Simon Newman, Donald Trump, and Mount St. Mary’s University


I don’t know how many of you have been following what is going on at Mount St. Mary’s University, but you can get up to speed here.

The faculty at The Mount have given president Simon Newman until tomorrow morning, February 15, to resign from his post.  So far there is no word of a resignation.

The best thing I have read on this controversy comes from Thomas Hibbs, dean of the Honors College and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor University. Hibbs is a Catholic intellectual.

Here is a taste of his piece at The Catholic World Report, “The Donald Trump of Catholic Education“:

Like Trump, Simon Newman and the Board that appointed him, suppose that the skills of the entrepreneur are easily transferable to any and every sphere of human life. If you can run a business, so the assumption goes, then you can run an army, a nation, or a small Catholic university.

But Newman apparently has little knowledge of, or affinity for, the Catholic vision of education. In an open letter, members of the Mount St. Mary’s Advisory Board of the College of Liberal Arts, which met in October with Newman present, stated:

As members of the Advisory Board of the College of Liberal Arts we have met with President Newman on several occasions. Our last meeting took place on October 23, 2015. During President Newman’s presentation that day he exhibited contempt for the Mount’s Catholic identity and tradition and called for a radical de-emphasis of the liberal arts education for which the university has been justly noted. Surveys, he explained, indicate that terms like liberal arts and philosophy do nothing for young people and that the Catholic Church is today less influential in the lives of the young than ever before.

As Pope Francis noted in his recent encyclical, the roots of our cultural crisis can be traced to our inability to see the connections between the parts of the universe; in our loss of a vocabulary concerning the true nature of the human person and its place in the whole; in our tendency to conceive of all knowledge as merely instrumental; and in a consumerist attitude toward nature and the human body. Countering this would require that universities actually take stands on what is most worthy of study and attempt to cultivate in students a genuine love of learning for its own sake. Francis regularly contrasts a curiosity aimed at domination and control with a spirit of wonder that is silently receptive of nature and issues in gratitude toward what is revealed to us in the natural and human orders.

Francis concentrates on integrated education that inculcates habits of gratitude and wonder, precisely the habits that are at the heart of a Catholic liberal arts education. Given the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition and its commitment to the compatibility of, and integral connection between, faith and reason, Catholic schools ought to the places where students can receive simultaneously the highest level of academic challenge and the encouragement and opportunity to develop a deep, articulate, and robust adult Catholic faith.

Read the entire piece here.  It is a strong rebuke to the MSMU president and a strong defense of Catholic higher education.

Mount St. Mary’s Reinstates Fired Professors

eb6e1-mountBut it is not clear whether they will come back as long as Simon Newman remains president of the university.

This article in Inside Higher Ed explains everything.  Newman is trying to extend an olive branch, but for many at The Mount it appears to be a poisoned one.

Here is a taste of Scott Jaschik’s piece:

Whether the tensions will be resolved remains unclear. Inside Higher Ed reached Thane Naberhaus, one of the faculty members who was fired this week, despite having tenure, and asked him if he was planning to return. His email response: “Hell no.”

He elaborated: “I’ll refuse to be reinstated until Newman is gone and some others are gone. “

Ed Egan is the adviser to the student newspaper, and is the other faculty member who was fired and whom the university said has now been reinstated. In an interview, he said that President Newman called him and told him he would be reinstated in part because the Roman Catholic Church has declined a Year of Mercy.

Egan said he was uncertain about returning and that he was bothered by the statement — and went to the faculty meetings to tell his colleagues why. Egan said he told them that the president’s statement was “as if I had done something wrong and was in need of his mercy.” In fact, the reinstatement is an attempt to “placate” the campus so that it will not consider all of the issues that go beyond the two professors.

“Reinstating me does not make these other problems go away and Simon Newman needs to show mercy on Mount St. Mary’s and resign,” Egan said. He added that he is consulting lawyers on his next moves.

Faculty members, after the news about the offer to reinstate the two professors, voted to seek the president’s removal. They adopted a letter to Newman that said: “Our community is suffering. In recent weeks, we have been divided due to miscommunications, missteps, and misunderstandings. It is clear that we all could have done things differently to avoid the situation that we now find ourselves in. Regrettably, our problems have become public and have cast a dark shadow across our holy mountain.”

