A conservative makes a case for liberal arts education

Liberal education is education for liberty, or freedom. As a result, one might think that Ursinus College political scientist Jonathan Marks’s book Let’s Be Reasonable: A Conservative Case for Liberal Education would not be necessary. Conservatives, with their commitment to individual freedom and liberty, should be plentiful on liberal arts college campuses. But this is not the case. Conservatives are often hard to find at our best liberal arts colleges. In fact, many liberal arts colleges are downright hostile to conservative beliefs.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik interviews Marks about his new book:

Q: What is the best way for conservatives to be heard in campus discussions?

A: That’s bound to vary from campus to campus. I am a voracious reader of campus horror stories, so when I wrote, in 2016, a review for The Wall Street Journal that criticized the spirit of activist campaigns then taking place at many colleges, I feared a call from the higher-ups. In fact, I did get a call from someone in the administration — inviting me to present on the review at a student affairs discussion group. That experience suggested to me that I had, because of what I’d read about other colleges, underestimated the professionalism and openness of my colleagues. Perhaps the best way of being heard is to appeal to standards like professionalism, academic freedom, rigor and inquiry, which still have some purchase, if not as much as one could wish, across fields and political sects. It helps, too, if one is able to form otherwise good working relationships with one’s colleagues.

In saying that, I don’t mean to deny or minimize incidents in which conservatives and dissenting liberals have been subjected to disgraceful treatment. Nor do I propose that we are likely to win many arguments. But I agree with David French that too many conservatives, particularly tenured ones, are more cowed than they should be by widely covered public shamings. His article is entitled “Courage Is the Cure for Political Correctness.”

Read the entire interview here.

“The Ethic of Being”

Note: This piece is a slightly revised version of a post I wrote on February 20, 2020. –JF

This week in Created and Called for Community at Messiah University we are exploring the Judeo-Christian creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.  On Tuesday we read the scriptural text and today we discussed Old Testament theologian Bruce Birch‘s essay “In the Image of God” from his book (with Larry L. Rasmussen) The Predicament of the Prosperous

Birch begins his essay with a story:

A socially committed pastor once said to me after I had spoken on biblical understandings of hunger issues, “That was interesting, but we really don’t have time to be reading the Bible.  People are starving out there.”

He continues:

…Christian social witness in our time has become chiefly identified with the “doing” side of the Christian moral life. “What shall we do about _____? ”  You can fill in any issue of concern: peace, racism, poverty.  The emphasis is on decision-making, strategy, and action…The Bible, however, does not make decisions for us or plan courses of action.  Attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful.  There are, of course, broad moral imperatives, such as the command to love our neighbor, which are of central importance, but the church is left with the struggle to decide what the loving act toward the neighbor might be in a given situation.  Many issues our society faces–nuclear war, environmental damage–were not anticipated at all by the biblical communities.  Even when we share a common concern with those communities, such as feeding the hungry, we must make decisions and take actions in a complex global economic system totally unlike anything imagined in the biblical tradition.

While it took a few minutes for my Christian students to get beyond the idea that “attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful,” we all agreed with Birch that the scriptures do not offer specific strategies, action steps, or policies for how to deal with pressing social issues in the world.  Instead, I suggested, the Bible offers what I called (for lack of a better term) “first principles” for building specific responses to social concerns in a “complex” 21st-century world.

Birch writes:

Does this make the Bible remote or irrelevant to our Christian social concern?  By no means!  Alongside the concern for the ethics of “doing” lies an ethics of “being.”  Christian social concern requires not only that we ask what we should do in a broken world but also that we ask who we are to be.  The shaping of decision-makers is as important as the shaping of the decision.  As we enter and are nurtured by the Christian community, we form values, perspectives, and perceptions that inform our deciding and acting.  The identity we bring with us as Christians deeply affects our participation in ministering to a broken world.

There was a lot to think about here.  We returned to Birch’s story about the socially-conscious pastor.  While Messiah College is committed to service, and students will get multiple opportunities to serve during their years as a student, Messiah is fundamentally a Christian university–a place of intellectual and spiritual formation.  College is a unique experience.  It is a time to think, learn, and study.  Stanley Hauerwas and John Henry Newman have already taught us that college is a time to prepare for a life of service to the church and the world.  Students should not feel guilty about spending more time thinking and reflecting about the world than they do acting in the world.  The time to act will come, but right now they need to learn who they are.  They need to think about what Birch calls the “ethic of being.”

So who are we?  What does the Christian tradition teach us about what it means to be “human? At this point I introduced my students to the word “humanism.” Back when I was a college student at an evangelical school, “humanism” had a negative connotation.  It was often preceded by the adjective “secular.” Secular humanists, we were told, lurked around every corner trying to undermine Christianity and convince young people to abandon their faith. Secular humanism was the work of the devil. It was corroding Christian values.  We studied “apologetics” in order to intellectually defeat secular humanism.

But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that none of my students knew what I meant when I referenced “secular humanism.” The fact that my students did not come with the culture war baggage of the 1980s and 1990s allowed us to explore more freely the historic meaning of humanism–the study of what it means to be a human being in this world. I introduced them to the Christian roots of humanism.

Any exploration of Christian humanism should begin in Genesis 1 and 2.

Birch spends a significant part of his essay interpreting this passage. We did not have time to examine all of his exegesis, so I tried to narrow our discussion to a few of his points.  Birch writes:

We know the God of blessing not only as the Creator who called the world into being but in the ongoing reliability of the created order and in the divine presence that sustains life in all its week-to-week rhythms.  This aspect of God is present with us in all moments and is universally known by all humanity.  God’s intentions in creation is for all to experience shalom, a Hebrew word meaning wholeness.

We talked about shalom.  Most students associated it with “peace.” Another student linked it to unity and harmony. In one section I asked them to call out some antonyms for “peace” and they responded with words like “chaos,” “war,” “conflict,” and “division.”  Indeed war, conflict, and division undermine shalom.  These things rip at the wholeness God intended for His creation.

Birch then offers four themes from Genesis 1 and 2 to help us think about “what it means to be given life as a creature and to live that life in relationship to God and the rest of the created order.”

  1. Humanity is created in the image of God.  On Monday, during our discussion of Genesis 1:26-27, I introduced students to the idea of Imago Dei. The Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, as New Testament scholar Scot McKnight shows us, translates the word behind “image” with the word eikon.  We talked about the role of “icons” in Christian worship.  Icons are paintings, statues, or figures that aid us in our devotion to God.  Genesis 1 teaches us that we are living eikons.  Much in the same way that monuments try to help us understand more fully what happened in a particular historic place, the creation story teaches us that our lives are monuments–eikons that should point people toward a deeper understanding of God.  We are image bearers. I told my students that the larger culture will try to tell them who they are, but Genesis 1 and 2 will always remind of them of their true identity. Icons are material objects that represent a spiritual reality. As eikons of God we reflect His image in the world.
  2. Genesis 1 and 2 also affirms the “goodness of creation.”  God did not create everything in His image, but everything God created is “good.” We talked a bit about the implications of this truth for our relationship with the animal kingdom and the environment. (On Tuesday I reminded the students that their dogs were not created in the image of God. Some took this better than others! 🙂 )
  3. This passage also reminds us of the “interrelatedness of creation.” As Birch writes, “We are created for relationship to God, to others, and to nature.” In a college or university such “interrelatedness” manifests itself in the liberal arts curriculum and the way it challenges students to see the connectedness (to use Ernest Boyer’s phrase) of their general education coursework. We had a student in the class who transferred to Messiah from a small Bible training institute. He said that this school separated “spiritual formation” from “academics.” It was a great opportunity to discuss the difference between a Bible school (or any professional school for that matter) and a Christian liberal arts university. We talked a lot about how courses in history, science, philosophy, art, literature, psychology, languages, and sociology offer opportunities to think about our identity as eikons of God and our relationship to the created order.
  4. Finally, Birch warns us about what he calls “the distortion of hierarchical thinking about creation.”  Over the centuries, Christians have misused “God’s commission giving humanity dominion over the earth” in such a way that has led to “a hierarchical  understanding that divided the relationship of the human to God and to nature.”  Birch adds: “Early in the history of the Christian church a subdivided hierarchy became the standard: God, males, females, other races than white, Jews, animals, plants, and the earth itself.  This hierarchical understanding of creation became the foundation for entire superstructures of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.”

