Robert George on free speech at Princeton

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Yesterday I wrote a post on Joshua Katz, the Princeton University classics professor who is at the center of a debate over free speech at the Ivy League institution. Get up to speed here.

Over at First Things, Princeton professor and conservative intellectual Robert George has weighed in. Here is a taste:

It is important to know that President Eisgruber, who under the university’s rules enjoys the same free speech rights that Katz and everyone else at Princeton possesses, holds fast to his judgment that Katz was wrong and irresponsible to use the rhetoric (“terrorist organization” that “made life miserable for . . . many”) he had used. Katz continues to disagree with that judgment, citing the targeting and smearing of others, including other students, by members of the group, and contending that his own rhetoric, in context, plainly did not accuse anyone of violence.

What should these two academics do about their disagreement? What they should do is what the two of them are in fact doing. They should respect and honor each other’s right to speak his mind. They should state their positions and give their reasons. Each should engage the reasons and arguments presented by the other. They should lay the evidence supporting their positions before any and all who wish to follow the debate, and let those who are following it decide where the truth lies, who has the superior view.

So Princeton, by declining to investigate and punish speech that the university’s president himself regards as offensive and even irresponsible, passed the test. The university has honored—and thereby reaffirmed—its commitment to free speech and robust discussion. We will debate the issue dividing Professor Katz and President Eisgruber and let people decide for themselves what they think. Some will conclude that Katz’s rhetoric, though certainly strong, was justified; others will judge Eisgruber’s strong condemnation of Katz’s language warranted. Because we at Princeton are free to say what we believe, and cannot be punished for saying the “wrong” thing (or saying the “right” thing in the “wrong” way, or refusing to say things we don’t believe), the business of truth-seeking—in campus discussions, scholarship, and teaching—can go forward in the only way it can truly go forward: in freedom.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the American mind closing?

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James Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, makes some important points about intellectual inquiry in this piece at The National Review. 

I found this section useful:

Begin with higher education, the institution traditionally charged with presenting much of our youth with different perspectives and with asking them to explore alternative points of view. University mottoes often boast of just this kind of commitment, be it Lux et Veritas (“Light and Truth,” Yale), Emet (“Truth, Even unto Its Innermost Parts,” Brandeis), or Scientia et Virtus(“Knowledge and Virtue,” Middlebury College). Many universities and colleges have become renowned for suppressing such inquiry, reversing course on plans to award honorary degrees, as Brandeis did to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or allowing their students to prevent, through disruption, an invited speaker from giving his talk, as with Charles Murray at Middlebury. Such actions are taken today in compliance with decisions of university presidents or in acquiescence to student-activist demands. The institutions now insist on their new unlimited right to indoctrinate, not their old obligation to present uncomfortable ideas. The greater problem in universities is not, however, in the limits they place or allow on outside visitors, which can prove embarrassing for the media coverage they attract. The deeper challenge is found in the day-in, day-out operation of the institution itself, where the left-leaning positions of the faculty and administration are pervasive. Higher education has become a monoculture, serving as a plantation for progressive and leftist ideas. Conservative perspectives are rarely heard. Just a decade ago, when the imbalance of viewpoints was becoming more obvious, lip service was paid to making an effort to bring to campus a greater diversity of opinions. This concern has now gone by the wayside. The term “diversity” itself now carries a completely different meaning, no longer referring to different ways of thinking but to the gender orientations and ethnic and racial characteristics of the faculty. Applicants for many faculty positions are today required to present diversity statements, testifying to their views on this subject, as a condition for employment, while existing faculty in many institutions are asked to offer a report on their equity activities. 

Read the entire piece here.

I find myself in general agreement with this part of Caesar’s piece. I actually wrote something similar here. (If you want to see proof of what I am talking about, read the comments).

I have always enjoyed working at a Christian institution because of the academic freedom I enjoy. Do Christian colleges and universities limit academic freedom? Of course they do. I have to affirm the Apostles Creed to teach at Messiah University. But for those who teach from the perspective of faith, a Christian college can be an incredibly liberating place.

But when I read pieces like Caesar’s, I wonder where conservatives draw the line in their arguments for open inquiry and academic freedom. This is an honest question. I understand that there are different views on abortion and sexual ethics. Some faculty are Republicans or, dare I say, Trump supporters. I would argue, as I did in the Aeon piece above, that there should be plenty of room for diversity on these things. I wish there was more intellectual pluralism in universities. (I also wish there was more intellectual pluralism, within the Christian tradition of course, at Christian colleges and universities. But that is another matter for another post).

But what about a scholar who denies the existence of the Holocaust? Should a white supremacist be allowed to teach on a university campus? Someone who thinks COVID-19 is not real? What about a professor who denies systemic racism? How about a climate change denier or someone who teaches a Trumpian view of American history or thinks the earth is 3000-years-old or believes the past is best explained in a history course by invoking divine providence? Certainly free inquiry can’t be completely free, can it?

Since I do not teach at a secular university, I have not spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw such boundaries. Most of my battles on this front take place from within the Christian tradition. But whenever I hear conservatives complaining about a lack of free inquiry, I seldom hear anyone offering positive visions for what they want the university to look like or how to navigate some of the questions I raised above. If there are examples of this, and I have a hunch that there are and I am just not familiar with them, I would like to learn more.

By the way, the National Review is running what looks like an interesting series on American identity, but I can’t read it or engage it because of the paywall. Authors include David French, Joseph Epstein, Allen Guelzo, and Yuval Levin.

More on Jerry Falwell’s Removal of an Anti-Trump Preacher and Author

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Get up to speed here and here.

