The History Major is Back at Gordon College

Gordon College

I received this today from Gordon’s office of Marketing and External Relations:

The Political Science, Philosophy and History departments will be merged into one administrative department, and all department faculty worked over the summer to revise their curriculum to better meet the needs of incoming students across these three disciplines. Gordon will continue to offer majors in these disciplines as part of a comprehensive liberal arts education. The philosophy major will now include four concentrations (of which students must choose one): political theory; justice, peace and conflict; law; and language and linguistics.

It appears that the stand-alone History Department at Gordon is gone, but the major will remain.  Some of you may remember that Gordon announced last Spring that it would be dropping the major.  We wrote about that here and here and here and here and here.

Kate Shellnut mentioned this in a piece at Christianity Today earlier this month, but I missed it.

Gordon College Gets a $75.5 Million Donation

Gordon College

Will the Christian “liberal arts college” use the money to bring back the history major?

It does not look like it.

Here is a taste of Kate Shellnut’s reporting at Christianity Today:

The historic investment in Gordon comes as the school undergoes what Lindsay called its most significant academic restructuring in 50 years. Last spring, the college announced plans to consolidate certain majors and departments to better match student demand. For example, political science, philosophy, and history were combined into a single department, though each will remain a distinct major.

In addition, the school said it would expand graduate programs, partnerships, and online education. A $10 million donation made in May helped fund Gordan Global, a platform for online education through its new School of Graduate, Professional, and Extended Studies.

As a result of the changes and budget cuts, 17 faculty members and six staff members were laid off, and more than a dozen other unfilled positions were eliminated.

While some alumni as well as outsiders questioned the move, worried the school was losing its liberal arts distinctives, Lindsay and fellow Gordon administrators saw the adjustments as a proactive way to avoid financial strain in the future, to set the school up for sustainability.

Read the rest here.

I recently mentioned Gordon College in a talk I gave to the Lee University Symposium on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  Here is what I said:

…The liberal arts, and the intellectual skills that the liberal arts provide, are at the heart of this kind of truth-seeking enterprise. We need the liberal arts more than ever in the age of Trump. Christian colleges are doing a nice job of training professionals and skilled workers to help sustain our capitalist economy, but I worry that we are not investing as much as we should in the kinds of people essential to sustain a democracy. Liberal arts and humanities programs around the country are under attack at time when we need them more than ever. Administrators and Boards of Trustees are eliminating these programs and majors at a rapid clip, all in the name of “prioritization.” All of us at Messiah College got a wake-up call when we learned this year that our sister school in Wenham, Massachusetts, Gordon College, a flagship evangelical college with a rich history of liberal arts education, dropped majors in history, philosophy, chemistry, French, and physics.  I have heard stories of other schools who have made cuts or eliminated humanities and liberal arts programs with very little conversation about the purpose of college or the way in which the sustained study of the humanities (not just general education, I might add) raise questions that go to the heart of the mission of a Christian college or university.  What are we prioritizing in prioritization?

Ironically, Gordon College’s Vice President of Development Was a History Major

Gordon College

If you are not up to speed on Gordon College‘s decision to end its history major (and a bunch of other majors) get up to speed here and here.

It turns out that Gordon’s VP for Finance and Business Development was an undergraduate history major.

While I hope that Mr. Truschel fought valiantly to keep the history major at Gordon, perhaps serving as the only dissenting voice in the meeting when the cut was made, I have my doubts.

I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be interviewing Mr. Truschel for my “So What Can You Do With a History Major?” series anytime soon.  🙂

More Thoughts on Gordon College’s Decision to Drop the History Major

Gordon College

I remain saddened at Gordon College’s decision to bring an end to its history major. We had some good discussion last night on my Facebook page.  Here are some of my random reflections:

What strikes me is that Gordon College is not simply consolidating three departments for the purpose of saving administration costs. This is the consolidation of THREE MAJORS–three different disciplines that offer different ways of understanding the world.

