Big Brother Makes It Personal

Four years ago, Obama’s Chicago crew borrowed a page from the Three-Card-Monte hustlers in Manhattan’s Central Park. With the nation distracted by the perils of Obamacare, Democrats quietly hijacked the student loan program from the private sector and handed it to the federal government. “We’ve eliminated the middleman,” they cawed, “and the savings will go to the students we help go to college.”

Well, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Since the legislation passed in 2010, student debt has continued to soar. Two-thirds of college students today graduate with debt, averaging some $27,000, and petrified high-school seniors fear that they too will get stuck with it, whether they get into the college of their choice or not.

Last month the White House assured an anxious nation. “Obama will act!”

Yes, the very mention brings on tears of hope and change—not all joyous, of course the federal government has no constitutional role in education.

But what difference, at this point, does the Constitution make?

The crowd in Buffalo stirred with anticipation. Would Obama admit that the government had failed his young supporters, that the “savings” were a deception, and that the seizure was just another federal power grab?

Not quite. Instead, he upped the ante: now that government was funding college education, he said, its bureaucrats will also decide which colleges “deserve” federal funding.

Here’s the Orwellian cant from the White House website: “Obama unveiled his plan to tackle the skyrocketing cost of college by tying billions of dollars in federal student aid to how well colleges rank on affordability and other measures.”

And just what “other measures”? Ah, they will eventually be revealed in “a ratings system the Department of Education will develop by 2015.”

But why can’t Our Leader act now?

“Obama’s plan … would require authorization from a deeply divided Congress,” says—and only then will the “ratings system” be revealed.

But there are hints: “Colleges that are more affordable, serve more students from poorer backgrounds and have high graduation rates, among other factors, will be rated higher.” Less funding will go to “schools that are not doing as well in the federal government’s opinion.”

Memo to colleges and students: stay in sync with the “government’s opinion”—or else.

The Missionary
“I’ve made it a personal mission to make higher education more affordable,” Obama told his supporters.

Then why is he proposing to make it cost more?

Since the 1970s, Congress has been expanding the availability of student loans. Predictably, college costs expanded as well, at three times the rate of inflation.

Why? Because, when you subsidize something, you get more of it. Subsidize tuition, and tuition rises.

And what did higher education get with its “free federal money”? Not more classroom teachers, but higher salaries, fat research grants, country-club campuses, and armies of new administrators who never see the inside of a classroom.

Alarmingly, the academic preparation of college freshmen has declined as steadily as tuition has risen. According to the Los Angeles Times, 85% of students entering California’s community college system need remedial training in English. For math, the number is 73%.

As academic performance has declined, grades have magically risen. “Grade inflation is rampant. Everybody does it but everybody hates it,” say the profs.

“I still hold out for the real ‘A,’ one Ivy League endowed chairholder says, “but otherwise I, too, have succumbed.”

Younger professors tear their hair: “I can’t give the same lectures I gave seven years ago,” one political scientist at a Catholic university tells the me. “I can’t assign the same books. It’s getting worse every year.”

Yet, with Obama’s “other measures” in mind, deans will hound their faculties to pass everybody—after all, how else will they attain those “high graduation rates”?

And Hey, Bro! Don’t students paying all that money deserve to graduate?

The Forbidden Question
Of course, things will get worse, not better—because everyone is afraid to ask the forbidden questions:

Why do freshmen entering college seem to know less with every passing year? Could it be due to the decline of public schools most of them come from?

And haven’t those very schools been under government control for decades already?

And wouldn’t the dismal performance of those schools suggest that, instead of getting more involved in higher education, the government should get out of it?

To paraphrase Karl Marx, “A good Obama-ite does not ask that question.”

They say it was Einstein who defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Well, Obama apparently wants to spread the insanity around.

Oblivious to the profound damage caused by government intrusions into education “over and over again,” Obama doubles down: he now wants to have federally-funded, federally-controlled “Universal Pre-K” for children everywhere.

“Children Belong to the state, not the family,” said John Swett, the founder of California’s largest teachers union, in 1867.

And it looks like universities will soon belong to the state as well.

The Other Shoe Falls
Of course the government, once having seized control of the funding of higher education, follows the gravity of power and demands control of the content (see “other measures,” above).

How will Catholic higher education respond? Isn’t this government the most overtly anti-Catholic in history?

Well, take Notre Dame, my alma mater.