Jonathan Merritt has done some additional reporting on this story.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

Falwell Jr. denies he was silencing Martin. It was merely about safety, he said. In an email, he told me members of the Liberty community are allowed to engage in peaceful protest and debate, but “Mr. Martin is not a student, faculty member, or employee.” Those outside of the Liberty community are required to organize events according to “facility use protocols” to ensure safety and order, but he said Martin did not follow these. The gathering, Falwell said, was little more than a publicity stunt:

“It may be possible that Jonathan Martin knew his unauthorized event would ultimately not be permitted to occur on the private property of Liberty University but he simply hoped to garner more attention to his cause by having his efforts stopped. So be it. The judgment was made that it was safer to stop the event before it started than to attempt to turn away an unknown number of people who traveled to Liberty’s campus. Either option likely gives Mr. Martin’s cause the publicity he apparently seeks. The University cannot be concerned with whether its actions provide additional oxygen to either side of a debate but rather must be concerned about safety and security of its campus.”

Read the rest here.

I don’t know Jonathan Martin and I am not familiar with his ministry.  Maybe he is seeking publicity to advance his career as some kind of evangelical thought leader.  But as I read his tweets I also sensed what appears to be a legitimate passion for the evangelical community and an honest concern about the direction court evangelical Falwell Jr. is taking Liberty University, largest Christian university in the world.

By writing this off as publicity stunt, Falwell Jr. seems to be devaluing a legitimate Christian critique of his political behavior.

Ideological Battlegrounds or Communities of Free Inquiry?

berkeley miloOver at Inside Higher Ed, Liz Reisberg takes a global perspective on recent free speech and academic freedom controversies at American colleges and universities. Here is a taste:

Open, uncensored discourse is fundamental to academic freedom. Yet the daily higher ed press is awash with examples of debate and free speech being denied. Remarkably many of the restraints on academic freedom are being imposed by students! The chaos and destruction caused at Berkeley earlier this year prompted by the planned appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos and the confrontations at Middlebury College at a talk scheduled with Charles Murray have been covered extensively in the professional and general press.  More recently students shut down an open forum took place at the College of William & Mary when students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement impeded a talk by a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union. Ironically, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU’s Virginia chapter, was there to discuss free speech. Columbia students shouted down a video appearance by Tommy Robinson. Perhaps more alarming, administrators do not seem to be able to find a constructive strategy for dealing with raging students other than punish them or cancel controversial speakers. 

Read the entire piece here.

The Controversial Jonathan Haidt

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He is the founder of Heterodox Academy and one of the country’s foremost champions of free speech and intellectual diversity on college campuses.  Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Evan Goldstein offers a very fair treatment of Haidt and his critics.

Here is a taste:

Through the 1980s, Haidt says at the conference, liberals outnumbered conservatives on college faculties by about two to one. In his own field, psychology, a left/right disparity of four to one existed until the mid-1990s. “That’s not really a problem as long as there are some people on the right who can raise objections if someone says something that’s just overtly partisan and isn’t backed up by the facts,” he says. Today, however, precious few conservatives are in psychology departments. “If you say something pleasing to the left about race, gender, immigration, or any other issue, it’s likely to get waved through to publication,” says Haidt. “People won’t ask hard questions. They like it. They want to believe it.” This represents “a real research-legitimacy problem in the social sciences.”

Solving that problem has become a crusade for Haidt. In 2015 he co-founded Heterodox Academy to advocate for what its mission statement calls “viewpoint diversity.” The organization began as an online salon frequented by a few colleagues, but after high-profile student protests at the University of Missouri, Yale, and elsewhere, the ranks began to swell. The group now has more than 800 members, primarily tenured or tenure-track faculty. The active ones conduct research and distill their findings into blog posts, which has made the Heterodox Academy website a clearinghouse for data and views on academic bias, scientific integrity, and the latest campus free-speech flaps. Last year a quarter-million people visited the website….

He’s an active presence on social media, with more than 50,000 Twitter followers, and he’s often quoted in major newspapers explaining the campus culture wars. The Wall Street Journal opinion section has published a flattering profile as well as several of his op-eds. When an appearance by Charles Murray led to protests and violence at Middlebury College, Haidt was booked on Charlie Rose to offer insight. He’s in such demand that he charges $30,000 per speech. At the Students for Liberty conference, Haidt explained that his activism is driven by a belief that the stakes could not be higher: “This could be the beginning of the end for liberal democracy.”

His critics, of whom there are many, see his efforts to shift the conversation about diversity away from race and gender and toward politics as at best obtuse and at worst hostile. They say his absolutist stance on free speech is at odds with the need for a diverse and inclusive university. They say he lends a social-scientific sheen to old conservative arguments. They say his penchant for skewering the left, coupled with his willingness to engage the right, is suspect and creates confusion about where his sympathies actually lie. They say he’s either a closet conservative or a useful idiot for the right.

Haidt acknowledges that, especially in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, he risks sounding like a guy in Berlin in 1933 insisting that wisdom is to be found on both sides of the political spectrum. “The election has ramped up emotions so strongly that any effort to say, ‘You really need to have more conservatives in the university, and you need to listen to them’ strikes some people as immoral.” On the other hand, he says, the election has forced a reckoning. More academics are saying, “Wow, we really are in a bubble. We must get out of this bubble.”

Read the entire piece here.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley Weighs-In on the Duke Divinity School Case

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You see him on CNN, NBC, FOX News, CBS, and other news channels.  Now George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley offers his thoughts on the recent controversy at Duke Divinity School.

Turley believes that Paul Griffiths, who recently resigned his post at the school, did not receive a written account of the charges against him and did not get a chance to confront his accuser.  Duke may have denied Griffith due process.

Here is a taste of Turley’s post:

Notably, Griffiths asked for a written account of the charges against him, a chance to confront his accuser, and the evidence against him before a meeting. He was denied those accommodations, which is consistent with the denial of due process in our university proceedings.  I have written about that loss of due process in prior columns: here and here.  Duke of course has a troubling history of the denial of due process and the rush to judgment in cases involving students and faculty.  Many of us were appalled by the actions of Duke against the lacrosse players accused of gang raping a stripper. Eager to appease the outraged public, the university suspended the players and all but declared their guilt. It was not just an abdication of their responsibility to their own students, but a betrayal of a long-standing academic tradition to protect the community from prejudice and threats. For a column on the symbol of this academic tradition, click here.  Schools now routinely deny the accused access to witnesses, the right of confrontation, and other basic protections.

