Academic Freedom at Christian Institutions of Higher Learning
This post by Wheaton professor Tracy McKenzie—a personal answer to the barbed challenge against Christian education issued by U Penn’s Peter Conn—was very stirring for me. Everyone at Bob Jones University should read McKenzie’s piece, as should everyone teaching in any Christian institution of higher education.
McKenzie came to Wheaton after many years teaching at a secular institution. Here’s the excerpt I found the most stirring:
For all of its discrete strengths, the [secular] university [I taught at] is less than the sum of its parts. Like the secular academy overall, it is “hollow at its core,” to borrow the words of historian George Marsden. There is no common foundation, no cohering vision, no basis for meaningful unity. After twenty-two years of faculty meetings, I can attest to the truth that the faculty functioned best as a group when we avoided the questions of why we existed as a group. As long as we could each do our own thing we were fine.
When it came to matters of faith, the university’s unwritten policy was a variation of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It celebrated racial and ethnic diversity relentlessly but was never all that enthusiastic about a genuine diversity of worldviews, at least among the faculty and in the curriculum. If you espoused a vague “spirituality” that made no demands on anyone–or better yet, seemed to reinforce the standard liberal positions of the political Left–all well and good. Otherwise, it was best to remember that religious belief was a private matter that was irrelevant to our teaching and our scholarship.
A final comment, this one about the relationship between academic freedom and academic community. In addition to finding greater academic freedom at Wheaton, I have also encountered a true intellectual community here, one that the sprawling postmodern multiversity cannot be expected to equal. Countless times I have reflected on the words of the German minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who observed in his 1938 classic Life Together, “it is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living [and, I would add, of laboring] among other Christians.” When we have that privilege, Bonhoeffer went on to observe, we should fall to our knees and thank God for his goodness, for “it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”
McKenzie also has some interesting comments about accreditation, but you’ll have to read them for yourself!
HT: Alan Jacobs