You’d think they’d done enough for Obama. After all, they gave him a superstar reception, a Catholic imprimatur, and an honorary law degree at their 2009 commencement.

Not to mention that they’d already defied the authority of the Catholic Church and declared themselves independent from Rome, way back in the sixties.

Isn’t that enough to qualify for Obama’s “other measures”? Sure, they’ve received hundreds of millions of federal money over the years—but they have to keep on proving their loyalty, or risk losing it.

Uh-oh.They sued the Administration over Obamacare’s “Contraceptive Mandate.”

And HHS Secretary Sebelius takes that betrayal very seriously.

Notre Dame needed to send a signal that Obama couldn’t miss, clearly pledging their fidelity to his agenda.

They didn’t waste any time.

One day after Obama’s Buffalo speech, Notre Dame announced that it would now admit illegal aliens and give them ample scholarships and other forms of student aid, since illegal aliens are not (yet) eligible for government-backed student loans.

Now there’s a pledge of ideological allegiance for you.

Measure For Measure
In contrast, consider Christendom College in Virginia, the only Catholic college to refuse all government funding.

On the Sunday morning after Obama’s Buffalo speech, the Christendom faculty pledged a different kind of fidelity. At the college’s Inaugural Mass, every professor knelt down before Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and made this oath of obedience to the Catholic Faith that Notre Dame renounced half a century ago.

On assuming the office of teacher at Christendom College, I promise that I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church whether in the words I speak or in the way I act.

With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the responsibilities by which I am bound in relation both to the universal Church and to the particular church in which I am called to exercise my service according to the requirements of the law.

In carrying out my charge I shall preserve the deposit of the Faith in its entirety, hand it on faithfully and make it shine forth.  As a result, I shall shun whatsoever teachings that are contrary.

I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the whole Church and shall look after the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those which are contained in the Code of Canon Law.

With Christian obedience I shall associate myself with what is expressed by the holy shepherds as authentic doctors and teachers of the Faith, or established by them as the Church’s rulers. May God help me in this way.

Obama already controls the money. Now he wants to control the content.

The future beckons. Which road will Catholic higher education take—fidelity to government, or fidelity to Christ and his Church?

Only time will tell.

Editor’s note: This column by Dr. Manion is sponsored by the Bellarmine Forum. The photo above was taken on August 22, 2013 at Henninger High School in Syracuse, NY. (Photo credit: AP / Mike Groll)

Christopher Manion


Christopher Manion served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College, and is the director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae™, a project of the Bellarmine Forum Foundation. He is a Knight of Malta.

  • PiusFan

    If I’m not mistaken, I believe Fischer More College in Texas does not have any government funding at all. And they administer the Oath Against Modernism, from Pope Pius X.

  • Watosh

    It seems like conservative minded Catholics who take their religion seriously and are therefore very uncomfortable with the way things are going over the years tend to take out their frustrations by bashing Obama. It apparently provides them with some relief. Now Obama is doing a very bad job, rivaling the disastrous administration of George Bush even, but to think he is responsible for all the ills we face in our society today, to engage in a three card monte in which bashing Obama distracts from the real culprits that are destroying our society.

    • Adam__Baum

      “rivaling the disastrous administration of George Bush even”

      Not even close. Bush was petty larceny, Obama grand theft auto with breaking and entering to boot.

      Bush gave us 400b deficits, Obama 1+ Trillion. Bush gave us Medicare part D, Obama gave us Obamacare, Bush gave us Sarbanes-Oxley (leaving it to the Courts to kill it), Obama gave us Dodd-Frank. It goes on and on.

      People understand Bush did very little to stem the tide of godless statism, Obama is advancing it, enthusiastically-and administratively institutionalizing it.

      • Watosh

        That you would consider launching an aggressive war on the basis of lies that resulted in several hundred thousand deaths of innocent civilians, in the loss of homes for millions, in putting the Iraqi Christian community that existed since the time of the Apostles at risk of dissolution, in the deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers and in the seriously wounding of tens of thousands of American soldiers, leaving Iraq in ruins where now several years after we left around 1, 000 Iraqis a month are being killed in the wake of the civil uprooting we caused by the unwarranted invasion of Iraq, an invasion in which we used depleted uranium shells, and white phosphorus that has been responsible for an epidemic of birth defects among Iraqi children, at a cost that economists estimate being at least 3 trillion dollars, nota bene before we invaded Iraq there was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq, now Iraq is a haven for al Qaeda, that you consider all this “petty larceny” tells me you have led a sheltered life. Most unbiased observers realize these things constitute a war crime.
        Now when Obama was merely an unknown State Senator, the CEO’s of some big investment houses spotted him as someone to back politically, so they raised millions of dollars to get him elected to the white House, where he can do their bidding and most folks will blame Obama not the big investment bankers who will retain control of the next president be he a Democrat or a Republican.