While Pfau said that he believe Griffiths resigned without pressure from the school, his resignation has led to a great deal of concern over the response to his original email and the language of the Dean in her email.  He is an accomplished academic who studied at Oxford University and the University of Wisconsin. He is the author or co-author or editor of 17 books.

Interesting.

Read Turley’s entire post here.

 

Thinking Historically About the Duke Divinity School Controversy

DukeLast night on my train ride home from Philadelphia I got caught up in a Twitter exchange devoted to the recent controversy at Duke Divinity School.  If you are not familiar with this case, I have assembled some links here.  If you follow these links you will get up to speed.

Most of what we know about this case comes from six documents.  They all appear on Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative.  You can read them here.

Dreher and nearly everyone else who has read these documents have done so in order to figure out who is right and who is wrong.  This is a worthwhile exercise and people are going to have strong opinions on both sides.

But I wonder if we really know enough about what happened at Duke Divinity School to make an honest assessment one way or the other.  It is easy in the age of social media and blogs to rush to judgement and start posting about it.  (I know because I am sometimes guilty of this myself).   Yes, the voices are loud and people seem to be responding with moral certainty, but unless understanding precedes criticism, such statements of moral outrage will be shallow.

Here are some of the tweets from last night’s exchange:

There is a lot to chew on here. I should also add that not all of these tweets connect directly to the point I want to make below.

As I participated in this discussion and read these tweets again, I was struck by the fact that historians tend to approach documents very differently than other kinds of thinkers. The primary documents that Dreher posted tell us a lot, but they don’t tell us everything. (Any historian knows that we need more than just a handful of isolated documents to understand the past).  Any  judgments we make about Duke or Griffiths must be made tentatively and cautiously because we don’t have all the information we need to make a definitive (or close to definitive) interpretation of why this incident happened.  The “why” is important.  Historians are interested in causation.  We are also interested in context.  Does Garret Bowman’s tweet about the racial tensions that existed at Duke before the Griffiths incident help us to better understand what happened in this particular case?  Of course it does.  Do we need to know more about the way Griffith has behaved in past faculty meetings? Yes, that would help.  Does the fact that Griffiths has signed statements and spoken out in defense of marginalized and diverse groups give us any insight into his controversial remarks?  I think it does.

All of this adds to the complexity of the entire situation and should be factored into our interpretation.

*The New York Times* on Paul Griffiths and Duke

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Get up to speed here: and here and here.

Here is a taste of Anemona Hartocollis’s NYT article:

Mr. Schoenfeld said that Duke did not comment on personnel matters, but issued a statement saying that the divinity school “is committed to scholarly excellence and academic freedom, which includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion,” and to the “robust exchange” of ideas.

“As part of an ongoing effort to foster and support such a community, we will continue to offer voluntary opportunities for faculty, staff and students to participate in diversity training,” the statement said.

Professor Pfau defended Professor Griffiths, saying by email on Tuesday that his departure would leave intellectual life at the school “greatly impoverished.” “It remains to be seen whether under its current leadership, the Divinity School has the political skills and intellectual discernment needed to rebuild what has been lost,” he said.

Professor Griffiths, a native Englishman who has taught at Duke Divinity School since 2008, converted from the Anglican church to Roman Catholicism in 1996. He has not shrunk from views that might be controversial. In 2014, he wrote a glowing review of “Darling,” a book of essays by Richard Rodriguez in which he writes about spirituality and about being the gay son of Mexican immigrants.

In the review, Professor Griffiths took a view of homosexual love that the Catholic Church does not: “Insofar as such acts are motivated by and evoke love, they are good and to be loved; insofar as they do not, not. In this, they are no different from heterosexual acts.”

He signed a statement from Catholic theologians on racial justice in 2014. In 2005, when he was at the University of Illinois in Chicago, The Baltimore Sun quoted him on the subject of Catholics in Africa, saying they were conservative socially but liberal on social justice questions, adding, “We might see that our categories are not the only ones, that we have something to learn.”

Read the entire piece here.

Rod Dreher Publishes E-Mails from Duke Divinity School Controversy

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You can read them here.

Get up to speed here.

Some quick thoughts on what I have read:

  1. Faculty were invited to attend the Racial Equity Institute training at Duke.  They were not forced to attend.
  2. Regardless of what one thinks about racial equity training, Griffith’s response to Anathea Portier-Young‘s e-mail was unnecessarily rude and provocative.  If Griffiths does have a legitimate critique of this training, he is not going to get very far convincing others with an e-mail like this.  The e-mail was very unprofessional.  Nevertheless, in an environment defined by academic freedom he has the right to express his views this way.
  3. Keep your eyes on the prize.”  Interesting way for Griffiths to end the e-mail.
  4. One of the best things I have read about this kind of racial sensitivity training is Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn’s book Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution.  I recommend it to all involved.
  5. Elaine Heath‘s original response to Griffiths is fair, but I think Dreher has a point when he says that Heath was assuming a lot when she described Griffiths’s e-mail as a model of “racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.”  Thomas Pfau, who holds an endowed chair in the Duke English Department, seems to agree with Dreher here.
  6. Griffiths sounds like he can be a real pain in the neck.
  7. For someone who has never been part of an academic institution–Christian or otherwise–Dreher sure seems to have this case all figured out.
  8. How will the faculty who Griffiths offended respond this week?  How will Griffith’s defenders respond this week?  This will say a lot about the Christian character of the Duke Divinity School community.  One self-proclaimed “conservative” student has already said that “repentance” is needed.  Dreher seems most concerned about how this all relates to the culture wars.
  9. This raises a big question for me:  Where does one draw the line between exercising academic freedom and using such freedom to undermine the community of a Christian institution?  Often-times Christian schools use “community” to stifle academic freedom or marginalize independent voices. Those who approach issues from a Christian perspective or confessional commitment that might be different from the dominant Christian culture of the institution can be easily ostracized.  I have seen this happen.  At other times independent voices spew forth their ideas without any consideration for how they might hurt or damage the community in the process.  I have seen this happen.

