College Professors Are More Likely to Believe ‘Ten Commandments are Irrelevant Today,' New Study Says

By Pete Winn | February 22, 2010 | 3:58 PM EST

Cover of the report, "The Shaping of the American Mind." (Photo courtesy of ISI)

( - College professors are more likely than the average person to believe that the Ten Commandments are irrelevant today -- and to think that America is a corrupting influence on good people, according to a new study released Monday.
Those who teach on American college campuses are more likely to agree with the statements "America corrupts otherwise good people" and  "The Ten Commandments are irrelevant today," according to the report, which was unveiled at a news conference at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., conducted  by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an educational organization based in Wilmington, Del.
Dr. Richard Brake, director of ISI’s Culture of Enterprise Initiative, cautioned that the survey results DO NOT say that all--or even most--college teachers think that America corrupts otherwise good people -- or that the Ten Commandments are irrelevant..
“But they are more likely to think that having taught college, and they are more likely to think that compared to the rest of the population,” Brake said.

Brake explained that ISI randomly sampled 2,508 Americans from all walks of life, asking them 39 questions designed to elicit their beliefs, including the question: “(Do you agree or disagree): America corrupts otherwise good people.”
The survey was designed to find out what impact having a college education makes on people’s beliefs.
“When you look at what might influence the way someone might answer that question, there is a whole host of influences--your race, your age, your class, your gender, where you live, where you went to school and also your profession,” Brake said.
“When we filtered all those other impacts that might influence the way you might answer that question and just looked at the impact of being a teacher in college, we found that there were six propositions that (teaching at a college) had a significant statistical influence on. Number one was, ‘America corrupts otherwise good people.’
“Being a college teacher made them more likely to agree with that proposition,” Brake added.

Likewise, professors were also more likely than other Americans to agree with the statement: "The Ten Commandments are irrelevant for today." 
“Now, again, even college professors don’t (all) think the Ten Commandments are totally irrelevant, but they believe that much more so than the regular population.” Brake told 

College professors, according to the report, were also more likely to agree with the statement: “Educators should instill more doubt in students and reject certainty."
That’s not surprising, Brake said, given that today’s professoriate was trained from the 60’s and 70’s onward to be skeptical, adhering to the mantra of “Question Authority.”
“These are the people that are now our professors--the ones that said ‘Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go,” Brake told
The results found that being a college teacher actually shifts one’s views on whether America is a positive or a negative influence in the world, but the study was not designed to determine the direct impact that college professors have on their students.
“We didn’t survey particular professors and then survey their students,"  he pointed out. "When we’re talking about the impact of college on knowledge and its impact on certain attitudes and beliefs, it’s the entire college experience. The variable we are measuring for is college--the college degree.”
In 2006 and 2007, ISI administered a 60-question multiple-choice exam testing 14,000 college freshmen and seniors on their knowledge of  American history, government, foreign affairs and market economics. The students failed on average in both years. 

In 2008, the focus shifted toward comparing the civic literacy of college graduates to non-college graduates. Seventy-one percent of Americans taking the test flunked and college students were not much more knowledgeable about American history and institutions than other citizens.

In 2010,  the study’s principal findings, Brake said, are that those who possess college degrees are more likely than those who don't to favor same-sex marriage and abortion on demand, and less likely to agree that “anyone can succeed in America with hard work and perseverance” or that teachers should be allowed to lead prayers in public schools.
The study -- “The Shaping of the American Mind: The Diverging Influences of the College Degree and Civic Learning on American Beliefs” -- is available on the ISI Web site. 

(NOTE: Editor-in-Chief Terence P. Jeffrey is a visiting fellow at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and was involved in the preparation of the ISI report.)