        • Adam__Baum

          Hey, nice partisan single-issue rant. Sheltered life? Perhaps you should get away from the company of those itinerant graduates of Occupy Wall Street who scream “Boosh” whenever there is a discussion of Obama and his innumerable deficiencies.

          Your guy has done nothing to mediate anything you grieve against and you can ask the Egyptians about how wonderful his support of the “Arab Spring” spring has been or how wonderful Libya is now.

          He would’ve launched a war in Syria, where there was even more epistemic problems and less national interest had there not been a massive outcry, so he tried to foist responsibility, but not authority on Congress, and then took shelter in a phony deal with Putin.

          You betray a disordered lack of objectivity when you write “rivaling the disastrous administration of George Bush even”, because Obama is Bush on steroids.

          As an aside, I have to laugh when people complain about some nebulous cabal of “investment bankers”, but overlook the big bucks of Silicon Valley and Hollyweird, who overwhelming pushed the Nobel Peace Prize winner into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

          • Watosh

            Adam, my friend, You made the statement that what George Bush did was “petty larceny” compared to what Obama has done. My response was to outline the disastrous carnage George Bush unnecessarily visited on Iraq. A nation was destroyed.

            Your response did not address this issue, instead you accused ME of a “disordered lack of objectivity.” And then went on to imply that Obama was “my guy.” Now Obama is not by any stretch of the imagination “my guy,” simply because I found fault with George Bush.

            In your partisan world a person is either a rabid right winger or they are a rabid left winger, so if someone criticizes your guy, that means that person is for the other guy. I grew up in a different era before partisanship determined what a person would think about any issue.

            Adam, I consider that George Bush and Barak Obama are both war criminals under the criteria posited by an eminent American jurist who presided over the Nuremburg trials. I wouldn’t want anyone to accuse me of having a “disordered objectivity” for saying this.

            finally I did not wish to imply that the rich investment bankers were the only ones to want to have their guy, as you might put it, in the white house. The big money folk always back the political candidates, both Republican and Democratic, whom they feel will respond to their needs. I suppose this demonstrates their “objectivity.” I hope this dash of reality does not upset you further.

            • Adam Baum

              “Adam, I consider that George Bush and Barak Obama are both war criminals
              “…under the criteria posited by an eminent American jurist who presided over the Nuremburg trials.”

              That’s not what you said originally and it doesn’t support your initial statement.

              “In your partisan world a person is either a rabid right winger or they are a rabid left winger, so if someone criticizes your guy, that means that person is for the other guy. I grew up in a different era before partisanship determined what a person would think about any issue.”

              I said no such thing. I gave a list of Bush policies and then pointed out Obama pursued similar policies, that were greater in scope and scale. There’s no equivalence and to complain about “bashing” Obama, gave away your loyalties.


              We need more “bashing”. You didn’t “grow up a different era before partisanship determined what a person would think about any issue.”, you grew up in an era where people believed the fantasies that were fed to them, because Walter Cronkite said it was so.

              • Watosh

                I do my share of bashing, but I bash someone when they do wrong, no matter if they are on the right or the left, no matter if they are a friend or a foe, no matter if they are my children or some neighbor’s children, because I have the simple belief that what is wrong is wrong no matter who does it. But then my objective is defend morality not to defend some partisan view or gain some partisan advantage. My loyalty has always been to the truth as best I could determine the truth, and I have been wrong in the past but whenever someone showed me that I was wrong, I thanked them and continued trying to get closer to the truth.

                Now when someone makes the claim that I “grew up in an era where people believed the fantasies that were fed to them, because Walter Cronkite said it was so,” they are simply engaging in fantasy themselves, and represents a rather sweeping generalization that is an an attempt to shut someone down rather than to present a serious point.