This last theme was the perfect way to open-up a discussion of the final section of Birch’s essay: “The Brokenness of Creation.” We are created in the image of God and called to pursue relationships with God and His “good” creation. But Genesis 3 teaches us that we are also sinners who have abused the human freedom God has given to us. “Sin,” Birch writes, “is the word we use to describe how shalom, wholeness, gets broken.” Or to use McKnight’s phrase, we are “cracked eikons.”  I wish we had more time to discuss the implications of sin, but there will be other opportunities later in the class. I pointed them to Tuesday’s discussion of Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” in which we will talk about all the ways God redeems and will redeem the brokenness of this sin-stained world.

In the end, I encouraged the students to see this discussion of Genesis 1 and 2 (with the help of Bruce Birch) as a starting point for both future class discussions and all of their future college work.  If time permitted, I would have asked students to think about what this “ethic of being” might mean for their college majors.  How does the fact that we are simultaneously image-bearers and sinners help us think about our disciplines and professions? (I tried to do this for the field of history in my book Why Study History?).  And how, in the wake of the Cross and the Resurrection, might we work to restore shalom to a broken creation?

Mintz: “It’s time to be blunt: postgraduation success requires a demanding liberal arts curriculum”

Read to the end of this post to learn about supplementary patrons-only content.

I am teaching Created and Called for Community again this semester. This is a course required by all Messiah University first-year students in their second semester. Our first three readings are:

Stanley Hauerwas’s “Go With God: An Open Letter to Young Christians on Their Way to College” (2010)

Ernest L. Boyer’s “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College” (1984)

John Henry Newman’s “What is a University?” (1852)

All of these readings, in one way or another, challenge college students to think about their education as something more than career preparation. In addition to their majors, students at Messiah University take a robust general education (over 50 credit hours) sequence of courses that includes history, theology, biblical studies, art, social science, literature, foreign language (9 hours), non-western studies, pluralism and society, rhetoric, writing, math, lab science, and science and technology.

I found historian Steven Mintz‘s recent piece at Inside Higher Ed to be particularly relevant to the material I have been teaching the past couple of weeks. Here is a taste of his piece: “A Career-Aligned Major Isn’t Enough“:

1. Students are wrong if they think that they need a career-aligned major.

Just as there’s no royal road to geometry, there are few direct routes to career success apart from nursing. As many millennials have discovered to their dismay, even an engineering or a computer science bachelor’s degree offers no guarantee of a job. Undergraduates need to understand that for many graduates, a bachelor’s degree isn’t the end point; rather, it’s a step along a path.

2. Instead of looking for a program that screams relevance, students need undergraduate programs that are demanding in terms of writing, critical thinking, quantitative skills, presentation skills and experience in working as a team member.

In most cases, a liberal arts education, supplemented with specific transferable skills, represents the best preparation for long-term success.

Sure, it is helpful to acquire foundational and technical knowledge as well as training in areas like Excel and project management and research methods. But it’s precisely because a B.A. or a B.S. isn’t the end of the line, majors matter far less than the skills and range of knowledge that students acquire and are able to demonstrate through projects and activities.

3. The students who do best in the rapidly expanding number of online 12- to 24-month master’s programs or in MOOCs are those with a solid four-year liberal arts background.

Online learning, we now know all too well, isn’t for everyone. Not surprisingly, those students most likely to succeed online are those with strong time management, organizational, planning and metacognitive skills and a well-developed capacity for self-regulation. These are the very skills that a demanding liberal arts education furnishes.

Read the entire piece here. (HT: Chris Gehrz)

Patrons: I have am posting video of my short introductory lecture on Boyer’s “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College” to the Patreon site. Not a patron? Learn more here.

Mapping Catholic land; fighting climate change

Molly Burhans, a liberal arts graduate of Canisius College, a Catholic college in Buffalo, is leading a major project to help the Catholic Church map its vast landholdings in order to help it fight climate change. David Owen of The New Yorker tells the inspiring story of how Burhans put her studies in philosophy, science, and mathematics to work-out her Christian faith in the world. Here is a taste:

In the summer of 2016, Molly Burhans, a twenty-six-year-old cartographer and environmentalist from Connecticut, spoke at a Catholic conference in Nairobi, and she took advantage of her modest travel stipend to book her return trip through Rome. When she arrived, she got a room in the cheapest youth hostel she could find, and began sending e-mails to Vatican officials, asking if they’d be willing to meet with her. She wanted to discuss a project she’d been working on for months: documenting the global landholdings of the Catholic Church. To her surprise, she received an appointment in the office of the Secretariat of State.

On the day of the meeting, she couldn’t find the entrance that she’d been told to use. She hadn’t bought a sim card for her phone, so she couldn’t call for help, and, in a panic, she ran almost all the way around Vatican City. The day was hot, and she was sweating. At last, she spotted a monk, and she asked him for directions. He gave her a funny look: the entrance was a few steps away. A pair of Swiss Guards, in their blue, red, and yellow striped uniforms, led her to an elevator. She took it to the third loggia of the Apostolic Palace, and walked down a long marble hallway. On the wall to her right were windows draped with gauzy curtains; to her left were enormous fresco maps, commissioned in the early sixteenth century, depicting the world as it was known then.

Burhans has been a deeply committed Catholic since she was twenty-one. For a year or two, when she was in college, she considered becoming a nun. Later, though, as she grew increasingly concerned about climate change, her ambitions broadened, and she began to think of ways in which the Catholic Church could be mobilized as a global environmental force. “There are 1.2 billion Catholics,” she told me. “If the Church were a country, it would be the third most populous, after China and India.” The Church, furthermore, is probably the world’s largest non-state landowner. The assets of the Holy See, combined with those of parishes, dioceses, and religious orders, include not just cathedrals, convents, and Michelangelo’s Pietà but also farms, forests, and, by some estimates, nearly two hundred million acres of land.

Read the rest here. This piece is so good it was hard to find an excerpt for the blog.

The liberal arts teach the “pursuit of truth and the creation of virtuous citizens in the community.” We need both more than ever.

Future American historians will wonder why at precisely the time the country needed citizens who understood citizenship, the meaning of democracy, ethics, science, historical thinking, and how to build an argument based on truth, facts, and evidence, we decided to slowly abandon the liberal arts.