In the end, I am sure there is a lot more to this story.  It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

What is Going on at Duke Divinity School?

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Rod Dreher of The American Conservative and “Benedict Option” fame blogged about this yesterday under the title “Brave Prof Stands Up To Duke Divinity SJWs.”

The “brave prof” in question is Catholic theologian and Duke Divinity School faculty member Paul Griffiths.  After receiving a Ph.D in Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983, Griffiths taught at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago where he spent ten years in the Department of South Asian Languages  & Civilizations.  Between 2000 and 2007 Griffiths was the Schmitt Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago.  Since 2008 he has been the Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke.  In 1996 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

After Griffith’s conversion he stopped writing about Buddhism and turned his attention to issues related to Catholicism.  He is perhaps best known for his book Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1999).  It is an excellent book and I recommend it.

Dreher published a post that Griffith wrote on his Facebook page:

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

(This email is a public document. Please feel free to copy and distribute it in whole or in part, with or without attribution, with or without commentary.)

Intellectual freedom – freedom to speak and write without fear of discipline and punishment – is under pressure at Duke Divinity these days. My own case illustrates this. Over the past year or so I’ve spoken and written in various public forums here, with as much clarity and energy as I can muster, about matters relevant to our life together. The matters I’ve addressed include: the vocation and purpose of our school; the importance of the intellectual virtues to our common life; the place that seeking diversity among our faculty should have in that common life; the nature of racial, ethnic, and gender identities, and whether there’s speech about certain topics forbidden to some among those identities; and the nature and purpose of theological education. I’ve reviewed these contributions, to the extent that I can (some of them are available only in memory), and I’m happy with them and stand behind them. They’re substantive; they’re trenchant; and they address matters of importance for our common life. So it seems to me. What I’ve argued in these contributions may of course be wrong; that’s a feature of the human condition.

My speech and writing about these topics has now led to two distinct (but probably causally related) disciplinary procedures against me, one instigated by Elaine Heath, our Dean, and the other instigated by Thea Portier-Young, our colleague. I give at the end of this message a bare-bones factual account of these disciplinary proceedings to date.

These disciplinary proceedings are designed not to engage and rebut the views I hold and have expressed about the matters mentioned, but rather to discipline me for having expressed them. Elaine Heath and Thea Portier-Young, when faced with disagreement, prefer discipline to argument. In doing so they act illiberally and anti-intellectually; their action shows totalitarian affinities in its preferred method, which is the veiled use of institutional power. They appeal to non- or anti-intellectual categories (‘unprofessional conduct’ in Heath’s case; ‘harassment’ in Portier-Young’s) to short-circuit disagreement. All this is shameful, and I call them out on it.

Heath and Portier-Young aren’t alone among us in showing these tendencies. The convictions that some of my colleagues hold about justice for racial, ethnic, and gender minorities have led them to attempt occupation of a place of unassailably luminous moral probity. That’s a utopia, and those who seek it place themselves outside the space of reason. Once you’ve made that move, those who disagree with you inevitably seem corrupt and dangerous, better removed than argued with, while you seem to yourself beyond criticism. What you do then is discipline your opponents. The contributions to our common life made by, inter alia, Chuck Campbell, Jay Carter, and Valerie Cooper exhibit these tendencies. I call them out too. I hope that they, together with Heath and Portier-Young, will reconsider, repent, make public apology to me and our colleagues for the damage done, and re-dedicate themselves to the life of the mind which is, because of their institutional location, their primary professional vocation. That life requires openness, transparency, and a willingness to engage. I commend all these things to them, and hope devoutly that they come to see their importance more clearly than they now do..

I’m making public the following narrative of these disciplinary proceedings under the pressure of three closely-associated thoughts. The first thought is that several more or less inaccurate versions of these events are already in circulation among us in the form of gossip; full and accurate disclosure is always better than gossip. The second thought is about responsibility. I’m happy to take full responsibility for my contributions to our common life at Duke Divinity. Those contributions have all been public, as is this message. But responsibility requires publicity. Heath’s and Portier-Young’s disciplinary proceedings are not public: they’re veiled, and accompanied by threats of reprisal if unveiled. I’d like them to take responsibility for what they’re doing, and so I’m making it public. The third thought is about the kind of confidence in speech (and writing) whose opposite is fear. Duke Divinity is now a place in which too many thoughts can’t be spoken and too many disagreements remain veiled because of fear. I commend a renunciation of fear-based discipline to those who deploy and advocate it, and its replacement with confidence in speech. That would be appropriate not only to our life together in a university-related Divinity School, but also to our life together as disciples of Jesus Christ.

the disciplinary actions

What follows, under (1) and (2), is a bare-bones factual account of the disciplinary procedures to date, together with two attachments. It may be useful to know that there’s a good deal of recent literature on the nature of university-based disciplinary proceedings like the ones I’m about to describe. I recommend, from quite different angles, Jon Krakauer’s Missoula (2015), and Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances (2017). These books, with distinct agendas, agree that there are deep moral, legal, and procedural problems with university-based Title IX disciplinary procedures. These include, but aren’t limited to, their attempt to control speech and conduct by stifling expression; and their contempt for due process. It may also be useful to know that I’m not alone among Duke Divinity faculty in currently being, or having in the recent past been, subjected to discipline along these lines. I call upon those involved to share the details with us.