I spent over an hour yesterday with a very bright “undecided” student. I was trying to sell her on the importance of humanities, the liberal arts, and, yes, the study of history. The skills and ways of thinking that one learns from the study of history are not something that can happen in a few courses as part of an “integrated major” like Politics-Philosophy-History.  In over two decades of teaching at Christian liberal arts institutions I can attest to the fact that a historical way of seeing the world–one informed by contextual thinking, the understanding of contingency, the complexity of the human experience, a grasp of causality and change over time–is something that is cultivated through a deep dive into the discipline. You can’t come to an interdisciplinary or “integrated” conversation without grounding in a discipline.

I can’t stress the formation piece here enough–especially at a Christian college in the liberal arts tradition. (I don’t care if it is evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, etc.) Research universities and big regional public institutions are sometimes different animals since faculty do not often have the sustained engagement with undergraduates.

How are we forming our Christian students intellectually if we don’t give them the opportunity to dive into a particular discipline–a particular way of seeing the world with its own set of thinking skills? When a Christian college stops supporting the humanities (and now I am talking more broadly) it sends a message that it no longer believes that opportunities for this kind of formation are worth defending.

This, of course, raises the question: What kind of formative experiences DO Christian college believe are worth defending? At this point, a Christian college administrator might enter the fray and say that his or her school has a robust general education curriculum. Fair enough. I will be the first to defend strong Gen Ed Cores and I did so early in my career as a member of my colleges’s Gen Ed committee. But a cafeteria-style Gen Ed, while essential, does not allow for a deep formative dive into a particular way of thinking.

I also realize that some Christian college administrators might be skeptical about at my idealism. “We need to keep the doors open and no 18-22 year-olds want to study history any more.” I understand the dilemma, but if this is indeed the case, let’s just redefine our Christian colleges as professional schools where you will also get a Gen Ed Core and let humanities faculty decide whether or not they can work in such an environment with integrity.  It pains me that students no longer want to come to college to study the humanities. It pains me even more that some of our finest Christian liberal arts colleges will no longer give those who DO want to study these topics an opportunity to do so in a sustained way. So yes, I am really shaken-up by the news from Gordon.

In the meantime, as I prepare to weather the coming storms, I will and continue to cling to the arguments I made here:

Why Study History

Gordon College Will No Longer Have a History Major

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All Christian colleges are dealing with financial difficulties to one degree or another right now.  (And a significant number of non-Christian colleges are dealing with it as well).  Gordon College, a once flagship evangelical college in the Boston area, has just released a new academic model to “ensure” the college’s “longevity.”  Read all about it here.

As part of the restructuring, Gordon has created new “integrated majors.”  One of those new majors is “Philosophy-Politics-History.”  Here is the description:

While political science will remain as a free-standing major for those students interested in quantitative social science, it will be combined with philosophy and history, which will now be part of this integrated area of study and qualitative analysis. All three of these areas remain integral to a comprehensive liberal arts education. The simple but unpleasant reality is particular fields attract fewer students each year as singular majors (with philosophy in particular reflecting a nationwide declining trend). Many smaller colleges like Gordon are no longer able to sustain the level of investment needed for each of these to function as singular majors.

If I read this correctly, it now appears that Gordon College, a longtime bastion of the Christian liberal arts, no longer has a history major.  Notice that the above statement refers to philosophy, politics, and history as “areas.”  The stand-alone major is over.  Gordon will no longer have a four-year major that will teach students how to think historically about the world.

It is a sad. sad day for the Christian humanities.  My heart goes out to the Gordon history faculty.

Expect more of this.  I wonder if Gordon has set a precedent here that other Christian colleges will follow.  Times are changing.  Stay tuned.

Why Evangelicals Struggle With Pluralism

A small piece of my recent Franz Lecture at Gordon College:

Despite all of the obituaries written about the death of the Christian Right, the “culture wars that were born in the 1980s are still raging.  Too many self-professed followers of Jesus in the United States today embrace an unhealthy blend of religion and politics that hurts the witness of the church and further polarizes the nation into warring camps.  The old saying that the evangelical movement in America has become the “Republican Party at prayer” seems to have been confirmed again in November 2016 when 81% of evangelical voters pulled the lever for the GOP candidate for President.

