[239] Academic Freedom

[239] Academic Freedom

There is always tension in the Christian college, particularly in the departments in which thorny issues like that of liberal theology, evolution, and postmodernism are often on the plate.

By nature, Christian college faculty members are usually more liberal in their thinking than the organizations that own their institutions.  Good scholars are curious.  They want to explore new things and be receptive to new systems of thought. Nothing is off limits to the curious mind.  Furthermore, institutions of higher education affirm academic freedom—the right to study and investigate phenomena without restriction.

And it is right here that the issue is joined.  Often professors will present various philosophies, theories, and theologies for study, the purpose of which is to expose the student to the range of thinking that is out there.  Occasionally, however, there will be pushback.  Complaints will come in that a given professor is advocating a non-creation evolution, or a liberation theology, for example. The only way around this is for the professor to make clear her non-advocacy of “objectionable” views.

This, however, creates another problem.  For some professors, a didactic advocacy means doing the thinking for the student, rather than having him grapple with ideas.  Such instructors opt for the question-oriented Socratic method.  In doing so, however, they elevate the risk level if the student is not clear where the professor stands amid these murky matters .  The result can be unwanted campus controversy, bad publicity, and the possible loss of students and financial support—a near lethal combination for institutions often struggling to survive.

There is no easy end run available here, and political tempests rear their head regularly in avowedly Christian institutions.  In this context, there are a few simple things academic administrators can do.  First, they need to be sure they have clear faith statements from their faculty.  They also need to have continual dialogue with faculty on their views with respect to controversial issues and systems of thought.  Further, they need to charge their faculty to be clear about their Christian stance on difficult issues, at least to the extent of not unintentionally undermining faith. DC

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