The letter continued: “You have only been with us a short time. We know all too well the great love for this community that comes to those who join us. But it has become apparent that negative public attention has interfered with our ability to continue in our work and to bring new students and faculty to this campus. We have come to the sad conclusion that this state of affairs cannot be resolved while you continue in your current office. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart, in a loving spirit of compassion and forgiveness, that we appeal to your generosity of spirit and ask that you resign your position for the good of our community by 9:00 a.m. on February 15, 2016.”

Newman could not immediately be reached.

The Mount St. Mary’s campus has been in turmoil since word leaked through The Mountain Echo, the student newspaper, last month that President Newman compared struggling students to bunnies that need to be drowned or killed with a Glock. The metaphor grabbed attention, but educators said that the underlying debate was what really mattered. Newman had proposed to use a survey — on which freshmen would be told there were no wrong answers — to identify those at risk of dropping out and to encourage them to do so in the first weeks of the semester. The idea was to raise the university’s graduation rates, since those who leave very early in the semester don’t count in the total enrollment figures. Many professors and some administrators protested the plan, saying that the university has an obligation to try to educate those it admits.

I just don’t see any way that Mount St. Mary University can go forward with Newman in charge.

(Is this the first time that you are hearing about all of this?  Get up to speed here).

Fired Mount St. Mary’s Philosophy Professor Speaks Out


Earlier this week Simon Newman, the president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD, fired two professors and demoted his provost because they spoke out against his controversial retention plan.  Get up to speed here.

One of those fired was a tenured philosophy professor named Thane Naberhaus. He is now speaking out on Newman’s apparent assault on the historic Catholic liberal arts identity of Mount St. Mary’s

Here is a taste of an article from Catholic News Agency

Thane Naberhaus, a tenured professor who was recently fired from the Maryland university, told CNA that the president wanted to downplay the school’s Catholic identity because, in his words, “Catholic doesn’t sell.”

“He said publicly,” Naberhaus told CNA, “‘if you go in the marketplace, Catholic doesn’t sell, liberal arts doesn’t sell.’”

Here is more on the Catholic identity issue:

David McGinley, a 2011 graduate of Mount St. Mary’s and a member of the Mount’s College of Liberal Arts Advisory Board, had concerns following an Oct. 23, 2015 meeting between Newman and the advisory board.

In that meeting, Newman “showed a lack of appreciation for or desire to continue or further Catholic identity in any regards to what one would call traditional,” McGinley told CNA.

“What he was saying is that Catholicism has lost its relevance,” McGinley added. The concerns Newman raised, he continued, were that Mount St. Mary’s was “not going to get customers to come” if it marketed itself as a Catholic university.

A Facebook group of concerned alumni and students, “Mount Family Speaks Out,” reported that Newman made similar remarks in an August student assembly.

According to a current administrative employee, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, President Newman has also criticized the cross, saying in passing that there were “too many bleeding crucifixes” in the employee’s office.

“I have a broken crucifix, and I have a crucifix that is done in limestone sculpture,” the source told CNA, adding that the president had made the comment after seeing them.

Naberhaus said that he has heard similar reports from other faculty members – including some instances of the president disparaging the crucifix and using profanity.

Numerous alumni also pointed to the Mount St. Mary’s landing page for prospective students as an example of the new attitude towards Catholic identity, noting that the page does not contain any references to the fact that it is a Catholic school.

“That is Simon Newman’s vision for Mount Saint Mary’s right there, encapsulated in that one webpage,” Naberhaus said.

Naberhaus also said that he has heard Newman refer to students as “Catholic jihadis.”

Read the entire piece here.

Former Mount St. Mary University Professor Weighs-In


John Schwenkler teaches philosophy at Florida State University, but from 2010-2013 he taught at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD.  (If you need to get up to speed on what is happening at The Mount, check out our coverage here).

Schwenkler pulls no punches when discussing the controversy at his former institution and raises some very important questions about Catholic identity.

