Here comes more harassment
by Marvin Olasky
Posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at 4:32 pm
College accreditation is often a farce, but it is a farce with more than $200 billion attached to it. Colleges that want to distribute to their students federal grants, loans, and tax credits and deductions need to be accredited. But University of Pennsylvania professor Peter Conn has argued in The Chronicle of Higher Education that religion-based colleges should not be accredited and should not share any of that taxpayer-provided bounty.
Here’s Conn’s logic:
“By awarding accreditation to religious colleges, the process confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education.
“Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research. However, such inquiry cannot flourish—in many cases, cannot even survive—inside institutions that erect religious tests for truth. The contradiction is obvious.”
Obvious as mud. I’ve worked at three big secular universities and two small Christian colleges, and none has “skeptical and unfettered inquiry.” No professor is without a worldview. No department is without its pressures to conform. Colleges that have statements of faith are honest. Those that claim to be unfettered are not.
Conn has particular irritations:
“I also object to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars in support of religious ideology, in particular when that ideology has set itself in opposition to the findings of modern science. The retrograde battle that religious fundamentalists are waging against science has become a melancholy fact of our contemporary cultural life.”
But none of them is warring against experimental science, only theories that go beyond what’s proven. Conn claims that “American higher education is betraying itself, and providing aid and comfort to those who would replace reason with theology.” That may be true, but if so Conn is the betrayer for trying to shut off honest discussion and debate.
At The University of Texas at Austin, where I taught for two decades, one fellow professor, Bob Jensen, argued like Conn. He said I should not be teaching there because “the modern university is built on the idea—not always perfectly realized in practice, of course—that everything is up for grabs. You believe that the Christian Bible is the source of enduring and universal truth.”
I tried to correct him: “The university is actually built on the idea that there are universal truths about how to live that can be discerned by careful study; that’s a biblical way of thinking. Having confidence in one’s belief does not at all indicate an unwillingness to engage in discussion, debate, and research. You equate faith with blind faith, but that’s setting up a straw man.”
Not much success. It seems that vocal Christian professors will face increasing harassment at secular universities, and Christian colleges should prepare for the day when their students will no longer be able to access federal dollars.