(1) Discipline initiated by Heath against Griffiths. In February 2017, Heath contacts Griffiths and asks for an appointment in which she’ll communicate her expectations for professional conduct at Duke Divinity. There’s back-and-forth by email about the conditions for this meeting, and agreement is reached for a four-way meeting to include Heath, Randy Maddox (Dean of Faculty, as support for Heath), Griffiths, and Thomas Pfau (as second for Griffiths). That meeting is scheduled for 3/6/17. Shortly before that date Heath cancels with no reason given, and then in short order asks for a new meeting on the same topic, this time with new criteria as to who can be present that rule out Pfau’s participation. Griffiths responds to this change in conditions by saying that he’s happy to meet, but now, given the changes, only under the condition that the meeting should be a one-on-one free exchange between himself and Heath. There’s email back-and-forth about this between Griffiths and Heath, all copied to Maddox. No agreement is reached about conditions for meeting: Griffiths and Heath each have conditions unacceptable to the other. Standoff. No meeting has occurred at the date of this writing. In a hardcopy letter (PDF attached) dated 3/10/17, Heath initiates financial and administrative reprisals against Griffiths. Those reprisals ban him from faculty meetings, and, thereby, from voting in faculty affairs; and promise (contra the conditions stated in his letter of appointment) to ban him from future access to research or travel funds. Heath’s letter contains one material falsehood (item #1 in her letter; the accurate account is here, in this paragraph), together with several disputable interpretive claims. More reprisals are adumbrated, but not specified, in the letter. There that disciplinary procedure for the moment rests.

(2) Discipline initiated by Portier-Young against Griffiths, via the University’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE). In early March, Griffiths hears by telephone from Cynthia Clinton, an officer of the OIE, that a complaint of harassment has been lodged against him by Portier-Young, the gravamen of which is the use of racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace. A meeting is scheduled for 3/20/17 between Griffiths and representatives of the OIE to discuss this allegation. Griffiths requests from the OIE a written version of the allegation, together with its evidentiary support, in advance of the scheduled meeting. This request is declined by Clinton on behalf of the OIE, as appears typical for these proceedings. Griffiths then declines the 3/20/17 meeting, and sends a written statement to the OIE, which is attached. The OIE will, it seems, now draw up a report and submit it to the ‘responsible persons’ in the case, which may include either or both of our Provost, Sally Kornbluth, and our Dean, Elaine Heath. (This may already have happened.) Those persons will then take whatever disciplinary actions they see fit, which may range from nothing to dismissal, with intermediate possibilities. There that disciplinary procedure for the moment rests.

With sincere good wishes to my colleagues, and in hope of better things, fuller transparency, more exchange, an increase in love, and, as always, more light: in lumine tuo videbimus lumen —

Paul.

Now it looks like Griffiths has resigned his post:

As I poke around my social media feeds I am not learning much more.  In other words, it is unclear what Griffiths wrote or said that led to disciplinary action from the administration.  It appears it had something to do with a critique of what has become campus orthodoxy on matters related to diversity.  Dreher suggests that Griffiths stood up to what he describes as “Social Justice Warriors” on Duke’s campus.

I am guessing that Griffiths or someone else involved will provide more details about what happened.  In the meantime, however, people have taken to social media–defenders and critics of Griffith–to cast judgement, engage in name-calling, and draw conclusions with very little evidence.  And those who are privy to the details seem to be sharing just enough one-sided information to feed the sharks.

Stay tuned.

Charles Murray’s “Provocative” Speech at Middlebury

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Charles Murray

It was actually pretty “middle of the road.”

Two Cornell University human development professors, Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, took the text of Murray’s now infamous speech at Middlebury and sent it to seventy college professors at colleges around the country.  Some of those professors were told who authored the speech.  Others were not.

Inside Higher Ed reports on the results of their study.  Here is a taste:

Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, both professors of human development at Cornell University, wanted to see what professors would say about the talk Murray is giving about Coming Apart. So they transcribed his Middlebury talk (he gave it for broadcast by livestream). Then they sent the transcript to 70 professors at colleges around the United States, without telling them it was by Murray. The professors were asked to rank the talk politically, on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being very liberal and 9 being very conservative. Based on 57 professors who responded, the average score was 5.05, or decidedly middle-of-the-road. Then Williams and Ceci sent the speech to 70 other professors, this time telling them it was a Murray talk. The average score was 5.77, a more conservative ranking than that the first group but still in the middle-of-the-road category.

Williams and Ceci described their findings in an essay in The New York Times. Of their findings, they write, “Our data-gathering exercise suggests that Mr. Murray’s speech was neither offensive nor even particularly conservative. It is not obvious, to put it mildly, that Middlebury students and faculty had a moral obligation to prevent Mr. Murray from airing these views in public.”

 

 

Deresiewicz: Select Private Colleges Have Become “Religious” Schools

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William Deresiewicz‘s recent article at The American Scholar is especially pertinent in light of what recently happened to Charles Murray at Middlebury College. Deresiewicz writes “political correctness and rational discourse are incompatible ideas.”

Here is a taste:

Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.

I should mention that when I was speaking about these issues last fall with a group of students at Whitman College, a selective school in Washington State, that idea, that elite private colleges are religious institutions, is the one that resonated with them most. I should also mention that I received an email recently from a student who had transferred from Oral Roberts, the evangelical Christian university in Tulsa, to Columbia, my alma mater. The latter, he found to his surprise, is also a religious school, only there, he said, the faith is the religion of success. The religion of success is not the same as political correctness, but as I will presently explain, the two go hand in hand.

What does it mean to say that these institutions are religious schools? First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude….

That, by the way, is why liberal students (and liberals in general) are so bad at defending their own positions. They never have to, so they never learn to. That is also why it tends to be so easy for conservatives to goad them into incoherent anger. Nothing makes you more enraged than an argument you cannot answer. But the reason to listen to people who disagree with you is not so you can learn to refute them. The reason is that you may be wrong. In fact, you are wrong: about some things and probably about a lot of things. There is zero percent chance that any one of us is 100 percent correct. That, in turn, is why freedom of expression includes the right to hear as well as speak, and why disinviting campus speakers abridges the speech rights of students as well as of the speakers themselves.