Here is a taste of his piece at Commonweal:

From 2010-2013 I taught at Mount St. Mary’s University, now the center of a massive controversy prompted by the actions of its new president, Simon Newman, an MBA-possessing former businessman who, since taking over his current position, has:

  • Abruptly cut off a retirement benefit that had been promised for years to the university’s long-time faculty and — more importantly — hourly staff;
  • Made dismissive statements about the value of liberal study, and pushed the university to cut back its liberal arts requirements;
  • Abruptly dismissed from his administrative position Joshua Hochschild, then dean of the College of Liberal Arts, a well-respected professor who had sought to strengthen liberal study and Catholic identity at the Mount, and had corrected the president’s rhetoric and resisted some of his calls for change;
  • Encouraged faculty to think of struggling students as animals who needed to be executed, rather than human persons who needed their help;
  • Created a plan to dismiss 20-25 freshmen — about 5% of a typical entering class at the Mount — in order to improve the university’s self-reported retention statistics;
  • Devised to this end a survey in which students would describe the extent to which e.g. they felt depressed, unliked, and financially unstable during the early weeks of the semester, intending to pitch this survey to students as a tool for self-understanding but then use it to identify those unlikely to succeed, accepting as “collateral damage” those it might mistakenly sweep up;
  • Dismissed from his administrative position David Rehm, then provost of the university, who challenged the president’s judgment;
  • Fired Edward Egan, an untenured professor and advisor to the Mount’s student newspaper, apparently for his role in helping that paper break the story of Newman’s “retention” efforts; and
  • Fired Thane Naberhaus, a tenured professor, for what was described as a violation of his “duty of loyalty” to Mount St. Mary’s.

Read the entire piece here.

President of Mount St. Mary University Is Under Fire


If you have not been following this whole mess at Mount St. Mary University you can get caught up here and here and here.  It involves (by all accounts) a tyrannical university president with a retention plan that offended most of the university’s constituency, a demoted Provost and Dean, and two fired faculty members, one with tenure.

Earlier today The Washington Post weighed in.  According to Susan Svrluga’s article, the American Association of University Professors has responded.   Faculty from around the country have signed a petition protesting the actions of president Simon Newman.

If anyone (other than perhaps some members of the Board of Trustees) are standing with Newman, I have not read about them.  I don’t see how his presidency can survive this controversy.

Academics’ Statement of Protest Regarding Faculty Firings at Mount St. Mary’s University

I was just made aware of this.  Please consider joining the hundreds of academics who have signed it.

Background Information

For a summary account of the faculty firings at Mount St. Mary’s University and the deeper controversy behind them, see Scott Jaschik, “Purge at the Mount”, Inside Higher Education, Feb. 9, 2016:

For further details, please visit

Text of Statement

We the undersigned, as members of the community of scholars, protest the firings of Edward Egan and Thane Naberhaus from their faculty positions at Mount St. Mary’s University.

The manner and circumstance of their dismissal raises serious questions about the respect given to moral conscience and intellectual freedom at Mount St. Mary’s. Of particular concern is that Prof. Egan was fired partly for actions taken in his role as faculty advisor to the university’s student newspaper, which first broke the stories leading to the present controversy. It is also alarming that these faculty were fired without any academic due process as required under AAUP guidelines and the customary standards of tenure.

As a Catholic institution, Mount St. Mary’s is bound by the teachings that “charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1789), and that in the context of the Catholic university “the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, II.2.iv). As a university, it is bound by the standards that govern any such institution in respect of its faculty.

We call for these faculty to be reinstated immediately, and the administration held accountable for this violation of their rights.

To sign this statement click here.

What Happens When A Businessman Takes Over a Catholic Liberal Arts College?


You get what is happening at Mount St. Mary’s University.  Tenured faculty members get fired, critics of the president are accused of disloyalty, and a provost resigns.

Here is a taste of a recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Mr. Naberhaus, who has publicly criticized the administration but doesn’t consider himself a “rabble rouser,” said in an interview on Monday night that a campus security officer had delivered a letter signed by the president, confiscated his computer, and escorted him to his car.

The letter, a copy of which The Chronicleobtained, said that Mr. Naberhaus owed “a duty of loyalty” to the university and that his recent, unspecified actions violated that duty and justified his firing.

“Further, because of your conduct and its impact on the university, you have been designated persona non grata,” the letter continued. “As such, you are not welcome to visit the university’s campus or to attend any university activities or sporting events on the university’s property. Failure to comply with this directive will result in legal proceedings.”