Matthew Moen, a political science professor at the University of South Dakota, is thinking about the same things. Here is a taste of Inside Higher Ed piece titled, “Opportunity Knocks for Liberal Education“:

At its core, liberal education consists of two contradictory yet complementary streams: the pursuit of truth and the creation of virtuous citizens in the community. Bruce A. Kimball makes this crystal clear in his magisterial 1986 book, Orators and Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education.

The search for truth is right now the only antidote to the poison of disinformation in America. The creation of virtuous citizens is central to building a new, more inclusive democracy.

However it happened, in other words, liberal education now sits squarely in the middle of what so ails our nation and what is required to fix it. Truthfulness and citizenship are needed now more than ever. Opportunity knocks.

Opportunity knocks because developments in the public square ensure that these issues will be salient for years to come. Take truthfulness. We can be sure that our foreign adversaries will continue peddling disinformation to diminish America’s stature in the world. Mass manipulators will continue spreading wacky conspiracy theories to line their pockets, amplified by those who follow. Members of Congress from both political parties are for different reasons weighing regulation of the tech companies over disinformation issues.

These will spill over into recurrent issues of free speech, free expression, campaign expenditures, voter information and even the terms of service for social media users. All are likely to wind their way through legislatures and courts at the national and state levels for years to come.

We’ve grown accustomed (or maybe numb) to the search for truth in our political discourse, but this issue is so much larger than just politics. It spills out across our daily lives. We no longer even trust faces in a photograph. Truth or falsehood, fact or faction, is a defining issue of our time and will remain a significant challenge for our descendants.

Here’s the point: the search for truth lies at the very heart of liberal education, of what we do. We just have to effectively convey that to the public.

Read the entire piece here.

Did you or your child benefit from a liberal arts or humanities education? Write a letter!

The liberal arts and humanities are in jeopardy right now at colleges and universities. Schools are cutting programs and firing professors in these fields. Spring Arbor University in Michigan just canned one of its best professors. Liberty University and Southwest Baptist University closed their philosophy departments. Gordon College cut its history major and then brought it back. The University of Tulsa dropped degree programs in philosophy, religion, and Russian and Chinese studies. The University of Providence ended programs in art, English, history, sociology, and theology. Missouri Western State University is phasing out programs in history, philosophy, and religion.

In Australia, fees for history courses will rise by 113 % to encourage students to enroll in STEM fields.

Meanwhile, we know that those who study the liberal arts and humanities are less likely to support authoritarian attitudes. I recently made the case that we need the liberal arts more than ever in our current pandemic moment. Earlier this year the president of the University of British Columbia said that education without liberal arts is a “threat to humanity.” The president of Bates College made a compelling case for the liberal arts in her 2017 commencement address. Historian Johann Neem argues that we cannot “think critically” without knowledge.

I know that there are a lot of Americans who have benefited from a liberal arts education. If you are one of these Americans, or if you are a parent with a child who benefited from such an education, I encourage you to write a letter to your college or university president.

What should you put in such a letter?

Tell your story (or the story of your child). Write about how the study of the liberal arts transformed your life and made you a better citizen, community member, or person of faith. If you are parent, write about how your money was well spent.

College administrators are still making tough decisions about the future of the liberal arts and humanities at their institutions and your input is needed. I encourage you to do this even if there are no immediate plans to make cuts in these areas. Presidents and provosts need to know that programs in these areas are making a difference in the lives of their graduates.

Consider Adrian College, a liberal arts college in Michigan. When the college started cutting humanities and liberal arts programs, students and alumni took action and the president reversed the cuts.

Write that letter today! (And please share this post on your blogs and social media pages).

Don’t like authoritarianism? Support the liberal arts

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce just released a study suggesting that liberal arts education tames authoritarian attitudes.

Here is a taste of the findings:

–While people at all levels of educational attainment can express= authoritarian preferences, higher education appears to mitigate against authoritarian tendencies. Higher education promotes independent thought, respect for diversity, and inquisitive assessment of evidence—all of which can counteract the unquestioning deference to authority that is characteristic of authoritarianism.

–Higher education appears to have a larger impact on reducing authoritarian preferences in the United States than in other countries. This may be in part because American higher education places a strong emphasis on a combination of specific and general education, including coursework in the liberal arts.

–The United States ranks as the 16th least authoritarian among 51 countries based on residents’ inclinations to express authoritarian preferences and attitudes, roughly on par with Chile and Uruguay. Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, and Ghana top the list of nations whose populations are least likely to express authoritarian tendencies, while India, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa, and Lebanon have the most authoritarian-leaning populations.

Read the entire report here. Inside Higher Ed is also covering this report.

Spring Arbor University and the “scandal of the evangelical college”

Last month we asked: “What is happening at Spring Arbor University?” The post centered on Spring Arbor University‘s decision to dump their most promising young Christian scholar, English professor Jeff Bilbro.

In that post I wrote, “Seldom does one find such a productive and thoughtful Christian scholar. If I was an administrator facing tough faculty cuts, Jeff Bilbro would be on my untouchable list. He would be the kind of professor I would want to rebuild around.”

Now Eric Miller, professor of history and humanities at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, has taken-up Bilbro’s cause and placed Spring Arbor’s treatment of him in the larger context of evangelical liberal arts education.

Here is a taste of Miller’s piece, “The Market Made Me Do It: The Scandal of the Evangelical College“:

Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind turned twenty-five last year. If we know a classic by its ability to speak across eras, one single event from this past summer is enough to assure everyone of the continuing tragic relevance of Noll’s book.

In late July, Spring Arbor University, a Free Methodist institution affiliated with the evangelical Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), gave Jeffrey Bilbro his one-year notice. A tenured English professor in his mid-thirties, Bilbro had just completed his eighth year at Spring Arbor. He had also just completed his sixth book: three written solo, one co-authored, and two co-edited. Three of these are published by mainstream presses and three by Christian houses. The journals for which Bilbro has written—essays, scholarly articles, poems—range from The South Atlantic Review to Early American Literature to Radix.

To boot, less than three years ago Bilbro stepped forward to become the editor of a once-thriving website, The Front Porch Republic; under his direction weekly traffic has leapt sixty percent. To top this strange tale off, just before he was blindsided by Spring Arbor’s decision Bilbro had received word that a team of scholars of which he is a part has been awarded a $30,000 grant by the CCCU. Their project? “Between Pandemic and Protest: The Future of the Liberal Arts in Higher Education.”

Bilbro is the project director.

You may at this point have Bilbro pegged as an absentee professor. Not the case. He is the president of Spring Arbor’s Faculty Forum, elected by his colleagues. He directs the university’s Writing Center and teaches English and Writing classes. He is a two-time winner of the Faculty Merit Award. He and his department chair have launched the Oak Tree Almanac podcast. And he has been instrumental in bringing an array of guest lectures to campus.

Bilbro, only nine when Noll’s book was published, is a child of the renaissance in Christian thinking of which Noll’s book counterintuitively bears witness. It takes a live and nourished mind to identify intellectual scandal, and the heady reception of Noll’s book within the evangelical academy was a sign that something like an evangelical mind was actually coming to life—as Bilbro’s own trajectory shows.

Miller concludes:

We need another direction. And we need those who will use what power they have to take us there.

“Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus,” declared Martin Luther King, Jr. on the last Sunday before his assassination. He stood within a church speaking to the world, a higher authority beneath his feet, and it propelled him in a different direction. A new consensus needed to be formed, he knew. He gave his life trying to mold it. We need a new consensus, too, and it begins like this: Our minds matter. The Christian mind matters. It’s time we—parents, pastors, presidents, philanthropists—take the sacrificial action required to show it. A silenced Christ, after all, is no Christ at all.

Read the entire piece at Mere Orthodoxy.

What is happening at Adrian College?

Adrian

The Michigan college plans to eliminate its history, theater and religion, philosophy, and leadership department. According to a piece at MLive, “personnel in those departments would not be retained.”

Here is a taste:

ADRIAN, MI — Adrian College has laid off several faculty members over the summer and is planning to eliminate three departments, as well as their faculty, in the 2021-22 academic year.

According to a news release from the Adrian College Association of Professors (ACAP), Jerry Wright, vice president for business affairs at Adrian College, sent a letter to ACAP saying the college intended to eliminate 10 faculty members over the summer followed by another 12 layoffs in the fall of 2021.

There were seven layoffs over the summer, according to the release, including all full-time faculty in the freshman speech and writing department, the only art history professor at the college and professors in teacher education, business and math.

Wright wrote ACAP earlier this month, saying the college planned to eliminate the history, theater and religion, philosophy and leadership departments beginning in the 2021-22 academic year. Personnel in those departments would not be retained, the news release said.

The academic cuts were announced before there were budgetary concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic, the release said.

Read the rest here. Many colleges are making cuts to faculty right now, but the total elimination of a history department speaks volumes about the current state of humanities and liberal arts education in America. According to this website, there are four members of the Adrian history department.

UPDATE (September 1 at 9:08pm): After “passionate feedback,” the president of Adrian College has reversed his decision to end these humanities programs.

A Liberty University Divinity School Professor Responds to the Closing of the Philosophy Department

Liberty_University_Flames_stadium,_Lynchburg,_VA_IMG_4118

David Baggett taught philosophy and theology at Liberty University for fourteen years. In Fall 2020, he will join the faculty at Houston Baptist University. In a recent piece at “The Worldview Bulletin Newsletter,” Baggett responds to Liberty’s recent decision to eliminate its philosophy department.

Here is a taste:

So let’s get back to eliminating the philosophy department. Business lingo was used in Liberty’s decision—specters of efficiency, adding value, and negative enrollment trends—but it all raises prior questions that ought to be asked. If a program isn’t a money-maker for the university, how relevant is that to its value? Is its value reducible to monetary terms? If the university overall wants to be financially solvent—and what university doesn’t?—does that rightly suggest that each department has to pull its own weight financially? What if history and English eventually suffer the same fate? Can a school legitimately claim to be a university at all without a philosophy program? Or an English or history department? This is no unprincipled slippery slope concern; the parity in reasoning seems inescapable. At what point does the intrinsic value of studying poetry or history, philosophy or literature, simply demand that a university privilege something other than the bottom line?

Liberty’s rationale also includes mention of other Christian colleges streamlining their humanities programs, and it is probably true that this was a financial necessity for some or many of those colleges. But what about Liberty? It has an endowment of over 1.5 billion dollars. Wouldn’t this have been an ideal time to be countercultural and lead the way, rather than capitulating and following the lead of institutions far less financially blessed? The argument that this was a financial duty bears critical scrutiny only by revealing some troubling value commitments on which the decision was based. It was apparently deemed more valuable to safeguard and keep growing those hefty resources than use them to preserve a philosophy department. Actions reveal character and values.   

Read the entire piece here.

 

A Return to Fall Commencements

 

Matthew Dennis of the University of Oregon reminds us that 18th-century commencements took place in the Fall. Here is a taste of his Washington Post piece “Why colleges should hold commencement in the fall–like they used to.”

 

…during much of the colonial period, graduation ceremonies typically occurred in September. By the mid-18th century, commencement had become fully established as a public event to demonstrate the individual achievements of graduates, introduce them formally to the community and make the case publicly for higher education as a producer of knowledge and expertise in the public interest. Fall rites served dual purposes, marking the beginning of the academic year for continuing students and faculty and commencing the public careers of graduates. These colonial precedents might offer an option for refashioning college commencements to provide an opportunity to celebrate graduates and the role of higher education, in this year when the world of higher education has been turned upside down…

Commencements became a required and regular part of higher education in 1764 when the College of New Jersey (Princeton) president, Samuel Finley, wrote the “Process of Public Commencement,” which served as a template for future ceremonies, with specific details about processions, orations, disputations, odes and songs, all of which soon took shape at America’s nine colleges.

Their purpose was explicitly to commence — the academic calendar and the graduates’ public lives — and to do so festively, ceremoniously, publicly. Medieval graduation rites had been held in private, as discrete rites of passage largely into clerical life. The new colonial colleges were also initially private elite (all male) institutions, mostly designed to train scholars for the ministry.

But they had increasingly turned toward secular purposes and claimed an important place in the public sphere. Elaborate public commencements signaled this turn, highlighting the new intellectual and technical skills and contributions of faculty and students, in arts and letters, science and medicine, commerce, law and government. The ceremonies themselves helped cement connections between the colleges, wealthy benefactors and the public, as well as between graduates and prospective employers. And graduation could also mark graduates’ transition into married life, with many a betrothal between the male scholars and the sisters of their classmates.

Read the entire piece here.

Liberty University’s Statement on the Elimination of Its Philosophy Department

Liberty

Get up to speed here.

Here is the official press release from Liberty University:

Liberty University is pleased that it is very efficient and effective in the delivery of education in a God-honoring way and in a way that adds value to our students. In 2012, Liberty made a deliberate decision to appropriately align our B.A. in Philosophy program, moving it from our School of Divinity to our College of Arts & Sciences. Upon moving the program, we began to evaluate declining trends in degree-seeking philosophy students across the United States. We also evaluated trends of other Christian colleges that were streamlining their humanities programs and others that completely dissolved philosophy programs due to these negative enrollment trends. 

As a result, in 2015, we dissolved our M.A. in Philosophy program due to waning enrollment. At that time, we began evaluating our B.A. in Philosophy Program and working hard to achieve increased enrollments. This effort did not bear fruit.  Due to the lack of interest, over several years, in a B.A. in Philosophy, we began in the fall of 2019 to collapse the program and to stop accepting new students as we had less than 20 students enrolled and five faculty to service them. 

Despite the anxieties associated with the tough decision to collapse the B.A. in Philosophy program, we work hard at Liberty to take care of our people. As such, the professors impacted by the collapse of the program have been offered generous severance packages and are immediately eligible for rehire in any area that they are qualified for at the university, as well. And those teaching in online modalities maintain the opportunity to continue their service in good faith. 

In parallel to this academic decision, President Jerry Falwell wisely decided to solidify the tenets of basic Christian life and thought within Liberty’s general education curriculum to ensure Liberty in no way moved from its sound focus on theology, apologetics, and philosophy. To that end, a team of some of Liberty’s best theologians, apologists and philosophers convened to ensure that Liberty continued to integrate and expound upon its curriculum with a deeper focus on theology, apologetics and philosophy. It is vitally important that our students clearly understand the deity of Christ. The end result, according to Dr. Gary Habermas, renowned philosopher and apologist, was “one of the most exciting developments he has been involved in during his time at Liberty.”