Read the entire piece here.  It is definitely worth your time.  At one point in the piece he challenges the notion of “civility” on college campuses, calling it a “management tool for nervous bureaucrats, a way of splitting every difference and pureeing them into a pablum of mush.”

As I read this I could not help but wonder if a similar kind of “religiosity” permeates evangelical or so-called “Christian” colleges.  A few additional thoughts:

  • For some Christian colleges the “religiosity” that Deresiewicz describes is defined as a commitment to a conservative political agenda that forbids any kind of dissent among its faculty and students.  Those with more moderate or progressive political viewpoints, articulated from within the Christian tradition, are ostracized.  Anyone who reads The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog knows that I have been very critical of this approach.
  • For other Christian colleges this “religiosity” is defined by a commitment to a progressive political agenda that is often articulated in terms of “following Jesus” or “fighting for social justice.”  Those who see liberal arts education as primarily the pursuit of an “examined life” or as a pursuit of “truth,” rather than as a means of primarily fighting for justice, are often viewed as outside the mainstream or perhaps even less Christian.
  • In both of the aforementioned models, liberal arts education is subordinated to either conservative politics or a progressive Christian mission to change the world.  While I hope that a Christian liberal arts education will challenge students to be politically active, change the world, and fight for justice, I don’t think that this is the way the questions raised by the liberal arts and the humanities–both in terms of the classroom and outside classroom (guest lecturers, etc…)–should be framed.  (This, by the way, is why I have been critical of both Howard Zinn and David Barton).  Back in the early 1990s I went to seminary. I could have chosen a path in the ministry, but I chose to pursue a life teaching history.  I see these things as two different callings.

Academic Freedom: From the University of Washington to Wheaton College

183a7-wheaton

Several years ago Tracy McKenzie moved from the University of Washington to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  He is thus ideally suited to speak about the issues surrounding academic freedom at Wheaton in the context of the Larycia Hawkins case.

Here is a taste of his post “Academic Freedom in a Christian Context” from his blog “Faith and American History.”

My professional life has been framed by two very different institutions. For the first twenty-two years of my academic career, I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. In many ways, my time there was a blessing. The UW is an elite academic institution with an extraordinary faculty and world-class resources. During my time there it boasted five Nobel Prize winners, one of the largest libraries in North America, and was ranked by the Economist as one of the top twenty public universities in the world.

I also made several good friends at UW and benefited from a number of genuinely kind colleagues who took sincere interest in my well being, both personal and professional. Finally, I should acknowledge that I flourished there professionally—in certain respects. I was awarded tenure, rose in rank from assistant to associate to full professor, won the university’s distinguished teaching award, and was accorded a prestigious endowed chair in U. S. history.

And yet while I was experiencing a certain measure of professional success, my soul was always deeply divided. I can best describe the alienation I felt by quoting from Harry Blamires, one of the last students of C. S. Lewis. In his book The Christian Mind, Blamires wrote hauntingly of “the loneliness of the thinking Christian.” Describing my life at UW, Blamires described his own experience as a Christian in the secular academy as akin to being “caught up, entangled, in the lumbering day-to-day operations of a machinery working in many respects in the service of ends that I rejected.”

That is eventually how I came to think of my time at UW. For all of its discrete strengths, the university 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 larger questions about our collective mission and purpose. 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.

For twenty-two years I accommodated my sense of calling to this secular dogma, bracketing my faith and limiting explicit Christian expressions and Christian reflections to private conversations with students who sought me out. In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer writes movingly about the costs of such segmentation. Vocation is a calling to a way of life more than to a sphere of life. “Divided no more!” is Palmer’s rallying cry.

If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton five and a half years ago, these are the words that first come to mind–divided no more. Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here. But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.

Read the entire post here.

 

What is Going On At Mid-America Nazarene University?

The college chaplain preached a sermon about peace at the Olathe, Kansas college and, as far as I can tell, he was demoted for it. Here is a taste of an article from the Kansas City Star:


Shortly after Randy Beckum, chaplain at MidAmerica Nazarene University, delivered his morning sermon on Feb. 10, it seemed to have the desired effect.
He said in his sermon that America has a penchant for war and then he pointed to a contradictory Scripture calling for peace. It sparked intense and immediate debate, dominating dining hall conversations and becoming a focal point of social media.
And while there were plenty who disagreed with the message — some, apparently, found it to be anti-military — there was no denying that it had sparked a lively campus discussion.
Just a week later, however, Beckum, the university chaplain, would be relieved of his duties in a second position as vice president for community formation — a move that has been met with scrutiny by many who have come to view Beckum’s changed role on the 1,800-student campus in Olathe as a form of censorship.
“I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that this was not an intentional attack on free expression,” said Blake Nelson, a resident educator at the university who recently penned a widely read online letter in support of Beckum. “I can’t judge motives or intentions; all I know is that it was an attack on free expression.
“You can’t publicly demote a leader in the denomination and a leader at the university and not expect 100 percent of your constituents to put one and one together.”
University president David J. Spittal has said that Beckum had indicated his desire to be relieved of the vice presidency, but Spittal declined last week to elaborate. Beckum did not respond to phone calls or emails.
As the sermon began, Beckum, a one-time administrator of the year at the university, stood at a lectern wearing jeans and a blazer. After a brief introduction, he mentioned the box office success of the recent Clint Eastwood film “American Sniper,” which details the life of the man considered the most deadly U.S. sniper in history, and noted that it sold many more tickets than “Selma,” which addressed Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful tactics in the civil rights movement.
“I am extremely troubled,” he said.
“I don’t think it is an understatement to say that in our culture, in our efforts to be who we are, we are addicted to violence and guns and war and revenge and retaliation.
“Unfortunately, so are a lot of Christians.”
Beckum went on to say, “We have to be very careful about equating Christianity with patriotism,” and he spoke of the biblical call to peace and turning the other cheek.
“It is a scary, complicated world, I know,” Beckum said. “People want to kill us. We have an obligation to protect our children and protect out loved ones. … But (Christian) words are not revenge and retaliation; our words are redemption and reconciliation.”
Even before Beckum finished, his words had begun to stir unrest.
At least one student in attendance left midway through Beckum’s remarks, according to students. And those on campus would soon find their social media feeds packed with comments about the subject matter of that morning’s sermon, many critical of it.
While some took Beckum’s sermon to heart, appreciative of the topics raised, others were leery. One ROTC student would indicate that he didn’t feel his pro-military stance was being represented in chapel. Another would share his opinion that war was simply a reality of life.
Spittal, the university president, would be inundated in the coming days with concerns regarding the sermon.
Still, in those first days, Spittal was publicly outspoken about the need for what he termed “hard lessons.” In a statement to students, he wrote that difficult conversations like the one sparked by Beckum should be encouraged:
“At MidAmerica Nazarene University we encourage the exchange of ideas, and individuals are free to express their individual perspective and opinions, even when those opinions may not reflect the official policy or practices of our university, our core values or our affiliations.”
Then on Feb. 23, students received another statement from Spittal.
In it, the president announced that although he would remain the school’s chaplain, Beckum was being replaced as the school’s vice president for community formation, a position he’d held for several years.
I, of course, don’t know all the details.  I also know that the newspaper coverage at Christian colleges and universities often skew facts due to the failure of reporters to thoroughly understand what goes on at such institutions.
But in this case it seems like Mid-America President David Spittal caved to outside pressure from a constituency that probably equates Christianity and American patriotism.