The letter, which Mr. Naberhaus believes is identical to the one Mr. Egan received, accused him of causing “considerable damage” to the university and its reputation. It also warned him not to delete any electronic documents or communications on his personal computer that relate to the university, and said the university reserved the right to take legal action against him. Mr. Naberhaus, in turn, is considering his legal options.

“I raised some concerns at faculty meetings and posted a few articles online, but I didn’t realize that was illegal,” he said.

More Strange Things are Happening at Mount St. Mary’s University


Last week we published a post on the controversy surrounding the new retention plan at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Now, it seems, President Simon Newman is cleaning house.  According to this article in the Frederick News-Post he has fired two professors and demoted the Provost.  It is not clear whether the firings came because these employees opposed the retention plan, but according to this article at Inside Higher Ed, Provost David Rehm was demoted because he did oppose the plan.

As you may recall, in an e-mail describing the plan Newman mentioned putting a gun to the head of struggling students as an incentive for them to leave.  He also described these students as “bunnies” who need to “drown.”

In January, Joshua Hochschild, the Dean of Liberal Arts and a philosopher, was demoted. Some of you may recall that Hochschild was asked to leave Wheaton College in 2006 because he converted to Catholicism.

The Provost, David Rehm, is the son of NPR host Diane Rehm.  (This has nothing to do with the story, but it is interesting).

As least one of the two faculty members fired had tenured.

And the new interim Provost comes to the university with a troubled past and no experience leading a liberal arts college.

As I wrote in my previous post, I wonder how the Catholic mission of Mount St. Mary’s University is informing this whole controversy.

What is Going on at Mount St. Mary’s University?


I’ve always been a fan of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  I spoke there a few years ago and was really impressed with the faculty and administrators I met during the visit.

If appears that the new President at the Mount is in hot water due to a controversial retention plan.  Read all about it in this article at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  

Some of you may have been following this story, but for those who have not, it has something to do with drowning bunnies (freshmen) and putting a “Glock” to the heads of students.

Here is a taste:

E-mails and conversations about freshman-retention plans don’t typically set the world on fire. But when they appeared in the campus newspaper of Mount St. Mary’s University of Maryland last month, they thrust the small Roman Catholic campus and its president, Simon P. Newman, into a spotlight that Mr. Newman never anticipated — or wanted.

In one of the emails, which were first obtained by the student-run paper, The Mountain Echo, Mr. Newman discussed his strategy in stark terms: “My short-term goal is to have 20-25 people leave by the 25th. This one thing will boost our retention 4-5%. A larger committee or group needs to work on the details, but I think you get the objective.”

A conversation described by The Mountain Echo, said to have taken place between Mr. Newman and Gregory W. Murry, an assistant professor of history, was even more direct. According to the newspaper, the president told Mr. Murry: “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”

Read the rest here.

What strikes me about this article is that the Catholic mission of the Mount is not mentioned.  What role does the strong Catholic mission of the Mount play in the decisions being made by the President, this controversial retention plan, and the student and faculty resistance?


How to Interview for a Job at a Church-Related College or University

Chapel of the Resurrection (exterior), Valparaiso University

Chapel of the Resurrection (exterior), Valparaiso University

On Saturday, I wrote a post about interviewing for jobs in history departments at teaching colleges.  Today I offer some tips about interviewing for a teaching job at a church-related college or university. These also come from an Inside Higher Education piece I published in December 2012.

Here is a taste:

If you get an interview at the American Historical Association or another meeting with a church-related college, you need to do your homework. What kind of church-related college is it? A good place to start is Robert Benne’s Quality With Soul. Benne identifies four different types of church-related colleges. I have charted my own course in this post, but have relied on some of Benne’s classifications.

There are many schools that have historic connections with Protestant denominations. This, of course, does not mean that those connections will have any bearing on the hiring process or the AHA interview. For example, Duke University has a historic connection to the United Methodist Church, but this connection will play no factor in the search process. The same might be true of a place like Gettysburg College, a school with connections to the Lutheran Church. If you have an AHA interview with this kind of church-related school, there is no need to treat it any differently than you would an interview at a nonsectarian school or public university. You may not even realize that you are interviewing with a church-related school!

