A friend who works in campus ministry asked me for advice recently. He had heard about a difficult situation at another university and was wondering what I would say to the student:
There is a student in a philosophy class here, where the professor is incredibly disrespectful towards Christians. How do you usually encourage your students to respond, and what advice do you usually give them? It appears there are not many Christians in the class, and if there are, they all laugh at the professor and go along with him.
Even though relatively few professors express anti-Christian views in the classroom, this is a fairly common experience for students. In her sociological study Science vs. Religion, Elaine Howard Ecklund found that the small minority of scientists who were actively hostile to religion received much more attention than their numbers might warrant:
There is a small group of scientists (less than 5 percent of those I interviewed) who go beyond privatizing religion or separating themselves from it to actively suppressing its expression. Because of their vocal bent, this group can appear much larger than it really is. They have been outspoken about the irrelevance and danger of religion as well as the need to suppress it where possible, and their work and views have received a lot of public press because of their contrarian nature. (105, emphasis added)
Ecklund’s study focused on scientists at elite universities, so I don’t know what the percentage of actively hostile professors might be in other disciplines or at other types of universities. As an undergraduate English major at a public research university, I encountered two professors who openly disparaged Christianity (both tenured, one in literature and the other in linguistics) and only one professor who openly discussed her Christian faith (an adjunct Latin instructor). As I got to know professors personally, I discovered several more who held strong personal beliefs (both Christian and non), but who kept them out of the classroom for various reasons. Anecdotally, Ecklund’s 5 percent figure feels about right for faculty who are vocally against religion.
Very rough math suggests that an average student will encounter 2 hostile professors as an undergraduate. Horror stories from friends will make the number seem even larger. With almost all of their other professors keeping silent on religion, the vocal disdain of this “unsilent majority” can feel like the default position of faculty. This is one reason why I think it’s important for Christian faculty to let students know about their beliefs.
What would you counsel a student who is dealing with an anti-Christian professor? Leave your suggestions in the comments, or email them to me if you prefer to be anonymous. I’ll share my thoughts a bit later in the comments.
- Some estimates, with lots of assumptions: 124–128 credit hours are required for the typical bachelors degree. If the average class is 3 credits, then a student will have ~41 professors as an undergraduate. Some of these will likely repeat, but there will also be 1 credit classes, TAs, etc., so let’s go with 40 professors. If 5 percent are actively hostile to religion, then the average student will encounter 2 such professors over their undergraduate career. ↩