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August 09, 2014

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"accreditation ought to be denied to Christian colleges that require professors to sign statements of faith or otherwise “draw lines around what is regarded as acceptable teaching and research.”

That's funny. Are they also going to deny accreditation to secular colleges that prohibit Christian teaching? I'm guessing not...

I would like to see how much academic freedom a faculty member of a secular university would have if he tried to publish a paper on the social benefits of of heterosexual marriage. The person would be academically drawn and quartered. What comes across in this article time an time again is the immense hypocrisy of politically correct talking heads who can't see they are guilty of denying to others the very thing they claim to champion--freedom of expression. They are as fundamentalist in their ideology as the young earth people they criticize. The only thing that has changed is the politically-correct gospel we are now supposed to believe. This article is an excellent example of the ever-growing attempt by radical secularism to silence and marginalize Christianity to the very edge of culture. I am afraid it is just a matter of time before they seek to silence us altogether.

This post and the two comments above are classic examples of what we call in Ireland, "whataboutery". In other words, the response to the criticism of Christian colleges demanding professors sign faith statements is to say: Well secular colleges are doing similar bad things, what about them??

Leaving aside any argument about whether or not the two are in fact the same it doesn't really answer the original criticism now does it? It reminds me of conversations I have with my kids all the time:

"Stop playing with your food."

"But what about him, he's drawing on the table."

"Don't mind what he's doing wrong, I'm talking to you right now."

Francis-

The point of the post and the two comments is to suggest that the standard raised by the author of the CHE article is a ridiculous standard that he himself cannot meet.

Which is true.

But then, the CHE author, Peter Conn, probably knows this.

He's wants to destroy Christian colleges. (And, whatever he may say, that is surely his goal...he wants to seriously remove government funding from them and make their degrees worthless in the job market, thereby robbing them of tuition money.) But he doesn't want to do so for the sake of academic freedom and diversity. He's interested in destroying them because they're Christian. They're not his tribe.

Consider this gem

Let me be clear. I have no particular objection to like-minded adherents of one or another religion banding together, calling their association a college, and charging students for the privilege of having their religious beliefs affirmed.
How veeeery tolerant of him! In other words, he'll put up with Christians so long as they are kept in their safe reservations. But he want's to make sure that they have second-class status:
However, I have a profound objection to legitimizing such an association through accreditation, and thereby conceding that the integrity of scholarship and teaching is merely negotiable.
The funny thing is, this guy probably thinks that all sorts of things like truth and morality are negotiable (I can't prove that, it just wouldn't surprise me).

He also wants to make sure that the Christian reservations are not only separate but unequal and inferior by providing his religious adherents with monetary privileges from the state, privileges that Christians are not to receive:

I also object to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars in support of religious ideology, in particular when that ideology has set itself in opposition to the findings of modern science.
He's willing to let Christians exist in their backwater reservations, but if they contradict his religion of science (and, oh yes, that is his religion...he's no scientist, but a Professor of English and Education), well then they should be considered off the reservation.

Conn acts all shocked about the fairly well-worn accreditation process that has been going on for ages in academia. Calling the process a scandal, a fiasco and a farce.

I don't think he really is shocked. He's been in academia too long for that. He's the Vartan Gregorian Professor of English at U Penn. Named chairs aren't given to neophytes. But the polemics we see here are about at the level of an earnest college undergrad.

Please.

Conn has been around the block, and he's been through any number of accreditation drills. He cannot be shocked by the process.

This leads me to think that he is simply lying about his outrage. He's just floating a trial balloon for a tactic that he hopes will work to destroy the competition.

Well, he sounds positively unpleasant as you describe him. I have a picture in my head of a hunched over greasy-haired man with a top hat and a long mustache which he twirls as he plots the downfall of those pesky Christians. You've persuaded me, he's an awful person.

Whoever he is.

But still, the question remains, and I'd heard the question before I ever heard of Peter Conn or the CHE. Is it right to demand that professors sign a statement of faith regarding matters of religious theology in order to teach in a university. It strikes me as wrong and it makes me very uncomfortable. If the theology is true it should be robust and it should not require this. I can't imagine, however horrible all these secular, eeevil science types are, that they would demand that professors sign statements declaring one and only one unchanging understanding of the specifics of the germ theory of disease before they are allowed to teach.

This is why I probably shouldn't engage in these conversations. Why the need to have this our side, their side, they're all out to get us theme all the time. Disregard all that, ask the question honestly and humbly. Is it right for us to have these mandatory faith statements in universities?

"Is it right to demand that professors sign a statement of faith regarding matters of religious theology in order to teach in a university. It strikes me as wrong and it makes me very uncomfortable."

That's not what the subject of this post, or the CHE article is.

The question is whether schools that engage in this practice shall have their accreditation yanked. Schools can and do do all sorts of wrong things that should not result in a loss of accreditation you know.

But, for the record, there's nothing wrong with the practice.

"Well, he sounds positively unpleasant as you describe him. I have a picture in my head of a hunched over greasy-haired man with a top hat and a long mustache which he twirls as he plots the downfall of those pesky Christians."

You are free to form any picture you like. Including the picture of those who happen to disagree with your opinion as simple-minded fundamentalists.

Don't assume from that that you are accurately describing the picture I was painting.

Let me ask the same question a different way: Is there any conflict between making professors sign a statement of faith, on the one hand, and pursuing scientific research?

Many people would say there is, because a scientific researcher is required to follow the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of his or her preconceived ideas.