This decision should lead to greater interest in theology, apologetics, and philosophy, thereby creating the potential for the launch of a future B.S. in Philosophy. 

We Need the Liberal Arts Now More Than Ever

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From ‘The Seven Liberal Arts.’ Francesco Pesellino. 1422-1457 Florence, Italy. 

Here is a taste of my recent piece at Sojourners:

A nurse can learn how to insert an IV tube in a patient’s arm, but how will he develop the fortitude to enter a room filled with people suffering from infectious diseases? A medical doctor may know how to operate on a patient or prescribe medicine, but how does she decide who dies and who lives when ventilators and other essential equipment are at a minimum? A politician may know how to win elections, but where does he find the inner strength to offer hope in anxious and uncertain times? A successful businessman understands how to make money, but where does she learn to serve the common good during a pandemic? Engineers build things, but what motivates them to volunteer their expertise in the construction of a make-shift hospital? How do we sift through the array of COVID-19 information that endlessly crosses our screens? How do we know who to trust?

Some might say that the study of American history, sociology, religion, literature, ethics, statistics, physics, or musicology is irrelevant when people are dying from this terrible virus. This is one of those subjects where Christians and unbelievers share common ground. They tell us that this is a time for practical skills, not abstract theories, or academic luxuries. But such a view is wrong. We need the liberal arts now more than ever. Those who study these subjects, and wrestle with the questions they raise, are pursuing a high and useful calling. If the United States is going to get through this pandemic, and if the church is going to lead the way in a responsible fashion, we need more Christians who can remind us what is good, what is beautiful, what is heroic, what is just, and what is true.

Read the entire piece here.

The Challenge of Christian Liberal Arts in This Pandemic and Beyond

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Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota will cut thirty faculty positions this week. Today, at Messiah College, we learned about how the administration will cut seven million dollars from our budget over the course of the next five years. I don’t feel comfortable sharing details, but, as you can imagine, it has been rough. And Bethel and Messiah are not alone.

Over at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman, history professor Chris Gehrz reflects on this reality, and the future of Christian higher education, in the context of Eastertide. Here is a taste of his post, “‘Nothing for your journey’: The Future of Christian Liberal Arts“:

Whether the future takes me far from Bethel, or finds me still walking its hallways, I know I’m being challenged to “take nothing for” my journey. Whether I stay at Bethel or leave that “house of God” for the welcome of another, I need to shake off my dependency on whatever promises predictability, stability, and security and go forth in the name and power of the one to whom we bear witness.

(Big talk. We’ll see if I can live up to it.)

But Bethel and almost all of its religious competitors also need to welcome the same kind of unburdening. As much as Christian individuals, Christian institutions need to take much less for their journeys.

For example, while I’m glad that our students can choose from so many options — not just academic programs, but the extracurriculars and amenities that history conditions us to associate with a college experience, it’s possible that we’ve been so focused on what students want that we’re not giving them what they truly need. (Or making them pay too much for the package.)

But still more importantly, I can’t shake the feeling that preserving the status quo of Christian higher education has required that we linger in houses whose welcome was always conditional or incomplete.

I’ve often argued that the humanities prepare students for gainful employment, but it’s possible that we ought to be less responsive to economic forces that deepen inequality and diminish dignity. I’ve often praised my discipline for cultivating prudent, empathetic citizens, but it’s possible that we need to speak out more strongly against political authorities that abuse their power and neglect their responsibilities.

Most often of all, I’ve rejoiced that Christian scholars like me get to participate in God’s mission as part of the larger Body of Christ, but it’s possible that we need to ask harder questions of Christian denominations and churches whose support has always been tempered by their suspicion of free inquiry and expression.

All that seems impossible right now. How will we draw students if we don’t treat them as customers, or if we antagonize their pastors? How will we attract private donors or public funding if we criticize the wealthy and powerful? It’s much more likely that our educational institutions will make more compromises, not fewer.

And so my greatest fear right now is not that Bethel will close, but that it will try to stay open by drifting further from its core mission as a liberal arts college that bears witness to Jesus Christ: seeking the truth found in him, transforming students in his likeness, and spreading his kingdom.

Read the entire post here.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 58

Fauci

You can lead the country through the coronavirus pandemic just like Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  (OK–he was technically a classics major at the College of the Holy Cross–close enough!).

Here is a taste of a piece on Fauci at the Holy Cross Magazine:

Anthony Stephen Fauci was born in New York City on Christmas Eve 1940, the second of Stephen and Eugenia Fauci’s two children. His parents, both the children of immigrants, met as students at Brooklyn’s New Utrecht High School and married when they were just 18. He grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where his father, a Columbia University educated pharmacist, owned a neighborhood drugstore, at 13th Ave. and 83rd St. The family lived in an apartment above the store, and all pitched in when needed—his father in the back, his mother and older sister, Denise, at the register.

“I was delivering prescriptions from the time I was old enough to ride a bike,” Fauci recalls.

Routinely cited in recent decades for the length of his work day and the peripatetic nature of his job, Fauci took on these habits early and came to them naturally. He was that kind of kid, too.

He grew up surrounded by disparate influences that he seems to have enjoyed and that seem to have benefited him: There was his pharmacist father, known as “Doc” in the neighborhood—whom he describes as “laid back”—and his mother, also college educated, whom he describes as “goal oriented.” There was an attraction to medicine and science fostered from an early age, and a commitment to the humanities nourished by premedical studies at Holy Cross that also encompassed the study of Latin, Greek and philosophy.

And there is early evidence, as well, that Fauci had a streak in him that was something between puckish and perverse—a stubborn adherence to his own values and interests in the face of local prejudice that had to have been fierce. Growing up in post-war Brooklyn, playing baseball in Dyker Heights Park, on Gravesend Bay, in the era of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, Fauci was a Yankees fan. Among his heroes were Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, which, he says, made him something of a sports outcast among his friends, Brooklyn Dodgers fans all.

If he had been a sports outcast, he was an athletic one. In a 1989 interview with the NIH Historical Office, he remembers, “We used to play basketball from the beginning of basketball season to the end, baseball through the spring and summer, and then basketball and football again in the winter.” When he was younger, he played CYO basketball in the neighborhood; in high school, he captained the basketball team. Today, he’s a daily runner who has completed the New York and Marine Corps marathons.

He attended Regis High School, a Jesuit school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And the distance he had to travel to get there is difficult to explain, for reasons of time or geography and also for reasons of culture. Time and geography matter, of course, in multiple ways: the trip took 75 to 80 minutes each way, a bus and three subways during rush hour in both directions. By rough calculation, all the time he spent commuting during his four years at Regis, it cost him more than 70 days. And he didn’t just let the time go: then, as now, he was focused and organized. He was the kid on the subway—packed up against the other passengers, elbows against his body, wrists and forearms folded inward, a book almost on top his face, reading—in his case, probably Ignatius Loyola, at some point or other, and likely in Latin.

Time and geography also matter because Brooklyn was further away from Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s than it is today, and Bensonhurst is deep Brooklyn, just a short three or four miles—a few stops on what was then the BMT Seabeach local line—from Coney Island and the beach. New York is New York, but it’s also five boroughs and a million neighborhoods. And working class, Italian and Jewish Bensonhurst, might as well have been 15 light years away from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, then, as now, one of the country’s most affluent zip codes.