Too often evangelical engagement in politics is understood in terms of “reclaiming” America or restoring America to its Christian roots.  Evangelicals have never had a robust vision for how to live together with our differences.  We have never been very good at pluralism because we have always held, to one degree or another, a position of cultural power. 

What is Happening at Gordon College?

RNS-GORDON-COLLEGE

Earlier this week I visited Gordon College to deliver the 2017 Franz Lecture.  It was a great. albeit short, visit.  Gordon is a great place.  They have an outstanding history faculty and very bright students. I want to thank Steven Alter, Jennifer Hevelone-Harper, David Goss, David Wick, and Hannah Midwinter for making my visit so enjoyable.

One thing that did not come up (and I did not get a chance to pursue it with anyone) during the course of my visit was an April 7 report in The Chronicle of Higher Education that the entire Gordon College Faculty Senate recently resigned their seats in support of a sociology professor who was apparently “denied a promotion because she criticized the college’s opposition to same-sex relationships.”

The Chronicle report drew heavily from reports at The Tartan (Gordon’s student newspaper) and The Boston Globe.

When I was on campus this week there seemed to be no sign of protest among the student body.  Students seemed to be enjoying the beautiful weather by relaxing on the lawn of the college quad and soaking in the New England sun.  The faculty and staff who I met were not talking about this.

Yesterday this entire affair caught the attention of Christianity Today.  Here is a taste of Kate Schellnut’s reporting:

The senate resignations have drawn particular attention amid ongoing scrutiny over Gordon’s LGBT policies. Lindsay stirred controversy among the college’s Massachusetts neighbors and accrediting association when he joined a 2014 letter requesting that the Obama administration provide religious exemptions for federal funding recipients that consider sexual orientation in hiring.

Gordon later conducted a “period of discernment” on its pastoral response to LGBT issues, which concluded with the unanimous reaffirmation of its sexuality standards.

In March, a sociology professor filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, claiming that after receiving a recommendation from the faculty senate, she was denied a promotion due to her LGBT advocacy. Gordon told the college newspaper that “the professor’s application for promotion was evaluated solely on its merits and was not influenced by any other matters.”

In last week’s meeting, George, the former chair, “affirmed the authority and decision-making role of the administration, but said she felt the senators could not reconcile divergent views on the process and could no longer be effective in their roles,” Sweeney said. “Their statement did not reference any specific decision or faculty member.”

Read the entire article here.

If another article in The Tartan is correct, it appears that this recent controversy is representative of some larger issues about the mission and identity of Gordon College.

Heading to Gordon College

Ken Olson

The Ken Olson Science Center at Gordon College

On Monday afternoon I will be at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts to deliver the 2017 Franz Lecture.  My lecture is titled “Why Study History?”  The lecture is scheduled for 4:00 in Ken Olson Science Center on campus.  Learn more here.  The lecture is free and, as far as I know, is open to the public.

On the Road in April (and Beyond?)

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My travel schedule this Spring has been light.  I have been enjoying teaching this semester and the students in my Pennsylvania History and United States History to 1865 courses have been excellent.  I have taken some time to tweak some of my lectures, experiment with some new assignments, and become a better discussion leader.  This is my third year teaching Pennsylvania History and I think I am finally starting to like the content.  It has also been fun and invigorating to be back in the U.S. Survey lecture hall after a year on sabbatical.  I am sure all of the social and political changes in American life have had something to do with that.

It has also been fun to get back into the studio for Season 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  I have been so thankful for all of the support we have received through out Patreon campaign.  It is very rewarding to see that so many people have affirmed our work in this way and truly care about the role that history can play in our democratic life together.  Thanks again.  By the way, Episode 19 drops on Sunday.