Other church-related schools take their church-relatedness a bit more seriously. Catholic schools, for example, might ask you if you have any problems with the Catholic mission of the university. In most cases, however, this issue will not be raised during the AHA interview. (It might be raised by an administrator during an on-campus visit). The only exception to this rule is the small number of Catholic colleges who only hire Catholic faculty. If these schools interview at the AHA (most will not), the committee will not only ask you if you are Catholic, but will want to know if you are a practicing Catholic. (Yes, a private school can ask such a question).

Read the rest here.

Lilly Fellows Program Book Awards Announced

The LFP Book Award “honors an original or imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.  

This year’s winner is Karen Eifler and Tom Landy, Becoming Beholders; Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Actions in College.

One of the two finalists is Chris Gehrz, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons.  I was honored to write a blurb on the back over of this book. Here is what I wrote:

I have been reading Chris Gehrz’s blog “The Pietist Schoolman” for several years and have been cheering him on as he makes a compelling and humble case for the compatibility of Pietism, the intellectual life and Christian higher education.  Now Christ has gathered his academic brothers and sisters in the faith to continue the conversation.  If you thought that “pietist higher education” was an oxymoron, these essays will force you to think again.

Congratulations Chris!

The second finalist is Roger Lundin, Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief.

Chris Gerhz provides a nice wrap-up here.

Fundamentalist U

Laats’s first book: “The Other School Reformers”

If you are not reading Adam Laats’s blog I Love You But You’re Going to Hell I encourage you to bookmark it or put in in your feed.  Laats teaches in the Graduate School of Education at SUNY-Binghamton and has written extensively on religion and the culture wars as they relate to American education.

I have been reading Laats for a year or so, but I just recently learned of his new book project: “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.”  Here is Laats’s description of this well-funded project:

In my new book, tentatively titled Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education, I’m exploring the complex history of evangelical and fundamentalist higher education. In many ways, these schools have functioned as institutional hubs in the kaleidoscopic world of conservative evangelicalism. From Reagan to Romney, from Cruz to (Jeb) Bush, politicians hoping to woo the conservative religious vote have visited conservative schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty University…

Schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty, as well as Wheaton College, Biola, The King’s College, and a host of other institutions, have educated generations of evangelicals in the distinctive intellectual and cultural traditions of their faith. Students at these schools agree to more rigid lifestyle rules than they would on secular campuses. And they agree to have their educations shepherded by faculties who have signed on to detailed statements of faith. Just as alumni of the Ivy League might brag about their alma maters, so alumni of these schools feel a distinct connection to their colleges. Politicians hoping to prove their conservative credentials want to jump on that bandwagon.
But that does not mean that these colleges are somehow monolithic.  The differences between these schools often loom larger than their similarities, at least in the world of evangelical Protestantism.  What does it mean to be “creationist?”  What changes are healthy, and what are dangerously heterodox?  And what is the proper, Godly relationship between men and women?  There is no single “evangelical” answer to these questions.  Just as at pluralist campuses, evangelical campuses have been rocked by controversy on all these issues.
But there is a palpable sense of connection.  There is something that unites the fractious world of evangelical higher education.  And in this book, I’m asking questions about it:  What did such schools hope to teach each new generation of evangelical student?  How did they hope to raise up new generations of faithful young people in a country that was slipping farther and farther into secularism?  And, importantly, how did students respond to these efforts?
If we hope to understand America’s continuing culture wars, we must make sense of the many meanings of these institutions.  After all, our culture wars aren’t between one group of educated people and another group that has not been educated.  Rather, the fight is usually between two groups who have been educated in very different ways.
I’ll be traveling over the next year or so to a set of non-denominational evangelical schools such as Bryan College, Wheaton College, Biola University, Bob Jones University, and others.  I’ll be looking in their archives at the residue of student life and learning across the century.
As I do so, I’ll keep posting updates in these pages about my evolving argument.  And I invite input from readers who’ve attended such schools.  How did going to a conservative evangelical college shape you?  How did you rebel or conform to the school’s expectations?
Stay tuned.  This looks like a really interesting project that will no doubt make a big splash in the Christian college world.

What is Going on at Union University?

I have friends and acquaintances who teach at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  These folks are serious Christian thinkers and educators.  I have never visited Union, but I have always respected its work from afar.

This is why I was disappointed to hear that Union has left the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.  Inside Higher Education reports:

Union University, in Tennessee, has quit the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, saying it cannot remain in a Christian group in which some member institutions will hire people in same-sex marriages.

