Evangelical quit lit

QuitQuit Lit: “…a genre of literature about the experience of resigning from one’s job (usually in academia).

Read more about quit lit here. We also did a podcast about it here.

As a professor at a Christian college, I am always interested in reading quit lit from evangelical humanities professors. Over at Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative, he quotes from a letter he received from a professor at a Christian university:

Over the last 10 years, our university’s traditional undergraduate enrollment shrunk by more than a third. Administrators attempted to remedy the crisis in ways that were entirely predictable. They brought in consultants; they marketed the university as an ideal destination for any career-minded person; they highlighted professional programs and portrayed their Christian identity in anodyne terms. Trustees—most of whom have no skin in the game when making university-related decisions—responded to budget shortfalls by calling for program eliminations. During this time, the university relied on athletic programs to drive enrollment.

At the end of the day, the university became a less compelling option for prospective students. The teaching environment also changed. The theological literacy of students deteriorated as the university marketed themselves to a wider demographic. While we managed to attract some good students, many (especially male athletes) were unprepared for college-level work. Retention became a responsibility for every professor. Yet enrollments still lagged, and more academic programs were eliminated, including my own.

The prospect of redefining my professional life is frightening, but staying in academia has no appeal for me. I’ve spent too much emotional energy defending the humanities only to see them subsumed by the servile arts. In cash poor colleges especially, humanities programs have only a nominal role in the curriculum. Administrators may acknowledge the inherent worth of the humanities; yet their survival requires demonstrating their value in economic terms.

For many years, I thought the Christian university could serve as a bulwark against secular drift. But its failure is assured by academia’s de facto objective. Frank Donaghue, a professor of literature at Ohio State, is precisely right: “Higher education is job training, however academics like to think otherwise” (The Last Professors, 85). In this regard, Christian universities are no different than their secular counterparts. Despite their professed mission, they are almost entirely utilitarian in their perspective and bourgeois in their aims. In some cases they can’t afford not to discard the disciplines that would help the Church think carefully and responsibly about the world and its place within it. There are exceptions to this trend, of course. But on the whole, Christian education is increasingly incapable of addressing present day cultural challenges in bold and effective ways.This became especially clear to me in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I watched several Christian college presidents attempt to establish their anti-racist credentials through feckless moral posturing. As far as I know, none will admit to using academically underprepared young men (many of whom are racial minorities) to pad their enrollments.

Yes, administrators will continue reminding constituents about their institutions’ “enduring Christian mission” and “transformative” educational experience. Such language is an adornment masking the smell of polluted air. Scroll through the list of member colleges and universities of the CCCU. Many of them are bullshit centers of cultural assimilation and vocational training. As crushing student debt increases, these universities will have a harder time explaining why someone should pay more tuition at an institution which may not exist in five years.

Worries about my own career aside, there is something liberating about being untethered from an institution whose future is less than promising.

Anyone who teaches the humanities at a Christian college can relate to this person’s story. We are all experiencing enrollment drops and budget cuts, especially in the humanities. I agree with this writer’s assessment about the “theological literacy” of our students. The humanities are being “subsumed” by professional programs and graduate programs. Sometimes I also wonder whether or not our Christian colleges have become little more than vocational schools.

In sum, I fully understand this writer and I sympathize with him. I respect his decision to leave.

I have long wondered whether the humanities need to be cultivated in places apart from academic institutions. (Johann Neem makes a similar suggestions in his book What’s the Point of College? Listen to our interview with him in Episode 54 of the podcast).