Tracy McKenzie Responds to Peter Conn

I have been busy in the archives all week and have finally got around to reading Tracy McKenzie‘s responses to Peter Conn’s article about Christian colleges and accreditation.  We have reposted a lot of Tracy’s stuff here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Some of you know his story–after over two decades in the History Department at the University of Washington, Tracy joined the faculty of Wheaton College in Illinois as chair of the History Department.  I can’t think of a better person to respond to Conn.

Read Tracy’s direct response to Conn here.

A taste:

If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton four years ago, these are the words that first come to mind–divided no more.  Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here.  But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.  Conn’s assertion that, in leaving UW for Wheaton,  I have necessarily abandoned reason for dogma also mystifies me.  That he assumes such a trade-off suggests that Dr. Conn is not entirely free of dogma himself.  I could tell Conn about the intellectual excitement that abounds at Wheaton, about the brilliant colleagues I am privileged to work with (trained at places like Harvard and Yale and Duke and UNC), and about the extraordinarily gifted and motivated students that fill my classes, but I doubt that such a reasoned argument would sway him.  Reason is rarely helpful in changing an opinion not grounded in reason to begin with.

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.”

By the way, I have had some e-mail correspondence with Steven Conn of Ohio State. Peter Conn is his father.

Another Response to the Conn Articles

This one comes from John Hawthorne, a veteran of Christian higher education and a sociologist at Spring Arbor University.  

If you want to get up to speed, check out our posts here and here.

And here is a taste of Hawthorne’s blog post:

I’ll respond to Peter’s claims first. From everything I learned in my years working with accreditors (I’ve done three full-scale visits, four follow-up visits, and served on a program review panel) the central theme has always been about the primacy of institutional mission. What does it mean for Wheaton College to pursue its unique role? That must be clearly defined and give direction to all other aspects of the life of the College. Academic Freedom is seen within the context of mission. The same is true at the University of Pennsylvania. For the record, the last ten years has seen the regional accreditors moving rapidly to student outcome measures, increased focus on issues of alignment, and the significant role of faculty governance as part of protecting that alignment of mission, program, and policy. Boards of Trustees must be independent bodies that, while perhaps representing a sponsoring denomination, cannot be answering to the denomination. The schools are expected to be independent and protecting the educational mission at it impacts students. (That’s another distinction one could explore: academic freedom should find its expression in student learning and not simply in faculty statements.) I would wager that our impact on students at Christian institutions, especially on controversial issues, is greater that than of the University of Pennsylvania.

Steven’s argument about academic freedom is hard to fathom. He focuses on two somewhat rogue institutions (even by Christian college standards). I’ve written before about both Bryan and Cedarville. In both cases (as with Shorter), the situation was one where the administration violated principles of shared governance and forced changes upon existing faculty. They did have their academic freedom limited by dominant positions on Adam and Eve or the role of women in ministry.

But this was not inherent in all Christian Colleges. it  was the result of failure of alignment of mission and educational process in two specific institutions. Here’s a recent piece on on a Calvin College faculty member’s academic freedom regarding the study of human origins. The schools I’ve served carefully wrestle with the need for considering alternative viewpoint in ways that are accessible by students. It’s true that one needs to be more nuanced about how to present those viewpoints and that a capable academic administrator (I pray I was one) is able to deflect external attacks by pointing back to the centrality of institutional mission.

As I’ve written, our commitment as Christian institutions and as Christian scholars is not to some rigid dogma that constrains our free thinking. It is a belief that we are doing important work in preparing our students to live in the Kingdom of God. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the hard work of community, we model what real inquiry looks like. I would love for Steven (who thinks he couldn’t be invited to Cedarville) to spend a few days with the faculty at Spring Arbor. He’d learn quite a bit.

