John Leo
A Zogby International poll of college seniors came up with a fascinating finding. Almost all of the 401 randomly selected students around the country -- 97 percent -- said their college studies had prepared them to behave ethically in their future work lives. So far so good. But 73 percent of the students said that when their professors taught about ethical issues, the usual message was that uniform standards of right and wrong don't exist ("What is right and wrong depends on differences in individual values and cultural diversity").

It's not news that today's campuses are drenched in moral relativism. But we are allowed to be surprised that college students report they are being well-prepared ethically by teachers who tell them, in effect, that there are no real ethical standards, so anything goes.

Stephen Balch of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which commissioned the survey, says the results show the dominance on campuses of postmodern thought, including the belief that objective standards are a sham perpetrated by the powerful to serve their own interests.

Because of cost constraints, the survey did not ask what the students think of their no-standards professors. Chances are, though, that a large percentage of students would score high on moral relativism, too, given the atmosphere at colleges today.

Several years ago, a college professor in upstate New York reported that 10 percent to 20 percent of his students could not bring themselves to criticize the Nazi extermination of Europe's Jews. Some students expressed personal distaste for what the Nazis did. But they were not willing to say that the Nazis were wrong, since no culture can be judged from the outside and no individual can challenge the moral worldview of another.

College students are rarely taught this directly, but they absorb it as part of the multiculturally tolerant, non-judgmental campus culture. Deferring to the moral compass of mass murderers is a drastic step, even for collegians steeped in moral relativism. But many were willing to do so at a non-elite campus years ago, and since postmodernism is far stronger today in the schools, presumably more would be willing now.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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