In his commencement address this past May, U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins ’63—whose time at Holy Cross overlapped with Fauci’s, although they didn’t know each other—spoke with some nostalgia of the 10 o’clock dorm curfew of that era, and how students learned to “black out” their rooms with towels, newspapers and tin foil.

“It was behind these drawn shades,” Collins said, “that we indulged in the nefarious act of reading.”

Fauci came to Holy Cross in the fall of 1958. He played intramural sports when he had the time, but his days of more organized competition were over. He had entertained the vague idea that he might make the basketball team as a walk on, but the competition was fierce, and he didn’t quite have the height. Always a fully engaged student, moreover, he took to his premedical studies with gusto; “the nefarious act of reading” didn’t leave him a lot of spare time.

“There was a certain spirit of scholarship up there,” he remembers, “that was not matched in anything that I’d experienced. The idea of seriousness of purpose—I don’t mean nerdish seriousness of purpose—I mean the importance of personal development, scholarly development and the high standard of integrity and principles that became a part of everyday life at Holy Cross. And that, I think, was passed down from the Jesuits and from the lay faculty to the students.”

The premed program covered enough science to get the students into medical school, but also stressed the humanities—a continuation, in some ways, of what he had been taught in high school. Fauci often credits part of his professional success to the inculcation of Jesuit intellectual rigor that was a core part of his education: an emphasis on organization and logic, on succinctness and clarity of expression. Arguably, the twinning of science and the humanities has proved useful in his dual roles as physician and researcher as well.

 Read the entire piece here.

HT: John Schmalzbauer on Facebook.

Don’t Vilify Educated People

Have you seen memes like this?:

Meme Philosophy job

Jonathan Couser, a history professor at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire, has some good thoughts about this meme.  Here is what he recently wrote on his Facebook page (used with permission):

Bash the meme time, children. This was recently shared by a friend who, appropriately, took it down. But it’s the kind of thing that circulates a lot so I’m going to share it myself – with some analysis.

At first glance, the meme appears to be pointing out the value of trade jobs, which provide solid employment with little or no college debt. That’s true enough, and valid. These careers are good options that young people should consider.

But that’s not all it’s doing.

It’s misleading on a number of points. While “Adam’s” $100K in college debt is not unheard of, it’s nowhere near typical. Actual average college debt is around $30K. Meanwhile, “Chris'” income figure is inflated – it’s possible to make $80K a year as an electrician, but the average figure is around half that, maybe three-quarters, depending on where you live.

The meme says that “Adam” can’t find “a philosophy job,” which is no-brainer because, outside of academia, where you’d need a PhD rather than a BA, there’s no such thing as “a philosophy job.” That makes a cheap shot easy for the meme-creator, but disingenuously hides the realities.

Philosophy majors (and majors in other supposedly “worthless” degrees like History or English) actually do very well on the job market. The major is not designed as job training. Instead, they go into all kinds of careers where skills in writing, communicating, or analytical thinking are beneficial. They are also much better prepared than most to go on to graduate programs like an MBA or JD and become lawyers or business executives.

In fact, according to Five-Thirty-Eight in 2015, the average income of a philosophy major was – guess what? – $80K – the amount that was the inflated claim for “Chris'” income.

After being dishonest, the meme gets ugly.

Supposedly, “Adam” thinks that “Chris” is stupid. Meanwhile, “Chris” gleefully disconnects “Adam’s” electricity.

This is the rhetoric of grievance. It vilifies the educated people of the world, the philosophers, as a bunch of snobs who carry an unjustified contempt for working people. And it relishes the sense of vengeance, of getting even, that “we” (since we’re clearly supposed to be cheering for “Chris” by the time we read this far down the meme) are going to stick it to “them.” There’s no sense of empathy for “Adam” losing his electricity or blame that “Chris” does this to him. We’re supposed to think it’s just deserts.

To be sure, there are some educated snobs in the world. But I spend my life in academia, and I can honestly say that I can’t think of any of my colleagues, nor students, ever expressing contempt for working people. It’s a myth.

What’s really going on here is not a positive promotion of the value of a good trade career. What’s really going on is a toxic attack on higher education. The meme is designed to promote a sense of grievance, of resentment, and of contempt for education and the educated. By encouraging the “Chris'” of the world to despise the foolish “Adams”, the meme tells people they don’t need to listen to reasoning, they don’t need to respect expertise, and thus makes them pliable to misinformation, fake news and propaganda.

I agree with every word of Couser’s analysis.

Teaching John Henry Newman’s “What is a University?”

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University College, Dublin

Yesterday in Created and Called for Community we read an excerpt from John Henry Newman‘s “What is a University,” a chapter in his 1852 book The Idea of a University.  Newman wrote this book while serving as rector of Catholic University of Ireland. (today it is known as University College Dublin), a school that he helped found.

We started our conversation, as we always do, by sourcing the document. Who was Newman? Several students found it interesting that Newman was not welcomed to teach at Oxford University, an Anglican institution of higher learning, after he converted to Catholicism.  This was a great opportunity to think about previous course readings.  As we learned from Randy Basinger’s recorded lecture last week, Christian colleges and universities often place boundaries on faculty and students. These boundaries are usually defined by belief and behavior rooted in the particular school’s mission and understanding of Christian faith. In 19th-century England, Oxford was a Protestant institution. I pointed out that Oxford was not as inclusive as present-day Messiah College, a Christian college that hires Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox believers.  As we noted last week, other Christian colleges such as Wheaton College, Gordon College, or Calvin University do not hire Catholic professors.  If Newman were teaching at one of these colleges at the time he converted to Catholicism, he would need to leave.

We also thought together about Newman’s “What is a University?” in its 19th-century context. Students quickly noted that Newman was writing in a world where only men attended university.  His understanding of “diversity” was limited when compared to our modern understanding of “diversity.” For Newman, diversity meant different kinds of white men.

At this point I paused and explained how I might teach this document differently in a history course.  I imagined teaching Newman’s ideas in a course on 19th-century British history.  In such a course my primary goal would be to get students to think about what Newman’s essay teaches us about his world.  But in CCC, my primary goal is less about getting my students to understand the “foreign country” of 19th-century Great Britain and more about trying to get them to think about whether Newman has anything to offer our understanding of Christian higher education today.

This discussion allowed me to reinforce an important lesson about studying at a college (like Messiah College) with a robust general education program informed by the liberal arts.  Each discipline in the curriculum offers students a different way of thinking about the world.  I used global poverty to illustrate my point. In a political science class, for example, students might address global poverty by thinking about ways of alleviating it through public policy.  In a history class, students might reflect on the roots of global poverty or the kind of choices humans have made in the past that have resulted in global poverty. In a psychology class, students might reflect on the relationship between global poverty and mental health.  In a literature class, students might read stories of global poverty–fiction and non-fiction–that trigger their moral imaginations.  In an environmental studies class students might think about the links between climate change and global poverty.  And so on….  This is the kind of “connectedness” that Ernest L. Boyer described in his essay on Messiah College.

It was now time to dive into the text.  I started the conversation by asking the question in Newman’s title: “What is a University?” Some students were drawn to Newman’s claim that a university is “a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse….” I asked them to suggest some ways in which “thought” is communicated and circulated at a university.  Students, of course, mentioned their professors imparting knowledge in formal class settings.  But I wanted them to think beyond the classroom.  We talked about the word “circulate.”  How do ideas circulate on a college campus? Like bees released from the hive, ideas should be buzzing constantly around the campus.  They should fly out of the classroom door and fill the sidewalks, cafeteria, and dorms–constantly circulating through conversation and discussion.

