Thursday, February 24, 2011

Can Christian Colleges Require a Statement of Faith without Denying Academic Freedom?


Since I teach at a Christian college, of particular interest to me are the following paragraphs from this NAS article.

Shortly over a year ago, the Canadian equivalent of the AAUP, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) issued a report stating that Christian colleges and universities that have a statement of faith as a condition of employment deny academic freedom to their faculty members. The report was specifically directed at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, a private institution that openly declares its Christian mission. NAS noted at the time that, unlike the CAUT, the AAUP has made provisions for schools with religious aims in its declarations on academic freedom.

Since then CAUT has issued reports on Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg and Crandall University in New Brunswick. Now it has set its sights on Redeemer University College in Ontario. The National Post reports that Redeemer has refused to cooperate with CAUT’s investigation but “has invited the CAUT to an open and honest philosophical discussion about differing paradigms of academic freedom and the relation of faith to learning.” According to the National Post, there have been no complaints at Redeemer or the other colleges over the institutions’ statements of faith.

Redeemer’s president, Hubert Krygsman, told the Post, “It’s a definition of academic freedom that says it cannot be faith-based. So by definition any faith-based approach strikes them as contrary to their definition. All of the other findings are really fodder for their own beliefs. It’s certainly an attempt by whatever public suasion they might have to give Christian schools a black mark.”

In response to the discrimination against Canadian Christian colleges, faculty members of these institutions are signing a statement in protest. As of yesterday, the statement had 225 signatures.

Read the whole article. Who knows? Perhaps the AAUP will make similar moves in the US. Can Christian Colleges require a Statement of Faith without denying academic freedom? This is a question that I fear far too few Christian college professors and administrators have adequately pondered. A major crucial question, of course, must be, what does academic freedom entail?

1 comment:

Paul said...

My comment is one from being a student, not faculty. One thing I gained from my prologomena course with Dr. Helseth is that for Christians, knowledge originates and culminates in Christ (Col 2:3). I enjoyed the epiphany that we don't have to think this a limitation to any degree. If we believe Scripture to be true, we are dedicated to those truths.

C.S. Lewis in his Mere Christianity observed that deeper knowledge comes from being on the inside: "in the know." Some things simply cannot be fully understood from the outside. His example was our own body. Not only would Lewis' view apply to Christianity, but also something like Egyptology. To be immersed in a subject makes one keen to things unobserved by those on the outside.

I guess we can't expect non-Christians to fully understand that, but your comment about whether professors have pondered it enough is a great one. Having a prepared response to such allegations should probably be on the lips of those who teach.

Academic freedom seems to be lived out in the engagement with other institutions and academic societies, not always within the same research facility. Academic freedom should not necessitate the abandonment of one's disposition.

If the concern is more local, like between faculty of the institution itself, they may have a point because we know faculty can become "un-faculty" from posing the wrong questions. It seems Christian insitutions should be better examples in this regard.

This claim to deny academic freedom seems to be of a postmodern persuasion I thought was dying out: that any sense of true objectivity actually exists. Am I off key there? At any rate, I do think that how the college is engaging in dialogue through debate/discussion as opposed to an investigation is the right course because the premise of their investigation is built upon ideas hostile to the college.

My two pense. Thanks for the thought stimulation today.