Union may not be the last college to leave the council, and its action is creating division in a group that has been proud of representing Christian colleges from many denominations and viewpoints. But while there is a diversity of views about many issues among CCCU institutions, the issue of same-sex marriage has been elevated by some institutions to one on which no compromise is possible.

The action by Union follows the announcements last month by Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College that they were willing to hire faculty members in same-sex marriages. The two universities, until then, had said they would hire faculty members who were celibate (gay or straight) or married in heterosexual relationships. The new policy means that gay and straight applicants for faculty positions will be judged in the same way. The two colleges are the first CCCU members to be willing to hire gay and lesbian faculty members who are married to other gay or lesbian people.

Union President Samuel W. Oliver released a letter he sent to the CCCU in which he explained that while Union is a member of higher education groups with a range of views, it could not be a member of a Christian higher education group that deviated from the university’s views on marriage. Eastern Mennonite and Goshen “abandoned fidelity to God’s word when they endorsed same-sex marriage,” Oliver wrote.

“The reason we are passionate about this is because what we are talking about is not a secondary or tertiary theological issue — marriage is at the heart of the Gospel. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture,” Oliver wrote.

Want to learn more? I strongly suggest reading the following commentators:

1.  Chris Gehrz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman.”  Chris is the chair of the history department evangelical Bethel University in St. Paul, MN and the author of The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education.  Read his posts on this issue here.

2.  Scot McKnight, New Testament scholar and author of the Jesus Creed blog.  Scot is
supporter of traditional marriage, but he challenges Union’s belief that marriage is
somehow “at the heart of the Gospel.” Read his post here.  A taste:

Let me register this: I disagree with Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, and often do on theie progressive courage fronts, and Union and others can do what they want, but this is culture war stuff being used theologically to create division…

I do have a couple of observations/thoughts:

First, Union’s decision to separate from the CCCU seems a bit hasty.  The CCCU has not made any decision about the status of Eastern Mennonite’s or Goshen’s membership yet.

Second, when it comes to marriage being the “heart of the gospel,” I am convinced by McKnight.

Perhaps I am biased–McKnight taught me Greek and New Testament at Trinity
Evangelical School, the divinity school where former Union president David Dockery now serves as president.

Third, I am very curious to hear from members of the Union University faculty.  What
does the faculty think about Oliver’s decision to pull the university out of the CCCU? (I
am guessing that faculty who disagree with Oliver’s decision might be hesitant to speak
up out of fear of consequences from Oliver and his inner circle).  I would be very
surprised if Oliver has universal support for this move among the faculty.

Only time will tell how the issue of gay marriage will divide the CCCU.  At the moment
see three groups.  First, some institutions are willing to leave the CCCU over this issue
before any official decision about Eastern Mennonite’s and Goshen’s membership has
been made.  They are practicing what might be called “second-degree separation.” They will not associate with Eastern Mennonite or Goshen (and any other CCCU school that might affirm gay marriage) and they will not associate with Christian colleges who believe in traditional marriage but are unwilling to kick these Mennonite schools out of the CCCU.  Union and Oklahoma Wesleyan (so far) fall into this category.

The second group is made up of institutions that privilege traditional marriage and are willing to be part of a CCCU that permits schools that affirm gay marriage

The third group is made up of institutions that will wait to see how the CCCU responds to Goshen and Eastern Mennonite and decide to leave the CCCU if it allows these Mennonite schools to maintain membership in the organization.

The CCCU makes its decision about Goshen and Eastern Mennonite on August 31.

And what about the Lilly Fellows National Network of colleges and universities? Union
University is a member of this organization.  Will they leave this fellowship of church
related schools because many of the schools in the network hire homosexuals

ADDENDUM:  I also encourage you to check out John Hawthorne’s post: Dis-Union in the CCCU

Baptists, Beer Cans, and Budget Cuts or What Small Christian Colleges Need to Do to Survive

Paul Roof was fired for appearing in this ad.

The June 2, 2014 issue of Inside Higher Ed includes three stories about controversy at Christian colleges.  I always cringe when I see articles about Christian colleges appearing in periodicals such as Inside Higher EdThe New York Times, or the Chronicle of Higher Education.  When this happens it usually means that a particular Christian college is in trouble.

