Today's InsideHigherEd features an article about a liberal-minded religious college, and in the comments I criticize this "liberal" institution for its repressive policies. I wrote:
I have a chapter in my book Patriotic Correctness about repression at Christian colleges, and although EMU may be more “progressive” and not as bad as some colleges, it still shares the basic problem of repressive policies.
http://www.emu.edu/studentlife/studenthandbook/handbook.pdfEMU requires all students and staff “refrain from sexual relationship outside of marriage”(12) and even requires “social responsibility” and “unselfish love.”(12)
In addition, the student handbook declares, “We will not tolerate...name calling or other forms of abuse whether written spoken directly or implied.”(12) It specifically names gay and lesbian people as deserving the same respect as others, and adds, “Persons who engage in such non-respectable behavior may be subject to discipline.”(12)
The policy requires the editors of student publications to produce “an accurate and tasteful publication” and gives the administration the unchecked authority to fire an editor at any time.(23)
Also, “EMU reserves the right to properly regulate the on-campus appearance of extra-curricular lecturers and guest speakers.”(53)
The Employee Handbook is also highly restrictive: http://www.emu.edu/humanresources...mu.edu/humanresources/handbook/2.pdf
If EMU wants to be defined as a “progressive” college, it should start by increasing freedom on campus.
In response a history professor wrote:
John Wilson’s comment would have more validity if he was criticizing a public university. But don’t, and shouldn’t, church institutions have the right to develop in ways that accord with their faith based beliefs? Otherwise, why have church based higher education institutions? A case could be made that the US should NOT have a pluralism in higher education, and be like other nations that only have public higher ed —- but that idea isn’t gonna fly. I praise Eastern Mennonite for being clear about its beliefs and its moral expectations; they aren’t mine, but they are those of many college age Christians.
Piled Higher & Deeper wrote:
Dear Mr. John K. Wilson,
Do you think that there can be religious educational institutions? If so, what might that “religion” allow/disallow?
Is your commitment to freedom—when pushed to its logical end—anything more than a fundamental conviction (i.e., belief)? Is your commitment not “religious,” or at least, fideistic? Why can’t other communities establish guidelines according to their convictions?
In the end, your call for “freedom” seems rather monologic, uniform, and restrictive. Hmmm...
JKW... You state,"If EMU wants to be defined as a “progressive” college, it should start by increasing freedom on campus.”
If EMU and other Christian universities followed your suggestion, would that not just make them like any other university?
Students are not forced to attend EMU or these types of Christian universities; rather students select to attend these universities quite possibly because they believe in the university’s mission, student handbook, etc. However, if a student who is attending one of these Christian colleges does perceive their rights are not being respected byway of the college’s mission or student handbook, does this student not have the “freedom” to enroll to a different college where the mission and student handbook reflect his/her own beliefs?
btw...WWJD… Find the colleges built for His honor and ask if they still follow His Word, followed by His own assessment instrument.
In response, I wrote:
In response to my critics: of course, all private colleges (including religious ones) have a legal right to violate the tenets of academic freedom and intellectual liberty. But that doesn’t mean we should endorse such attacks on intellectual freedom.
Claiming that religious institutions must engage in repression in order to have “pluralism” in higher education is utterly wrong. Would we say that we must endorse dictatorships because the nations of the world would be “uniform” if they were all free democracies? Of course not. We all recognize that diversity prevails even when there’s freedom if we talk about governments. Why don’t we see this is true of higher education?
If you believe that the only reason to have religious colleges is to ban dissenting views, then you misunderstand the meaning of both religion and higher education. The ideal of a religious college is to make that religion a central focus of campus debate and discussion, but not to demand any particular conclusions from students and staff. For example, right-wing groups have sought to have Catholic colleges ban pro-choice speakers or the Vagina Monologues on campus. This is wrong. The proper approach for a religious college is to ensure that there are speakers and discussions and plays representing these religious views on campus, not to prohibit views that contradict official doctrine. I would even apply this logic to alcohol and tobacco. A religious college can engage in constant education about the hazards and evils of alcohol and tobacco without regulating the personal choices of students and staff.