We also discussed Newman’s idea that the university is a place–a real, flesh and blood, place.  Newman writes: “The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life, which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.”  In an age of online learning, virtual reality, and the internet I wondered if my students thought Newman’s call for face-to-face learning was still relevant?  I was surprised that so many students, struggling to keep their phones out of sight as they consulted an essay published on paper, seemed to agree with him here.

Several students wanted to talk about Newman’s idea of the university as a place focused on character building. We had a good discussion here about gender.  Newman often thinks of character in masculine terms.  He wants his university to produce good 19th-century “gentlemen” with proper “carriage,” “gait,” and “gestures.” But my students also agreed that some of the character traits Newman hoped students would learn in college were still relevant today.  My students wanted an education that helped them be more courteous and conversant.  They wanted a university to help them develop “the talent of not offending,” “delicacy of thought,” “happiness of expression,” “taste and propriety,” “generosity,” “forbearance,” and “candour.” These character traits, they argued, transcend time (the 19th-century) and gender.  The students universally agreed with my claim that the modern pluralistic university is no longer very concerned about character building.

We closed class by discussing liberal arts education as a form of “catechising.” Newman writes:

Truth, a subtle, invisible, manifold spirit, is poured into the mind of the scholar by his eyes and ears, through his affections, imagination, and reason: it is poured into this mind and is sealed up there in perpetuity, by propounding and repeating it, by questioning and requestioning, by correcting and explaining, by progressive and then recurring to first principles, by all those ways which are implied in the word “catechising .” In the first ages, it was a work of a long time; months, sometimes years, were devoted to the arduous task of disabusing the mind of the incipient Christian of its pagan errors, and of moulding it upon the Christian faith.

For most of my students, “catechism” is a foreign word.  They attend evangelical churches that do not offer formal programs of catechism designed to shape the mind, heart, and soul of young women and men in the congregation.  Catechism is an invitation to spiritual formation.  Spiritual growth seldom comes through the mountain-top experience at a weekend youth retreat.  It comes instead through the daily grind of practicing the spiritual disciplines–scripture reading and memorization, prayer, fasting, and other practices that take our focus off self and put it on God and others.

This is how Newman understands the catechizing nature of a liberal arts education.  Intellectual formation comes through repetition, discipline, questioning, requestioning, correcting, explaining, and the regular appeal to “first principles.” Yes, students may get temporary intellectual “highs” as they encounter an inspiring professor or attend an undergraduate conference, but the”arduous task” of “disabusing the mind” of errors and “moudling” it in truth takes time.  It takes a lifetime.

On Monday we start the “Creation” unit.  We will begin in a very familiar place.

Teaching Ernest L. Boyer’s Vision for Messiah College

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Ernest L. Boyer (1928-1995) is the most distinguished graduate of Messiah College and one of the most influential educators of the last century. He was a Brethren in Christ pastor, the chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, Jimmy Carter’s U.S. Commissioner of Education, and the president of  the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  He also served several terms on the Messiah College Board of Trustees.  My colleague Cynthia Wells, the director of Messiah College’s Ernest L. Boyer Center,  writes:

Across context, Boyer created educational pathways for those disadvantaged by economic disparity and those left out of the education system.  He initiated a nationwide community service program whereby students could could earn credit by participating in hands-on experiences in their communities.  He advocated for a general education program that helped students integrate their educational experiences and make connections between their education and their lives beyond college.  He also developed a concern for Native American education, and worked to improve the Native American school system and to support tribal colleges.  His concern for those on the margins of American society became a hallmark of his educational vision.  Boyer deeply believed that education shaped society.

Throughout his career, he maintained a deep and abiding Christian faith, and there is clear evidence that his Christian faith influenced his commitments.  His convictions to serve those on the margin of society, as one example, reflects his Christian commitment to serve the “least of these.”

Yesterday, my Created and Called for Community (CCC) class read Boyer’s 1984 Messiah College convocation speech, “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College.” In this speech, Boyer identified four virtues that have “shaped the quality and character of Messiah College.”  Boyer adds: “In each regard countless colleges and universities across America would be well served by following the model so effectively engaged on this campus.”

First, Boyer calls for a robust liberal arts curriculum.  Colleges must seek “connectedness” across disciplines.  “Unity, not fragmentation,” Boyer writes, “must be the aim of education, and most especially what one calls Christian education.” He adds: “In the Christian world view the so-called secular and sacred are distinctions without meaning since all truth should ultimately be considered sacred.”

In responding to this “virtue,” I asked my students to think about the difference between a professional school and a liberal arts college.  Messiah is not a Bible college or a place where students only focus on a specialized skill.  Rather, they are exposed, through a heavy general education curriculum rooted in the liberal arts, to a breadth of knowledge about the world.  If God is the source of all truth and beauty, then the study of science, history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, art, philosophy, politics, and language are all ways of exploring God’s created order and ultimately worshiping Him.

Boyer delivered this speech 36 years ago.  Has Messiah College retained its legacy on this front?  I asked the students to consider this question from their own experiences at the college.  Most students could give specific examples of how faith was brought to bear on the liberal arts subjects they study at Messiah.  Several students said that their professors introduced faith into the classroom by starting class with a short devotional thought.  This is great, but I warned them that if this was the extent of how faith was integrated in the classroom it was not enough.  Starting class with a reading of the Bible and then teaching the subject matter in a completely secular fashion was only reinforcing the sacred-secular distinction that Boyer warned against.

Second, Boyer argues that community is an essential part of the Messiah College education experience.  Messiah must be a school where students learn how to be dependent on one another.  Relationships on campus should be defined by cordiality and compassion.  Messiah is a place that enables students to find meaning and purpose in conversation with educators, staff, and, of course, their fellow students.

Ernest Boyer attended Messiah College in the 1940s.  His gave this speech in the 1980s.  As a historian, I wanted to know if my students saw continuity or change over time as as it relates to community at Messiah. Did the college–now nearly 3000 students strong–still value community?  The response was generally positive.  Several students said that Messiah students, faculty, and administrators do a good job of talking about community, but they were not sure how consistently they live lives defined by community.  Others admitted that the search for community at Messiah College was difficult, but it could be found for those seeking it.  The strongest defenders of community at Messiah were transfer students–young men and women who had attended other educational institutions.  Several of these transfer students told traditional first-year students about the virtual lack of community at other colleges and universities.  Their message was clear: Messiah College is a special place–don’t take it for granted.

By this point, the hour was coming to an end, but I at least wanted to get Boyer’s third and fourth virtues on the table.

Third, Boyer says that Messiah College is committed to teaching.  I tried to get the students to consider the differences between a teaching college/university and a research university.   Many of them were drawn to Messiah (and smaller teaching colleges in general) because they did not want to take introductory courses from graduate students.  They wanted to have relationships with their professors.  Many were seeking mentors.

Fourth, Boyer extols Messiah College for inviting students to seek “connections between what they learn and how they live.”  Last week I challenged the students to cultivate their minds as spiritual discipline.  But Boyer reminds us that good Christian thinking always leads to service.  I wish we had more time to discuss this point, but there will be plenty of opportunities during semester to revisit it.

