Here comes more harassment

Higher Education
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.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is Reforming Journalism. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:22 pm

    My general sense that if Christian colleges want to maintain their accreditation status, they need to argue that it is in the best interest of open dialogue not necessarily to have schools that are open to all points of view (because let's be honest, these Christian schools definitely are not), but that higher education in general needs to be populated by diverse points of view, including intellectual outliers like some of these Christian institutions.Personally I am not a fan of the more rigidly defined schools, which I do think hinder academic inquiry by stifling points of view that they disagree with. I am less and less convinced that these institutions are really able to offer a solid education, particularly after my experiences in at least one of these schools that embraced this mentality and purged moderately dissenting voices in an attempt to streamline the points of view under the guise of religious faithfulness. It really does severely hamper education. I am a huge proponent of academic freedom. On the other hand, it is hard for me to see this kind of accreditation battle as a broader attempt to stifle academic freedom, and so as much as I have a distaste for institutions that have no respect for academic freedom themselves, I think it's also important not to have these agencies censoring points of view that they consider beyond the pale.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:22 pm

    Grove City College PA doesn't take federal dollars, and they are flourishing. And it's maybe $20,000 a year (including room and board), not $40,000

  • hawaiicharles
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:22 pm

    Someone needs to tell Mr. Conn that the very concept of higher education was invented by Christians in medieval Europe.  In essence, he has Christians to thank for the fact that universities exist at all.

  • Zinger
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:22 pm

    What happens when a student practices "skeptical and unfettered inquiry" regarding evolution?

  • zonie
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    I'm amused.  Not about increasing harassment; not about reduced access to federal monies at Christian colleges.  But I am amused at Peter Conn's views of higher education. If he hadn't been seen recently in Pennsylvania, one might have thought he just arrived from Pluto (the planet, not the comical dog -  but then again...). “Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research." Really?  That's a nice sentiment but as Marvin pointed out, it doesn't exist.  Seemingly, anymore America's secular universities are nothing more than dogmatic institutions of indoctrination and mindless programming. No disagreement or honest inquiry tolerated.  He may have the ivory tower convinced, but we peasants aren't fooled.

  • Meg I
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Heart sick over this but agree totally.  

  • Bix
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    I appreciate what MacD has said.  It has been true for the past 2,000 years and in the majority of cultures and civilizations that an open and successful ability to live out the faith has been rare. The situation in these United States has been a wonderful one which is now over. Yes, we can survive, Christianity will survive, and you can rear your children in the faith. But it will be hard, very hard, and they will not be doctors, or bank managers or lawyers or city councilman, just like open Christians were not allowed into those positions in the USSR or in Red China.  But I am also very grateful for those people who fight the trend, who resist the culture, and use the Law while it is still possible to try to retain some of the privileges and freedoms we have enjoyed. And to be legally able to make the disciples that Jesus told us to make.

  • MacD's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    American Christianity is irretrievably headed for the position in our culture that Christianity has been in in other cultures around the world since Jesus walked the earth. Our response should not be surprise, but courageous commitment to live "Christianly" without the support of our culture. In particular, within churches and families, should be intensifying Christian education, because any support or even tolerance we used to enjoy from culture is disappearing; the culture (specifically, the educational system) is now teaching our children and young people the opposite of what we believe, and teaching them that what we believe is not only wrong, but evil. Again, we should not be surprised; this is the norm for the world system, and any support we've enjoyed from American culture is what is abnormal.

  • Randall Dimmett
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    "The just shall live by faith."  Habakkuk 2:4  But when Jesus returns will he find faith on the earth.  It's so easy to take federal money for college.  But, it weakens faith in two ways.  First, we depend on Uncle Sam instead of God.  Secondly, whether we like it or not, are influenced by those who support us financially.  Money has strings attached.  Colleges (and parents) that accept financial help must also accept the influence of the donor.  Wouldn't it be better to live by faith in God alone and trust Him to provide all that is needed?   "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."  Mat. 5:8       Concerning inquiry into different ideas, Christians need not fear.  God made the world and all that is in it.  He upholds it by his power and truth.  False ideas will not stand the test when examined in light of God's word and His truth.  The absolutes of God--as expressed in His word and the world around us--cry out for challenges.  Nothing can stand against them.  Truth will prevail.  Intellectual examination of our Christian God, His creation, and revealed words is transforming to an open mind.

  • Bill Taylor
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    He's blowing smoke - unfettered inquiry is forbidden in our liberal, PC-oriented government-funded colleges and in many private ones, too.We have to understand that these people are NOT servants of Jesus.  Who, therefore, do they serve, there are only 2 possibilities.  Therefore, what would we expect then to do?  They oppose God's plan and God's people by any means they can find.I take comfort in Jesus' promise that the gates of hell cannot stand against the church, but we will have to learn how to wage lawfare against Satan's minions as they use the courts to attack us.BTW, my granddaughter attends Grove City College and loves it.  They don't take federal money, so inquiry can flourish.  They even read the Great Books, Dead White Males and all!

  •  jrmbasso's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Thank you, Marvin Olasky. Apparently Peter Conn is only interested in limiting "skeptical and unfettered inquiry" by eliminating funding to institutions that disagree with him.

  • Buddy's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
    Romans 1:22

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Which state institutions do all the time Hans.  If you don't parrot back the socialist propaganda, then you don't deserve to be rewarded with a respectable grade.