the House. But more evidence is needed for such a broad claim. Ms. Riley has, however, more than proved her case that ’the widely held notion that the members of strongly religious communities in America are somehow intellectually backward is a myth.’”