Wheaton College Provost Responds to Peter Conn

Wheaton College

For those of you who are following what I have called the Conn and Conn attack on Christian colleges, it is worth noting that Stanton L. Jones, the provost at Wheaton College, has responded to Peter Conn’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Jones writes at the Chronicle’s “The Conversation” blog.  The title of his essay is “All Knowledge Starts Somewhere in Faith.”  Here is a taste:

Conn portrays academic freedom at places like Wheaton College as an illusion. It is not an illusion, but it can be complicated. Academic freedom, as Wolterstorff convincingly argues, is never uncomplicated or unqualified. Professors are never free from the ideological constraints of their disciplines or the judgments of their peers. Any rigorously honest history of any academic discipline shows, in hindsight, the blind spots and uncritically accepted dogmas of the moment. Academicians swimming with the contemporary intellectual tides often feel great freedom.
Those whose convictions take them against those tides do not feel so free. Interestingly, when we hire colleagues away from nonreligious institutions, we often hear they feel intellectually and academically free here for the first time in their professional careers, because they are finally in a place where they can teach from and explore the connections between their intellectual disciplines and their religious convictions. And as I write from my convictions with the support (but not always agreement) of my community, it is not uncommon for me to hear from colleagues at nonreligious institutions that they have no such freedom, as their careers would be compromised at their home institutions were they to express similar views.
Regarding Conn’s concern for our requiring faith-statement affirmations, Wheaton College is emphatically open that we seek to be a voluntary community of like-minded scholars who, within the framework of the defining characteristics of our institution, have the academic freedom to teach and to pursue knowledge as persons of shared religious conviction. We publicize those characteristics explicitly. In constitutional terms, we do this as an exercise of our rights of freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Faith-based institutions must have some such procedure to maintain fidelity to their guiding purposes. On that basis, Wolterstorff concludes that “it would be a violation of the very idea of a liberal democratic society if a movement arose to prevent or restrict the formation of religiously based colleges and universities.” That outcome seems to be exactly what Conn advocates.

Academics Cling to Their Academic Freedom and Tenure

Stanley Fish is enamored (but does not agree) with Naomi Schaefer Riley’s argument in The Faculty Lounges: and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For.  Here is part of his summation:

The standard rationale for academic freedom is that the business of the academy is to advance knowledge by conducting inquiries the outcomes of which are not known in advance. Since the obligation is to follow the evidence wherever it leads rather than to a “pre-stipulated goal” (a phrase Riley takes from my writings), researchers must be free to go down paths as they suggest themselves and not in obedience to a political program or an ideology. That is why (and again she is quoting me) “the degree of latitude and flexibility” that attends academic freedom is “not granted to the practitioners of other professions.”

But, Riley observes, “a significant portion of [the] additional degrees that colleges have added in the past few decades have been in vocational areas,” and those areas “simply do not engage students in a search for ultimate truths,” but instead have pre-stipulated goals. “Do we need,” she asks, “to guarantee the academic freedom of professors engaged in teaching and studying ‘Transportation and Materials Moving,’ a field in which more than five thousand degrees were awarded in 2006?”

Riley makes the same point about “vocational courses” that have been around for a while. Freshman composition, for example, “does not demand that faculty ask existential questions.” Ditto for courses in “Security and Protective Services,” and “Business Statistics.” These are, she says, “fields of study with fairly definitive answers” and it would be hard to argue that they are “essential to civilization.” Those who teach these and similarly vocational subjects “don’t really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them.”

Another category of courses that Riley believes does not merit academic freedom includes “area, ethnic, cultural, and gender studies.” Here the issue is not an absence of intellectual content, but an intellectual content that goes only in one (leftward) direction. Often, she complains, “the entire premise of the discipline … rests on a political agenda.” Courses “often appear to be a series of axes faculty would like to grind.” Since “the endpoint of their academic study is predetermined,” the departments that offer them “are advertising their lack of a need for academic freedom.”

Now, one might think that by looking askance at vocational and political instruction, Riley is calling for a return to traditional liberal arts education with its emphasis on open-ended inquiry and intellectual risk-taking. But in fact she is preparing the way for an argument against tenure.

And that is only the beginning.  Riley also has things to say about tenure that will infuriate many academics.  (Especially if the commentators on Fish’s New York Times article are any indication).  Read the rest of Fish’s piece here. 

Now I know that many of my academic readers will blast Riley for her thoughts on academic freedom and tenure.  Most academics cling to their tenure and academic freedom like working class people supposedly cling to guns and religion. (HT: Barack Obama).  When it comes to certain aspects of academic life, many professors tend to be rather predictable, unreflective, and close-minded.

Perhaps academics should make a fuss when their tenure and academic freedom is threatened. But sometimes they cling so hard to these marks of academic orthodoxy that they fail to take seriously or appreciate any new idea that even remotely challenges their commitment to such orthodoxy.  (I find that academics are one of the most conservative bunches in America).  One thing I like about Fish is his willingness to acknowledge a good argument when he sees it.

Good Thoughts on the University of Illinois’ Catholic Problem

Kenneth Howell is the Catholic theologian who was fired (and the rehired) by the University of Illinois for teaching (and apparently advocating for) Catholic theology in a course entitled “Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought.” It turns out that Howell had written an e-mail to his class arguing that natural law could be used to oppose same-sex marriage.

I have found the most thoughtful voice on this whole affair to be Janine Giordano Drake, a Ph.D candidate in History at Illinois who is writing a dissertation on the working class religious left in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.

In two excellent essays–one at Religion Dispatches and the other at Religion in American History (aptly titled “The Costs of Secularism“)–Drake argues for the validity of theology courses in public universities.

In her Religion Dispatches essay, she concludes:

Our public university’s mission is now, and arguably always was, quite modern. Today we aim to provide students with “the freedom to consider conflicting views and to make their own evaluation of data, evidence, and doctrines.” A liberal arts education aims to put students in the driver’s seat among various ideas, and ask them to evaluate these ideas with the tools of scholarly interpretation developed in the most current scholarship. But which categories of the most current scholarship? Does the university’s mission to achieve pluralism foreclose the possibility of highly biased instruction?

The university’s statement asserts that, “Faculty members have a responsibility to maintain an atmosphere conducive to intellectual inquiry and rational discussion.” Buried in this statement is the vicious knot challenging the next generation of scholars and teachers of religion. We are tasked to research, teach and write about believers in an irrational world, but arm ourselves only with the modern tools of rationality.

We need more writers like Drake. Intelligent voices and public intellectuals who expose the inconsistencies between the postmodern language of academics and the modernist “mission” that still seems to define life in the public research university.