But I am also increasingly aware of the need to travel outside of the college campus in an effort to bring good history and historical thinking to public audiences. With that in mind I am in the process of scheduling talks and lectures for the Summer and Fall of 2017 and the Spring of 2018.  You can learn more about the kind of speaking, workshops, and seminars that I do here or here.

2016 was a busy year.  I was at West Shore Evangelical Free Church (Mechanicsburg, PA), Derry Presbyterian Church (Hershey, PA), Centre College (Danville, KY),  Trinity College (Deerfield, IL), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), University of Chicago, Houston Baptist University, Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy, MA), Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate, TN), National Presbyterian Church (Washington D.C.), Arch Street United Methodist Church (Philadelphia), Cairn University (Langhorne, PA), St. Francis University (Loretto, PA), The George Washington Library (Mount Vernon, VA), and Oxford University (Oxford, England).

Next month I will be heading down to New Orleans for the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians. (We are still looking for correspondents!) On Saturday, April 8, I will be co-leading two “chat room” sessions for historians.  One session (which I will co-lead with Kevin Schultz of the University of Illinois-Chicago) will be on the ways that Twitter (@johnfea1) can help us disseminate good history to a larger public.  The other session (which I will co-lead with Elizabeth Marsh of the OAH)  will be on the History Relevance Campaign.  If you are in New Orleans I hope you have some time to stop by and participate in one of these sessions.

After New Orleans I fly to Boston on April 10 to deliver the 2017 Frantz Lecture  at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.  My lecture is titled “Why Study History?”  As far as I know, this lecture is free and open to the public.

I hope to see you on the road!  We always need good American history, but it is especially needed in times of great change.  I would love to talk with you about setting something up as your school, college, university, historical society, library, church, museum, or virtually any other public space where these kinds of conversations take place.

What Would It Take for Anti-Trump Evangelicals to Vote for Hillary Clinton?

hillary-christian

A lot.

Some evangelicals will never vote for Hillary Clinton.  She is connected to Barack Obama. She supports a women’s right to choose.  She promises to appoint Supreme Court justices that will undermine religious liberty. She is married to Bill Clinton, a man who cheated on her in the White House and was impeached.  She lied about the e-mail server.

In any other election, most evangelicals would vote for the GOP candidate.  Never Hillary.

But this election is different.  In this election a significant portion of evangelicals believe that the GOP candidate is not qualified to be president.

We don’t really know the size of the never-Trump evangelical coalition.  One survey has found that 65% of white evangelicals are voting for Trump and 16% back Clinton.  That leaves about 20% of white evangelicals who have either not yet made up their mind, will vote for a third-party candidate, or will not vote in the presidential election.  This 20% is led by group of outspoken evangelicals such as Southern Baptist Russell Moore and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

Can these anti-Trump evangelical conservatives be convinced to vote for Clinton?

If Clinton were to make an appeal to this demographic she would need to address two main issues: abortion and religious liberty.

On abortion, it goes without saying that President Hillary Clinton is not going to be working to overthrow Roe v. Wade.  Nor will she appoint Supreme Court justices who will do so. But what if she would propose, policy wonk that she is, a systematic plan to limit the number of abortion in the United States?  I am not talking about returning to the old pro-choice Democratic mantra of “safe, legal, and rare.”  Evangelicals will need more than a catchphrase.  They will need to hear Clinton connect her public policy pronouncements with a specific a plan to reduce the number of abortions in the United States.

Some evangelicals would possibly vote for Clinton if she spoke out more forcefully about the controversial Planned Parenthood videos released in 2015.  When these videos appeared she called them “disturbing.”  Since then her comments about Planned Parenthood have been nothing but positive.  Actually, Trump has been more nuanced on this issue than Clinton.

We know, for example, that Clinton has worked hard in her career to reduce teenage pregnancies.  She might get more evangelical votes from the never-Trump crowd if she would connect this work more directly to the reduction of abortions.  This might also bring her closer to the position of her own church.

Clinton has said very little about abortion on the trail.  When asked about abortion at the third debate she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  Many evangelicals were turned off by this.

