Week in Review: No Christianity Please Edition

What are you reading, watching, thinking about this week? As usual, here’s a few which have been on our mind. Let us know your thoughts on any/all of them. If you have items you’d like us to consider for the top five, add them in the comments or send them to Tom or Mike.

1. No Christianity Please, We’re Academics: In Inside Higher Ed, Wheaton professor Timothy Larsen calls for universities and faculty to confront bias against Christians in higher education. Though there are some studies to back up his claims, he focuses on a couple of personal examples of bias and ignorance faced by himself and an undergraduate student.

[After getting a “F” for a paper defending traditional marriage,] John could never get better than a C for papers without any marked errors or corrections. When he asked for a reason why yet another grade was so poor he was told that it was inappropriate to quote C. S. Lewis in work for an English class because he was “a pastor.” (Lewis, of course, was actually an English professor at Cambridge University. Perhaps it was wrong to quote Lewis simply because he had said something recognizably Christian.) Eventually John complained to the department chair, who said curtly that he could do nothing until the course was over. John took this to mean that the chair would do nothing and just accepted the bad grade.

Larsen also cites some comments rejecting his proposal for a scholarly book of essays on T. S. Eliot’s Idea of a Christian Society, which largely focused on the truth/relevance of Christianity as a belief system, rather than the importance of Eliot’s book or the quality of the proposal.

As you might imagine, the comments on the article have gotten pretty heated.

2. How private will public higher education institutions become and how does that not only affect cost, but the vision for what receives attention on campus?  Tom recently visited Penn State University — State College.  He was once again impressed by the roar of this inspirational flagship campus, particularly in contrast to what is happening just to the north.

TWO things define the State University of New York. It’s huge. And compared to its public peers, it’s weird.

[Response]:  “My belief is that to move an organization forward you have to have a common, comprehensive and ambitious agenda,” Dr. Zimpher said. “It has to be aspirational. It has to move you. I think the full manifestation of SUNY is underexposed and underexploited. If people really knew and understood the difference these campuses make in their communities they would be amazed.” …

“The strategic plan doesn’t talk about educational missions, it doesn’t talk about affordability or accessibility, there’s very little about undergraduate education and keeping it affordable and accessible,” said Phillip H. Smith, president of the powerful United University Professions union, which represents more than 34,000 academic and professional faculty members. “It reflects an attempt to corporatize the university.” — The Accidental Giant of Higher Education (Peter Applebome. NY Times. 7/19/2010)

PS. For more on the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, read Stop Raiding the Ivory Tower — a 7/27/2010 NY Times Op-Ed by Peter D. Salins (a former provost of the State University of New York, is a professor of political science at the State University at Stony Brook).

3.  The Senior Professor: Deadwood or Iceberg? (David D. Perlmutter. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 7/25/2010).  Tom particularly appreciated the second comment which focused upon the question of productivity and for what end it is pursued, i.e., publications for tenure (not the advancement of knowledge)?

4.  How to Land a Job at a Small College (Nancy Hanway. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 7/25/2010). Lots of practical material to pray through as you craft a letter which

  1. succinctly and “cleanly” shares your enthusiasm/passion for and preparation to work at a small college
  2. provides helpful glimpses of (but doesn’t overdo) your dissertation, any gaps in your file, and personal interests.

5. The Best Magazine Articles…Ever: Kevin Kelly, editor-at-large for Wired, has assembled a great list of, well, the “best magazine articles ever,” based on recommendations from a few dozen readers and writers. The article includes a link to submit your own recommendations. Articles range from 1945 to 2010; include  sports writing, politics, nature writing, philosophy, technology, science writing, and more; and feature a few writers you might have heard of (John Updike, David Foster Wallace, John McPhee…). A great way to waste some time expend your fields of knowledge.

[BTW, in addition to his ground-breaking work at Wired, Kelly is a Christian and is also heavily involved with the Long Now Foundation. Here is a CT interview about his faith, religion, and technology titled “How Computer Nerds Describe God.” Kelly has written a paper titled “Nerd Theology” and appeared on This American Life speaking about his dramatic conversion.]

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • bengregg@gmail.com'
    Ben Gregg commented on July 30, 2010 Reply

    I find it kind of ironic that the entire university system–the concept of a university, actually–was originated through the church (mostly catholic at the time) with many many universities and colleges since then being founded by religious orders and christian denominations of all types, and yet we now find ourselves living in a world that is distinctly anti-christian, if not anti-religion….

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on July 30, 2010 Reply

      Indeed. It’s also ironic that a system that prides itself on objective, nuanced analyses of complicated realities has such trouble getting beyond sound-bites and emotional reaction on the topic of religion in the academy.

  • W. Brian Lane commented on July 30, 2010 Reply

    I won’t begin to touch on Larsen’s piece, but it reminds of a (somewhat opposite) challenge I faced one semester when grading a student’s term paper. I asked the students (at the beginning of the semester) to read a science “classic” (ranging from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” to “Silent Spring” to “A Brief History of Time”) and write a 3-5 page paper summarizing the book and their response to it.

    One of my students chose Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species.” In his paper, he spent the first paragraph (perhaps two-tenths of a page) summarizing the book. In his second paragraph, he said, “I, instead, believe what the Bible says,” and proceeded to paste into his paper the contents of Genesis 1 & 2, which took up 2.5 pages. In his mind, his term paper was completed, so he wrapped it up with a single sentence: “I don’t know how to reconcile these two, but this is what I believe.”

    I gave him a failing grade on the term paper not because of the position he took but because he failed (terribly) to meet the length requirement, having only written one paragraph. I made sure to explain this explicitly to him, but I wonder if he chalked it up to “persecution.”

  • Kevin Birth commented on July 30, 2010 Reply

    All sorts of discrimination are rampant, and not just against Christians. At my own institution, I have also witnessed discrimination against Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs despite explicit policies against discrimination based on religion.

    There are all sorts of biases that lurk in our hearts. Institutional policies cannot purge us of these biases . . . how do we correct ourselves?

    And finally, what is discrimination versus legitimate criticism? For instance, a couple years after 9/11, I had a fundamentalist Muslim student who applauded the terrorist attacks based on his religious convictions. Were my criticisms of his interpretation of the Koran discriminatory?

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on August 2, 2010 Reply

      I think that’s a great point about biases faced by other religious minorities. Someone (John Sommerville?) noted that another way of thinking about religious bias in higher ed is that universities are based on the norms of liberal Protestantism, and anyone who deviates from those are outsiders. So, evangelical Christians, yes, but also, as you note, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and many others.

      In an online conversation about teaching religion at public universities, one of the other parties argued that it is an absolute necessity that students not know what your personal religious beliefs are (in order to encourage debate, open-mindedness, etc.). I’m not sure if she saw that a consequence would be that certain religious groups – e.g. Orthodox Jews, Sikhs – would end up being banned from teaching religion.

      I’m not sure what a good answer would be to your question about criticism vs. discrimination. If we want religious ideas to be put on equal footing as non-religious ideas, then we have to allow them to be criticized – but there’s no consensus on how (or even when) to criticize religious ideas. What shared concerns would allow a conversation about religious differences to proceed in a fruitful way?

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