(I should add here that Inside Higher Ed does a much better job than the Chronicle of Higher Education in covering Christian colleges and universities. I appreciate their effort of its editorial leadership to take seriously the place of Christian colleges on the landscape of American higher education. What follows has nothing to do with Inside Higher Ed’s coverage and everything to do with the issues facing these colleges and universities).

First up is Erskine College in Due West, SC.  Erskine is affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  Some of the school’s constituency would like to have a president who is a Presbyterian (though not necessarily a Presbyterian affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church) and others don’t seem to care as long as the president is an evangelical.  From what I have been able to tell, the college has, in recent years, sought to reclaim its evangelical identity. (This has caused a great deal of controversy).

The Board of Trustees at Erskine recently offered the presidency to a candidate who was a Baptist.  This did not go over very well with those who want the college to remain true to a distinctly Presbyterian brand of evangelicalism.  They protested and the candidate eventually took his name out of consideration for the job. Scott Jaschik covers it all here.

I know that the bylaws at some church-related colleges and universities require the board to choose a president who represents the institution’s denominational identity. For example, Baptist colleges and universities often limit their pool of potential presidential candidates to Baptists.  The same is true for many Catholic universities.  Recently Davidson College, an elite liberal arts college in North Carolina, decided not to change a college by-law that says the president must be a Presbyterian.

I have no problem with Erskine wanting to stay true to its ecclesiastical roots on this front.  But it does seem that the leadership of the college has to make some serious decisions about whether they want to maintain a distinctly Presbyterian identity. If they appeal to a larger evangelical constituency (and hire a non-Presbyterian president who might help them make that appeal) they might attract more students or a larger donor pool.  (More on this below).

Next up is Charleston Southern University and what I am calling “BeerCanGate.”  This Southern Baptist college, which also seems to be working hard at reclaiming (or perhaps sustaining) its Baptist evangelical heritage, recently fired a very popular sociology professor named Paul Roof because he allowed his image, complete with a wildly groomed mustache and beard (see above), to appear on a beer can as part of a charity to raise money for ovarian cancer.  The administration claims that Roof violated a university policy that does not allow faculty to participate in business enterprises or use their image in advertising that sheds bad light on the college.  Of course beer and Baptists don’t mix.

As a private university, Charleston Southern has every right to have rules about faculty with crazy mustaches allowing their images on beer cans.  Roof apparently violated a rule here. But does what he did really merit his firing?  How about just a slap on the wrist?  My hunch is that there is more to the story here.  Perhaps someone who knows Charleston Southern University can enlighten us a bit in the comments section below.

Finally, there is the ongoing case of Bryan College.  Last month we did a post on student dissent at the college.  At the time several people told me that these debates over creation science and strong-armed leadership should be understood in light of the fact that Bryan is facing serious enrollment declines.  Now we learn that Bryan just cut 20 positions, stopped contributing to employee retirement, and reduced the salaries of administrators.

What is happening to Bryan is not unusual among Christian colleges today.  I won’t name names, but I know of many colleges who have been forced to make cuts of this nature.  (Some have cut even more than 20 positions). The larger and wealthier Christian colleges will survive these cuts (or have survived them) and will continue to offer first-rate Christian liberal arts education.  Other Christian colleges, in order to keep the doors open, will be forced to refashion themselves into institutions focused on online education or continuing education.  Some will simply go out of business.

I am guessing that the problems at Erskine and Charleston Southern are also related to enrollment. Both schools are trying to appeal to a larger pool of prospective students.  Some folks at Erskine think they can do it by hiring a charismatic president, regardless of his connection to the school’s tradition, who might attract students.  The administration at Charleston Southern wants to make sure they don’t lose the conservative constituency who would frown upon a faculty member’s image on a beer can.

I am afraid we will read more about these schools and other Christian institutions of higher education in a forthcoming issue of Inside Higher Ed.  Stay tuned.  These problems are not going away.  The higher education marketplace is changing rapidly and it appears, sadly, that only the strong will survive.