Clinton has also been very quiet on matters of religious liberty.  Yes, she pays lip service to religious liberty when Trump makes comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, but she has not addressed some of the religious issues facing many evangelicals.  This is especially the case with marriage.

Granted, evangelicals should not expect Clinton to defend traditional marriage or set out to overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.  (I might add here that evangelicals should not expect this from Trump either).  But is she willing to support some form of principled or “confident” pluralism?  Some evangelicals of the never-Trump variety would be very happy to live in a society in which those who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, and those who do not believe this, can live together despite their differences.

The recent attempts in California to cut financial aid for students at faith-based colleges that uphold traditional views of marriage is one example of a threat to religious liberty that has many evangelicals concerned.  So does the earlier Gordon College case and the recent news about the Society of Biblical Literature considering banning InterVarsity Press from their national conference book exhibit.

Or perhaps none of this matters.  Why would Hillary Clinton address these issues when she probably doesn’t need the votes of the anti-Trump evangelicals to win the election?

Christian Leaders Request a New Kind of Religious Exemption

Let the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby floodgates open.  

It was only a matter of time before other Christian organizations asked for religious exemptions based on issues unrelated to the Affordable Care Act. The first major exemption request comes from a group of Christian leaders who have asked President Obama for a religious exemption from a forthcoming executive order that will forbid organizations that discriminate based on sexual orientation from competing for government contracts. 

You can read the letter here.  ,

The signers of the letter include Michael Lindsay (President of Gordon College), Andy Crouch, (Executive Editor of Christianity Today), Joel Hunter (Pastor of Northland Church and a spiritual adviser to Barack Obama), Rick Warren (Pastor of Saddlebach Church), Larry Snyder (CEO of Catholic Charities), and Steven Bauman (President and CEO of World Relief).

The Boston Globe has published an article about Gordon College President Michael Lindsay’s decision to sign this letter.  The article states that Lindsay’s decision to sign the letter  “drew sharp criticism from Gordon alumni and students.” It then quotes an interview with a Gordon alum, Paul Miller, who now heads an LGBTQ organization of former Gordon students and graduates.  While I am sure members of Miller’s group are upset with Lindsay’s decision to sign this letter, I would venture to guess that the percentage of the entire Gordon alumni base that disagrees with Lindsay’s choice is rather small.

This will be the first of many such exemption requests.  We are already seeing the implications of Burwell v.Hobby Lobby.

Going Upscale Tonight With Alumni From Gordon College’s Jerusalem and Athens Forum

Union League of Philadelphia

I took Amtrak into Philadelphia tonight to spend some time with alumni from Gordon College‘s honors program: Jerusalem and Athens Forum.  Tal Howard, a professor of history at Gordon, a prolific author, and the director of the program, asked me to lead a discussion on a few chapters of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  The event was held in the library of the Philadelphia Union League and it was followed by a nice dinner in one of the League’s restaurants.  The discussion was part of a full weekend of activity in Philadelphia, including a worship service tomorrow at the Arch St. Quaker Meeting House and visits to Independence Hall, the Art Museum (where they will all run up the stairs like Rocky), and the Constitution Center.

I thought we had some good conversation, both during the book discussion and at dinner.  We not only talked about American history, but we discussed the way Gordon College students perceived Messiah College and vice-versa.  (And was surprised by what I learned on this front). Conversation also turned to a comparison between Jersey beaches and Alabama beaches (Tal is from Alabama), evangelical churches and intellectuals, Gordon’s (relatively) new president, and Messiah College soccer. (This year Gordon apparently stole a recruit away from the might Falcons).

Though I joked throughout the evening about the way Messiah College competes with Gordon for students (both are northeastern Christian colleges), I was very impressed with the quality of these Gordon alums.  Though some of them were several years out of college, they remained very engaged intellectually.  The fact that the Jerusalem and Athens Forum attracts this kind of student and provides these kinds of experiences for them after they leave college is a testament to the program that Tal is running.

Time to head home and start packing for a week in New York City.  Stay tuned.