Review board: Gordon College accreditation not at risk

Higher Education
by Leigh Jones
Posted 3/27/15, 02:52 pm

The organization at the center of a debate over religious liberty in higher education now says Christian university Gordon College is not at risk of losing its accreditation over its affirmation of biblical teachings about sexuality.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Barbara Brittingham, president of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), said the requested review of Gordon’s conduct policy is just a “routine, follow-up report.”

NEASC and Gordon announced in October in a joint statement that the Christian school in Wenham, Mass., would conduct a yearlong policy review “to ensure that the college’s policies and processes are non-discriminatory and that it ensures its ability to foster an atmosphere that respects and supports people of diverse characteristics and backgrounds, consistent with the commission’s standards for accreditation.”

Gordon had its accreditation renewed in 2012 and wasn’t due for another review until 2022. But the NEASC requested the review after Gordon President Michael Lindsay signed a letter by a group of faith leaders to President Barack Obama last year asking for a religious exemption from a new policy on employment practices. The policy forbids federal contractors from refusing to hire homosexuals. Lindsay’s participation ignited a firestorm of criticism, including opposition from some alumni and current students. In a response posted on the school’s website, Lindsay said his decision to sign the letter reflected the school’s belief in religious liberty.

Despite the furor, the school has publicly embraced its roots in Christian orthodoxy. Earlier this month, Gordon’s board of trustees unanimously affirmed the conduct policy. It reads, in part, “Those acts which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.”

While it isn’t changing the school’s conduct policy, the board did agree to draft a “fuller statement on the college’s understanding of sexuality,” focusing on the school’s mission as a Christian college.

Although Gordon last year disputed claims its accreditation was on the line, Brittingham didn’t offer any suggestion to the contrary until now. Evangelical leaders voiced fears over Gordon’s accreditation and pointed to the controversy as a sign of threats faced by Christian institutions of all types in an increasingly secular society.

But in a statement issued yesterday, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities President Shirley V. Hoogstra said she was never worried: “We knew all along that Gordon's accreditation was not at risk. One of the core functions of accreditors is to ensure that institutions are being faithful to their missions, and the Higher Education Act specifically protects religious missions. We’re glad that this is explicitly clear now, as there has been unintended and unfortunate confusion. … Accreditation affirms academic excellence and fidelity to mission, and so considering and respecting religious mission is a natural fit in this process.”

Gordon spokesman Rick Sweeney also noted the NEASC’s comments affirmed the college’s previous assurances it was not in any danger of losing its accreditation.

“The college’s leadership has had a good working relationship with NEASC for over 50 years and, as we had agreed last fall, will comply with their request for a status report for their commission’s meeting in September,” Sweeney told me, noting the college received high marks on its 2012 accreditation review.

“Gordon remains as committed as ever to our foundational evangelical commitments and Christian educational mission, and ensuring all of our students are well cared for in a respectful learning environment,” he added.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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