In Valparaiso for a Conference Honoring Mark Schwehn’s "Exiles from Eden"

This weekend I am back in my old stomping grounds at Valparaiso University.  I was a post-doctoral fellow here from 2000-2002 as part of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts.  I have been back to Valparaiso a couple of times since I left for Messiah College in 2002, but it has been a while since my last visit.  I know a lot of things in Valparaiso, Indiana have changed over the years, but a lot remains the same.  For example, I am in the same hotel that I stayed in during my Lilly Fellows interview.  I also rode the infamous Coach USA bus from O’Hare airport to Portage–just like I used to do twelve years ago (It is still a terrible trip). The last time I rode this bus I was on the last leg of my journey home after interviewing for my current position at Messiah College.

I am here for a Lilly Fellows Program reunion conference focused on the legacy of Mark Schwehn’s book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America (Oxford, 1994).  So many of us have been influenced by this book and a lot of us decided to devote ourselves to church-related higher education as a result of reading it.

I am off to a picnic tonight, but the real academic conference starts tomorrow.  Speakers include Dorothy Bass, Stephanie Paulsell, Caryn Riswold, Matt Lundin, Caroline Simon, Julie Straight, Tal Howard, Bob Elder, Heath White, Matt Hedstrom, Mark Schwehn, Craig Dykstra, Michel Beaty, Thomas Hibbs, Patrick Byrne, Mary Strey, Scott Huelin, Michael Cartwright, Susan VanZanten, Arlin Migliazzo, Jane Kelley Rodeheffer, and Mel Piehl.

I hope to do some blogging and Tweeting this weekend.  A Twitter hashtag has already been established: #lfpexiles  Stay tuned.

Tweets From Opening Session of Lilly Fellows Conference

As I wrote yesterday, I am at the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and  the Arts National Conference at the University of Scranton.  I just returned from a late evening reception for former Lilly Fellows.  It was nice to see old friends and meet some of the current Lilly Fellows.  Mark Schwehn, the godfather of the Lilly Fellows Program, made an appearance as well.
Tonight’s plenary speaker was Mark Ravizza S.J. of Santa Clara University.  His talk was entitled “Inspiring Faith and Engaging Reality: Educating for Civic Virtue in a Secular Age.”  Here are my tweets from the conference.  You can read other tweets at #lfp2013.

Yes, exposure to suffering transforms us, but how do humanities DISCIPLINES foster transformative experiences?  
Mark Ravizza challenges us to talk about God in the classroom. How does this translate to a history class?  
Ravizza: Civic virtue requires imagination, but it begins with the acknowledgment of real suffering and seeking God in the midst.


Ravizza: “Globalization of superficiality.” I am apparently engaging in this right now by writing this tweet.
Ravizza: Must educate students to sympathize with those less fortunate. Replace “civic blindness” with a “fellow feeling” for others.  
Ravizza: Early Jesuits saw no tension between faith-based education and an education for citizenship/common good.
Academia asserts a host of pressures: US News rankings, publishing, tenure, etc… All encourage us to play it safe.   
Ravizza: We cannot teach what we do not know or do not live.  
Ravizza: Quotes Buechner. God calls us to the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet  
 Ravizza: In a secular age we need new and creative ways to bring faith into the classroom. #lfp2013
First keynote speaker is Rev. Mark Ravissa SJ of Santa Clara University:
Unfamiliar with the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and Arts? Learn more here:  
This year’s Lilly post-docs are very impressive. Check them out and hire them:  
Joe Creech introducing the Lilly Fellow post-docs. Proud to have been part of this group from 2000-2002 with  
Kudos to Gretchen Van Dyke and her team for hosting us at Scranton and for introducing some of us to Russell’s Italian restaurant  
University of Scranton politics professor Gretchen Van Dyke is welcoming us to Scranton and the 2013 Lilly Fellows Conference

Lilly Fellows Conference at University of Scranton

I am at the University of Scranton for the 23rd annual Lilly Fellows Program (LFP) National Conference.   I am here a bit early to fulfill my duties as a member of the LFP National Network Board, but after the business is taken care of I am looking forward to attending this year’s conference. The theme is “Faith and Academic Freedom in Civic Virtue.”  Speakers include Mark Ravissa, Patricia McGuire, and Rob Kapilow.

It will be good to touch base with a lot of old friends and making some new ones.  This conference is always a highlight of my academic year.

If time allows, I hope to write some blog posts and maybe tweet a few sessions.  Stay tuned.