Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum is very familiar with the devil. Thanks to his warnings in 2008, America learned that Satan (the father of all devils) was insidiously attacking the “great institutions of America”—notably, its colleges and universities. Shortly thereafter, a search ensued at Elizabethtown College for signs of the bad man—and sure enough, Homer was caught, some sort of exorcism was carried out, and the College was pronounced Satan-free by Santorum. A certificate to the effect was granted to the College, the value of which soon became apparent.
In 2008-2009, the country went through a severe economic crisis. Unemployment reached 10 percent, the stock market fell sharply and millions of homeowners found themselves saddled with loans they could not repay.
Institutions of higher learning were hardly immune to the unfolding carnage. As family incomes and asset values plummeted, college tuitions came to be seen as forbiddingly high and enrollments fell sharply. Institutions heavily dependent on tuition revenues faced battered budgets. Those with large endowments such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton had problems of their own. The drastic fall in the stock market had caused portfolio values to decline, leading to smaller endowment incomes. Gifts from donors, even very rich donors, became markedly smaller, if not scarce.
How did the universities react to the grim situation? They cut academic programs, laid off faculty and staff and postponed construction projects. At Harvard, students could no longer count on hot breakfasts in their cafeterias. No more bacon and poached eggs, reported Vanity Fair—students would have to get by on cold ham, cottage cheese, cereal and fruit.
Such were the trials and tribulations of colleges across the land. How about Etown—how did we manage during the crisis?
Turns out, much better than most other institutions. To be sure, enrollments fell, tuition revenues declined and departments had to reduce their photocopying expenses and cut back on office supplies. But there were no faculty layoffs. No academic programs were cut. Breakfasts were left untouched.
Some might be tempted to credit the College’s resilience to a responsive and responsible management, diligent efforts by the admissions department to restore enrollment levels, careful oversight by trustees and a general willingness on the part of everyone to deal with the crisis in a sober fashion. But that would be a mistake.
Credit for Etown’s emerging relatively unscathed from the financial crisis should go to Santorum. Was it not he who warned us that the devil was afoot—and needed to be driven out from the campus? How many universities took heed of that warning? The great universities of the land, the fine liberal-arts colleges that dot the country, the institutions of higher learning in central Pa. How many of them could claim to be Satan-free?
Lesser mortals would have been content to deliver universities from the grip of the devil, but Santorum did not rest on his laurels. His quest to root out the bad guy is an unending one, for he knows that ousting Satan from one sphere of public life will only lead him to seek refuge in another.
One must be ever vigilant, thought Homer, as he bit into a scone at the Blue Bean. And Santorum was just the man for the job.
After losing his presidential bid (a blow for the country!), Santorum had retreated from the public limelight. Homer surmised he had embraced a life of contemplation and thought and was waiting for the right moment to re-enter public life.
And now he is back! He has produced a movie. Homer has not seen it yet, but he would be surprised if it did not garner at least a few Oscars.
Santorum has been making the obligatory rounds of the cable networks. And true to form, he has raised the question, “Where in the world is the devil now?”
Fortunately for America, he has provided the answer. Hollywood. The devil’s playground, he calls it.
We can’t say we weren’t warned.