John Henry Newman is up next.    Follow along here.

“…the more I learned about the liberal arts, the more my passion to participate in the missionary effort of converting students from the humanities and social sciences to STEM declined”

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Lior Shamir, a computer scientist at Kansas State University, is having second thoughts about his efforts to get students to pursue STEM fields.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Inside Higher Ed:

For several years, I have been an active participant in the efforts to increase the participation in STEM. I’ve taken part in scholarly activities aimed at identifying the most effective ways to attract students to STEM, often at the expense of other disciplines, mainly the humanities and the social sciences. Obviously, I’ve not been doing it all by myself but as a part of a large, passionate crowd of STEM educators, researchers and administrators, getting together at academic meetings to exchange our best practices and proven interventions to attract more students to STEM. The theme of those academic meetings has been rather consistent: we must reach out to those lost souls who chose to study the humanities or social sciences and show them the light of STEM.

But as time has passed, and the deeper and more sophisticated the interventions have become, I’ve also begun to realize that I might be on the wrong side. During my attempts to understand the disciplines I was expected to encourage students to avoid, I was exposed to the many sides of the social sciences and the liberal arts that I was not aware of. I learned that scholarly questions can also be approached in ways that do not necessarily have to come down to a number and a P value, a formal proof and a protocol that can be replicated. I also learned that these paradigms can be effective in many cases where the hard sciences do not always have answers — questions related to social justice or inclusion of underrepresented minorities. The lab mind-set comfort zone that I believed to be the only way in which the universe could be understood was replaced with awareness that we can approach questions in other ways and through other methods that aren’t necessarily part of the STEM toolbox.

In fact, the more I learned about the liberal arts, the more my passion to participate in the missionary effort of converting students from the humanities and social sciences to STEM declined. As a scientist and engineer, I became concerned about the deterioration of the liberal arts and started to fear a world dominated solely by scientists and engineers. We must keep in mind that the strength of society depends not merely on its wealth and technological competitive edge but also on its ability to serve all its citizens equitably and help them become contributing members. The hard sciences alone cannot accomplish that mission.

Read the entire piece here.

Created and Called for Community: “Making Meaning” on the First Day of Class

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I am pretty old school when it comes to the first day of class.  As some of you remember from my post last week, this semester I am teaching Messiah College’s first-year course Created and Called for Community (CCC).  Yesterday I met with all three of my sections  and introduced them to the course.  CCC has a common syllabus.  This means that every first-year student taking this course reads the same texts.  It is the only course of this nature at Messiah College.

The first day is always about logistics–required textbooks, assignments, grading scale, office hours, etc…  But sometimes the syllabus offers opportunities to talk about the importance of such a course.  I tried to do that today.

The syllabus begins this way:

The Created and Called for Community (CCC) course comprises the second half of Messiah College’s curriculum for first-year students, as well as transfer students. Together, First Year Seminar and CCC are designed to equip you with the intellectual skills needed to succeed during the rest of your education at Messiah College. In particular, both “W” courses focus on the ability to write accurately, clearly, and convincingly that will serve you well in your college career (whatever your major), as well as the vocation and profession you enter following your college career.

This is a writing course.  I will be spending a lot of time this semester reading drafts and commenting on papers.  Today, I tried to convince these students–who represent every major at Messiah College, from Engineering and Nursing to History and Sociology–that one does not always fully understand what they believe about a particular issue until they start to write.

The syllabus continues:

CCC also introduces you to the particular kind of community and institution that is Messiah College. Messiah’s history and identity are rooted in three strands of the Christian church known as Anabaptism, Pietism and Wesleyanism. We hope that this course helps you become familiar with basic elements of Messiah’s identity, mission, and foundation. The course will encourage you to cultivate a climate in which there can be better, deeper, and richer conversations about important issues precisely because they’re informed by some common understandings and curriculum. Some of the common readings assigned are classic texts which have been read by generations of college students. Others are more recent and speak to various contemporary issues and concerns.

In tell the students that it is important to understand the identity of the college where they have chosen to study.  They do not have to agree with the mission of Messiah College, but they must understand that when the college administration makes decisions about campus life they do so out of a particular understanding of Christian higher education.  If students are unhappy with the way the administration handles a controversial issue on campus, their criticism of the administration should be based on whether or not the leadership is consistently applying the religious principles that inform the identity of the college.

Finally, CCC is an introduction to liberal arts learning at Messiah College:

CCC, then, is an inter-disciplinary and common-learning course, a course in “meaning-making.” It’s hoped that over the course of this semester, you’ll receive helpful resources to address the experiences, questions, and challenges that you’ll face in the future in an informed and thoughtful fashion. And it’s also a discussion-oriented course. One way to become equipped for this task is to meet and engage with people and ideas worthy of shaping you and your thinking. This semester, you’ll have the opportunity to develop your thoughts alongside other people–the authors whose works we read, your instructor, and your classmates.

Again, you can see the reading list here.  Today I told the students that there are 27 voices that show up to class every day.  25 of those voices are the Messiah College undergraduates who are asked to come to class prepared to discuss the daily reading.  As the instructor, I am an additional voice (#26).  My goal is to facilitate conversation and to raise important questions about the texts.  And one of the voices (#27) in the room is the author of the text we are reading on that day.  Those voices include John Henry Newman, Ernest Boyer, James Weldon Johnson, J.R.R Tolkien, Alice Walker, Martin Luther King, Augustine, Plato, and Dorothy Sayers.  I urged the students to show hospitality to these voices.  I want the students to listen to these voices before critiquing them.  I want my students to approach these texts with humility, assuming that these authors are smarter than them and thus have something to teach them about the world.

The readings for this course fit into three units. They are: Creation, Community, and Calling (Vocation)

Here is how the syllabus describes each unit:

Creation: The first words of Scripture in some translations say that “in the beginning God created…” And so it seems fitting that you’ll begin exploring the theme of creation and creativity by studying the account of God’s creation in Genesis 1 and 2. You’ll examine both the natural and human creation, including the moral and ethical implications that flow from the understanding that every person is made in God’s image (or, in Latin, the imago Dei) and so possesses dignity and status. You’ll also consider how to be faithful stewards of creation and ways in which you can express the creative impulse God has implanted in you.

Community: All human beings throughout history, each of them made in God’s image, have lived within various types of groups or communities: families, groups of friends, churches, college campuses, neighborhoods, nations, and the worldwide or global community. The process of community-building brings with it both great rewards as well as challenges. Communities are inescapable, yet they place demands on us. In exploring this theme, you’ll examine the factors that strengthen and weaken community, and the challenges of community-building in a variety of settings. Along the way, you’ll consider both inspiring exemplars of community-building, as well as times and places where communities have fallen short and succumbed to the practices of segregation or racism or isolation or violence.

Calling or Vocation: Christian vocation requires us to consider not only what we do but also who we are. We’re called to personal transformation by practicing spiritual disciplines and called to social transformation by addressing injustice in the world. Exploring this theme in CCC, you’ll view some of the ways in which various people have served, look at where and how they’ve found their place in the world, look at vocation in various settings, continue the process of discerning your own vocation and place in the world, and look at some of the characteristics of Christian vocation—especially service, work, leadership, and reconciliation.

Stay tuned.  We are discussing Stanley Hauerwas’s “God With God” on Wednesday.

Follow along here.