There is absolutely nothing incompatible about embracing intellectual freedom and having a deeply committed religious college. It is only the narrow-minded views of religion (and higher education) that make people imagine the opposite is true.
This prompted more criticism from Piled Higher and Deeper:
John K. Wilson asks: “Would we say that we must endorse dictatorships because the nations of the world would be ‘uniform’ if they were all free democracies?”
In asking such questions, Wilson’s “belief” (and, yes, it is a faith position) in “objective” knowledge is revealed. Mr. Wilson, your epistemology is showing. Is it possible that one finds expressions of particular “truths” only when one is committed to already-established principles? For example, doesn’t one have to commit to, say, the authority of a religious text to believe it? If so, the same goes for those fideistically committed to certain philosophic or political ideals, no?
Mr. Wilson continues (freely correcting his readers “errors"): “If you believe that the only reason to have religious colleges is to ban dissenting views, then you misunderstand the meaning of both religion and higher education. The IDEAL OF A RELIGIOUS COLLEGE is to make that religion a central focus of campus DEBATE AND DISCUSSION” [. . .] THE PROPER APPROACH FOR A RELIGIOUS COLLEGE is to ensure that there are speakers and discussions and plays representing these religious views on campus [. . .]” [my emphasis; Wilson’s words].
My, my! For one committed to freedom, Mr. Wilson certainly can pontificate! Are you, Mr. Wilson, willing to make your own commitmeent to “freedom,” as you conceive it, the subject of debate and discussion? Or are you going to commit to your principles and try to live with integrity according to your lights?
And from Piled Ever Higher:
Milton Rokeach had it right a generation ago. The issue is having an open or closed mind. He recognized that both liberals and conservatives can be closed minded fundamentalists. God help the poor faculty member who mentions personal faith in any manner to colleagues in a secular state school whose religion is Marxism or post modernism of some other new ism. The ad hominum attacks will begin immediately and tenure will be denied. Wilson wants freedom for himself but not for others who may seek to combine faith with academic thinking and a community of accountability. And to suggest that sex only in marriage is a moral alternative for some students, is well, just too constraining for a really “thinking” person. Better to encourage freedom and then try and decide how we will deal with the 70 percent of infants born to single women. That moral behavior has good societal consequences and immoral behavior has bad societal consequences and educational institutions should encourage moral behavior for societal if not religious reasons is, well just too much for a liberal fundamentalist like Wilson. After being a tenured prof in both state and private faith based universities, I promise you the most closed minded fundamentalists are the doctrinaire liberals like Wilson. They are santimonious even as their institutions sink into the ignominy of immoral nihilism. Hey if you dont like the Christian concept of academic freedom which includes faith and reason, fine. But look at the beam in your own eye first.
I made a final reply:
That Piled Higher person is sure piling it up. It’s truly Orwellian when my universal defense of liberty is smeared as a “liberal fundamentalist.” According to Piled Higher, “Wilson wants freedom for himself but not for others who may seek to combine faith with academic thinking and a community of accountability.” A “community of accountability” is a lovely buzzword for forcing everyone to agree. Of course, I’m the one here urging freedom for everyone (including people of faith at secular universities). It’s certain religious colleges and their apologists who embrace repression. Consider Piled Higher’s complaint that “to suggest that sex only in marriage is a moral alternative for some students, is well, just too constraining for a really ‘thinking’ person.” Individuals and colleges are perfectly free to suggest this silly idea. All I’m saying is that no college worthy of the name should force students and staff to obey these dictates. And that’s what they do.
I “certainly can pontificate,” as one critic points out. That’s part of debate in a free society, and my views are open to criticism like any others. But there is an important difference. At my ideal university, critics of my views are freely allowed. At the religious conservatives’ ideal university (which includes several hundred colleges today), liberal critics of their views are banished. And that’s a critical difference that no amount of obfuscation can conceal. The question must be asked of these repressive religious colleges (and many secular colleges): why are you afraid to let students hear dissenting ideas?