I just came across Peter Berkowitz‘s commentary at The Wall Street Journal on the recent controversy over racial sensitivity training at Duke Divinity School. Also check out the more than 500 comments.
I think religious-affiliated institutions, such as Christian colleges and divinity schools, are actually more prone to these kinds of controversies than secular institutions because there is a temptation to bless or Christianize identity politics as a non-negotiable part of the institutional mission.
Any discussion of the Duke Divinity School situation should begin with the fact that most Christian institutions do not uphold academic freedom in the way that the secular academy defines it. At my institution, Messiah College, I am not free to be an atheist. If my intellectual journey should lead me down that road, I think it would be fair for the administration to ask me to leave. I teach at Messiah College because I do not have a problem with my academic freedom being bound by the teachings of orthodox Christianity. In fact, I welcome such boundaries.
Paul Griffiths also seems to understand that academic freedom is limited at Duke Divinity School. In his e-mail to his faculty colleagues he writes: “We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to think, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession.”
If this is indeed the mission of Duke Divinity School, then it makes sense that those who do not uphold a belief in the “triune Lord of Christian confession” would not be welcome on the faculty. But does a faculty member who has a legitimate critique of racial sensitivity training or does not embrace identity politics as a way of addressing race on campus, but still upholds the theological and confessional mission as stated above, still have a place in such a Christian institution? And if they do have a place in the institution, will it be a marginalized one?
So when I say that religious-affiliated institutions are more suspect to controversies over academic freedom I am referring to the potential of undermining academic freedom within the Christian tradition.
Don’t get me wrong–Griffiths did not handle this well. But I do think that his views on racial sensitivity training should not be out of bounds at a Christian college, nor should his opposition to this training imply that he somehow doesn’t care about racial injustice on campus.