Academic Freedom vs. Creation College

nnu crusaders

President Alexander’s Last Crusade?

What is a college president to do? At conservative religious colleges, leaders are in a real pickle. Hosting faculty with unpopular beliefs could lead to a loss of tuition dollars. Getting rid of them could lead to charges of dictatorial ambition. At Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, President David Alexander fired Thomas Jay Oord. Now Alexander has to deal with the consequences.

First, some background. According to Christianity Today, Alexander’s administration claims that the firing was due to financial straits. Professor Oord taught theology for a decade at the college and had earned a reputation for teaching evolution and “open theology.”

The faculty senate at NNU has protested the administration’s move. The school’s financial future is rosy, according to the faculty. Oord’s firing, they say, is more about reputation than budget.

As at many other conservative religious colleges, that reputation can be difficult to protect. As we’ve discussed in these pages, college leaders face intense pressure to remain orthodox. Parents and alumni control the pursestrings. Such folks can be ferocious defenders of traditional values.

School leaders are forced not only to keep teaching orthodox, but to avoid any appearance of liberalism. If a professor like Oord becomes well known for favoring theistic evolution, it can tarnish the creationist reputation of a college. Parents will send their creationist children elsewhere. Alumni will keep their money.

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8 Comments

  1. Adam – you likely know that the Sensuous Curmudgeon had a post about this, and there were some good comments. I also know that former Nazarene university professors such as Karl Giberson are very outspoken about the disingenuous nature of the reasons for dismissal. The Facebook page has a good bit of information and commentary as does another fact page:

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/971720742862289/ Have to have an account

    http://support-tom-oord.wikia.com/wiki/Tom_Oord_Dismissal

    Reply
  2. It’s interesting how “open theism” and “intelligent design” played out in the branded “Christian” academic scene in the later 1990s and early aughts. Both were successfully opposed by different people for different reasons. Have you written about that at all Adam?

    Reply
    • No, that’s too close to now for me to know anything about it.

      Reply
      • It seems like an important moment — the ID part — where this “theory” and program coming from a Berkeley law prof and Cambridge mathematician tries to work its “Wedge strategy” into the existing conservative protestant academic play for greater institutional and mainstream credibility, and it gets soundly rejected there. In hindsight they both look like moonbats after getting treated to deep scrutiny, but back in 2000 or so that wasn’t the case. Considered in its contingency, why this outcome rather than another? The Baylor side of the story is probably going to be worth a book all on its own.

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