A statement of faith is a preconceived idea, is it not?

Recruiting Christian professors is very likely to hinder scientific research, yes. However, I expect research has very little impact on a university's undergraduate educating. And, while it is important to graduate studies, I don't think the hindrance would be so great as to automatically disqualify a university from giving students a quality education.

The only problems I can imagine with having a statement of faith is that professors and especially non-tenured instructors who teach biology and geology courses might be too afraid to teach actual science to their students. So, this might have a crippling impact on their biology and geology degree programs. Any Christian college offering such programs, I think, ought to be scrutinized carefully for accredation.

However, even then, the scrutiny has nothing DIRECTLY to do with the signing of a statement of faith. Such scrutiny ought to be given to any Christian university offering a degree program in a scientific field in tension with the Christian religion, regardless of its requirement of a statement of faith, or lack thereof.

What if the evidence leads a professor, by his lights, to thoroughly non-secular ideas?

He wouldn't get kicked out of a secular school like U Penn. No indeed. Nor would his life be made miserable by his 'colleagues' if for some reason he managed to avoid getting kicked out. No. And tenure-decisions wouldn't turn on it either. (Please don't bother saying that this does not happen...I've seen it happen far too many times.)

There is no such a thing as unlimited academic freedom. Every institution has preconceived ideas that it will not move on. Researchers are never permitted to follow the evidence wherever it leads. There are always limits. The difference is that a statement of faith is up-front and honest about what the limits are.

But I wouldn't call these things 'preconceived ideas' I'd call them matters that the institution considers settled.

Are some matters that an institution considers settled actually not correct?

Well, at least some of the time surely.

So what is to be done?

It seems to me that you allow all kinds of institutions to exist without preference. My own view is that there should be no government support for or interference against anyone. But barring that I think you need to go the other way and provide government support for everyone, provided they are making a good faith effort to educate students.

And by "good faith effort to educate" I don't mean an effort to educate under some non-existent ideal like unlimited academic freedom. That's just a recipe for preferencing institutional dishonesty...institutions will say that they support the impossible ideal, but then continue to promulgate their biases obscurely and informally.

Instead, the goal should be to educate the students in a variety of coherently defined disciplines where the biases are as transparent as they can be (understanding that perfect transparency is as impossible as unlimited academic freedom).

What accreditation should do is establish, that indeed, the disciplines being taught are coherently defined with reasonable transparency and that those teaching in those disciplines have the qualifications they claim to have to do so. Accreditation should no more concern itself with unlimited academic freedom than it should with the maximum prime number.

Will these biased institutions pass along their institutional biases to their students?

Yes, sometimes. And sometimes the biases passed along will be falsehoods.

But least there are a lot of different biases that are getting passed along so the errors will tend to average out for our society.

“So, this might have a crippling impact on their biology and geology degree programs.”

Hi Ben,

I just took a look at some of their alumni. I don’t think their degree programs are being crippled.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wheaton_College_(Illinois)_alumni

blanko,

It's hard to say just from a list of alumni, if their biology and geology programs are up to par. Having a look at the course catalog, everything seems normal. They do not appear to teach creationism, unlike other evangelical universities and colleges.

If they did, that might be grounds for refusing accredation. However, there might be a way to get around it, even then. All I'm saying is that close scrutiny is needed there.

Why should teaching Creationism be a ground for refusing accreditation.

The question is whether the people teaching Creationism can define their field and know how to teach Creationism.

The fact that Creationism is probably false has nothing to do with the price of tea. Colleges and Universities teach all sorts of things that are probably false.

Hi Ben,

My major is in business, not science, so maybe I focus too much on the end product (although, I do enjoy watching you sciency geeks duke it out). But, wouldn’t the biologist and geologist produced by those programs be a good indicator of whether or not those programs are up to par? Maybe I should have led with the Colombo question of “what do you mean by crippling impact”.

BTW, I was kidding about the sciency geek line. My daughter is a sciency geek and although I let her know she’s a geek every time I see her, I couldn’t be more proud of her.

In the whole article, the one line that miffs me the most is:

Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research.

While idealistic at the offset, on contemplating this I found it pious blarney.

Skeptical inquiry? I would propose that curiosity and love of discovery are far greater and positive educational forces. Skepticism is a fine scientific trait, prompting further examination and experimentation, but in its extension, leads to a subtle cancer to learning. We can't be absolutely skeptical of all proposed instruction, or else our professors can have dreary tenures. The skeptical mind gone extreme pours cold water on curiosity, blending the joy of learning with a dispiriting "whatever."

Unfettered inquiry? Yes, a noble thought. But, then, there is the issue of the grant acquisition. The costs of research limits this sort of inquiry. This is not to mention the ethical components of inquiry? Will such research harm or diminish humanity? Tearing off such bonds may seem attractive, but so much science fiction is based on the pursuit of "forbidden" knowledge, information that turns destructive.

The whole premise of the article is grounded on some polyanna-esque idealism that doesn't take the time to ponder the further dimensions of refusing accreditation to institutions of education simply on Christian content alone, without considering whether there is merit to Christian knowledge.

I think you make an excellent observation right off the bat DG...I wonder if it isnt some Fruedian quirk, that infatuation with skeptical inquiry since scientism really leads, if followed with logical consistency, to complete and utter skepticism.

“draw lines around what is regarded as acceptable teaching and research.”

So does this request to withhold certification extend to liberal institutions because they don't hire conservatives?

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