                • Adam__Baum

                  “I do my share of bashing,”

                  “It seems like conservative minded Catholics who take their religion seriously and are therefore very uncomfortable with the way things are going over the years tend to take out their frustrations by bashing Obama. It apparently provides them with some relief. ”

                  Right, your “bashing” is measured and principled, and everybody elses’s is mere disordered catharsis. That is a fantasy.

                  • Watosh

                    All through our exchange which began with Adam’s comment that what Bush did was only “petty larceny” compared to what Obama did, in response to a previous comment I made when I referred to the bad job that Obama was doing, that it even rivaled the disastrous Bush administration. I then contested this statement that what Bush did was “petty larceny” compared to what Obama was doing by stating some undeniable facts regarding what Bush did to Iraq, which I don’t feel that anyone could justifiably characterize as “petty larceny.” Adam ignored these facts, and proceeded to denounce me as one who was a partisan supporter of Obama, simply because I pointed out that his saying what Bush did was “petty larceny” was completely unjustified. I wasn’t defending Obama, I had denounced Obama too, and I didn’t contest Adam’s statements criticizing Obama. Adam went on to accuse me of a “disordered objectivity” when I expressed the view that I believed in holding everyone to the same standard. He then went on to imply that I was merely a dupe of fantasies fed to me by Walter Cronkite in some bygone age. These were mean spirited personal attacks meant to bully me, and make me look bad, so Adam would not have to reply to my initial argument that what George Bush did could hardly be considered “petty larceny.” So would Adam admit he was wrong to characterize what Bush did as “petty larceny” or does he contend that the uncontested facts I supplied regarding the invasion of Iraq constituted nothing more in his opinion than “petty larceny?” That was the issue, not Obama, not “my loyalties,” not my judgement, but Adam, just address this point directly without obfuscating any more. Can you explain, Adam, why you consider what Bush did in invading a country that posed no threat to us, and utterly destroyed that country, as nothing more than “petty larceny?” That is all I ask.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      What should have been a simple exchange that was meant to inform you that some people think Obama is a far worse President than Bush, was turned into a torturous and tedious exchange, because you want to turn a comparative analogy into a precise ruler and your opinions into facts.

                      For you, there’s one issue, one issue only and that’s the Iraq War, you demand some elaboration for a defense I never offered. If I were so inclined, an exhange with you would be the ultimate exercise in futility. For you, this is the “ne plus ultra” of presidential perfidy, and nothing else matters.

                      You simply have this completely disordered visceral reaction to the term “petty larcency”, and further discussion is unwarranted. I’m done with you and your selective indignity now.

                    • Watosh

                      Adam, because I found your statement that compared to Obama, what George Bush did was petty larceny, as something to take issue with, now you take that to mean that the war in Iraq is the only issue I am concerned with. I simply was discussing an allegation you made that I found unwarranted. You then go on to claim that I am unbalanced in my reaction. Adam I simply challenged you to defend that characterization, a challenge you have avoided by making my character the issue.

                      If someone said the moon was made of green cheese, Adam, I would have disagreed with that statement, but this would not mean that I was only concerned with what the moon was made of. And if the person who claimed the moon was made of green cheese responded to my saying that this was not so, went on to argue that I was viscerally obsessed with the moon was made of rather than defending his claim that the moon was made with green cheese, that would mirror your performance. I am trying to make my point with this simple example.
                      Again Adam, are saying what George Bush did was simply an example of “petty larceny” no matter who you want to compare this with? you won’t answer this question will you. I understand why you want to run away from this question, and why you are so angry with me for posing it as reflected in your comments about my character.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      “I’m done with you and your selective indignity now.”

                      What part of this was unclear?

    • cestusdei

      I miss George Bush. He was a class act and a decent man. Not like Obama.

  • PJF

    Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California receives no government funding also. Be careful Mr. Manion. When small facts like this, which many Catholics know, are reported incorrectly, the force of the article, no matter how well thought out and written, is weakened and thrown into question. I am sure you of all people know this and I do not wish to preach. Thank you for a great article and one which I enjoyed reading, though the premise is depressing. I was disappointed by your oversight on this fact.

    • Augustus

      You sound like an alumnus. Do I sense institutional rivalry here? What else would explain the exaggerated protest about accuracy as if one disputed point discredits everything else? I’m sure Dr. Manion is gracious enough to appreciate the correction without needing an accompanying lecture. His larger point, that the number of Catholic colleges that refuse government money is exceedingly small, still holds.

      • PJF

        I agree and appreciate your correction. I was trying to word my reply so it didn’t sound like a lecture, as you put it. I obviously failed. My apologies both to you, for you seem agitated by it, and to Dr. Manion. I was surprised that he said it the way he did and even if he is a doctor, it required correction for the sake of accuracy. In my opinion, Catholics are in a real battle for truth and accuracy and if we allow ourselves to be sloppy then we leave room for negative criticism and real intellectual disrespect from others. And concerning your last point I disagree. If I agreed I would never have written my response. His writing makes it sound as though not only are the numbers small but they are singular. That was my point to begin with. When I read something that posts things as facts and I find one post, though small, that is not true I do not throw the entire essay out and I made no mention of doing such a thing. All I wanted, and I thought he would appreciate it, was to say there are more schools than one that do not accept government funding. If you have a problem with such level of accuracy I apologize. Thanks again and next time I will try better to be clearer about my points. (If one is not allowed to comment as a follow up about a point one makes, and it gets interpreted as a “lecture”, then we all are in trouble. Again, I obviously said it the wrong way. Sorry.)

        • Augustus

          I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I don’t accept your insincere apology. You completely misrepresent what I said. I did not say that the correction is out of bounds. I quite explicitly said that I would be surprised if Dr. Manion did not graciously accept the correction. After all, he could not accept the correction graciously if it was never made in the first place. I objected to the lecture that followed. Why you feel compelled to make an obvious point is unclear other than your pride in your alma mater was hurt. No where did you disprove my last point. Even if there are a handful of Catholic colleges that don’t accept government money–out of hundreds of institutions–that low number is pathetic. One would think you would agree. Finally, now you say that when you find an error in an article you don’t question that accuracy of the rest of the article. Yet, that is precisely what you implied in your post, that one inaccuracy casts doubt on the whole article: “the force of the article … is weakened and thrown into question.” I’m sure we agree more than we disagree. I’m simply saying that your point about the importance of accuracy is a truism that most everyone on our side agrees with, including, I am sure, Dr. Manion. (This is not true for the left which believes that the ends justify the means.)

          • PJF

            Thank you. I’m sorry you judge me that way. Sorry for not understanding you properly.

            • Augustus

              I didn’t mean to make a big fuss about this. I agree completely with you about the need for accuracy. We should all follow your advice.

  • Amy

    I believe that Belmont Abbey also rejects government
    money .

  • JM

    Thank you for pointing out yet another power grab by this administration. I would also add that the ineffectiveness of any of the proposed solutions is in part intentional. If the next generation is pushed towards schools that follow the ideology behind this administration and the “other measures” they require for aid, but those students still graduate with a substantial student loan debt, then the likelyhood that a large portion of those students will eventually be dependant on other forms of government assistance increases. Kind of a counterbalance to the potential for increased autonomy and independance that comes from the better careers that college educations are supposed to provide.
    So between the indoctrination received on campus and increased dependance on government assistance that this will bring about; another generation of loyal party voters is formed.
    It is a good thing we have the hope we find in Jesus or else this would be really depressing.

  • davend

    Apparently, Notre Dame also doesn’t teach its students how to construct a paragraph.

  • roxwyfe

    It would be VERY beneficial if the USCCB would/could put together a list of truly CATHOLIC universities that receive no federal funding. Of course, then they would have to get out of bed with the administration and grow a backbone, so it would never happen. Nice fantasy, though.

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  • Howard

    Grade inflation is a real problem, but so far it has nothing to do with the federal funding question. It comes about for 2 reasons: it has leaked up from the K-12 system, which has had a serious problem with grade inflation for a long time, and a large part of the evaluation of nontenured faculty comes from student evaluations. I have taught at public universities for 13 years, and no other faculty member has ever sat through one of my classes to observe it. The only measure they have of my teaching comes from student evaluations, and these students are used to easy As and Bs from high school. A young professor has no incentive to rock the boat.

  • Christopher Manion

    Thank you for your comments. There are multiple forms of federal aid available to Catholic higher education and there are multiple ways in which various Catholic institutions, their faculty, and their students do and don’t receive it.

    There are also various approaches that colleges employ to articulate their policies regarding the issue.

    In a forthcoming contribution to these pages I will take a closer look at all of this. In the meantime, many thanks for your your patience.