Star Conservative Professor Rejects Evangelical Higher Ed

I don’t think he meant to do it. But conservatives’ favorite star academic just trashed the entire tradition of conservative evangelical higher education.robert george christian colleges

It’s pretty safe to say that Professor Robert P. George of Princeton didn’t mean to badmouth conservative evangelical colleges. He was talking—broadly speaking—about the proper way for students to react to campus ideas they didn’t like. They CAN protest, Prof. George wrote, but they really shouldn’t. Even when they are confronted with ideas that strike right at the very heart of who they are as people and as Christians, George advised, students should do something else entirely. They should listen politely, ask questions boldly, and think deeply.

What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. But in his next bit, Professor George inadvertently criticized the entire body of conservative-evangelical universities and colleges. As he put it,

You [students] are there [in college] to be challenged and unsettled—to have your deepest, most cherished, identity-shaping beliefs subjected to scrutiny. That’s what liberal arts learning is most fundamentally about—leading the examined life.

FWIW, I agree entirely. As I found in my research for Fundamentalist U, however, if we accept Professor George’s vision of “what liberal arts learning is most fundamentally about,” we would be forced to admit that conservative-evangelical colleges are not really colleges at all.

After all, though it is fiendishly difficult to define “real” evangelical higher ed, both friends and foes of conservative evangelicalism agree on one thing. Namely, the higher-educational movement that began in the 1920s and included leading evangelical schools such as Wheaton College and Gordon College as well as fundamentalist institutions such as Bob Jones University and Liberty University was built on a profound dissent against Professor George’s vision of proper higher education. They were built, instead, on a promise to carefully control the ideas to which students would be exposed.

For example, though schools such as Bob Jones and Wheaton are worlds apart in many ways, they have always been united by their insistence that all faculty members adhere to a statement of belief. From their beginnings or re-beginnings in the 1920s, conservative evangelical colleges promised evangelical parents, in the words of school founder Bob Jones Sr. (1928), they would have a school in which

Fathers and mothers who place their sons and daughters in our institution can go to sleep at night with no haunting fear that some skeptical teachers will steal the faith of their precious children.

At evangelical colleges and universities, students were never supposed to have their “deepest, most cherished, identity-shaping beliefs subjected to scrutiny.”

It wasn’t only at fundamentalist Bob Jones College. At more-liberal Wheaton, too, the ideas that students encountered were carefully curated.

In 1949, for example, a student group invited a liberal, non-evangelical professor from the nearby University of Chicago to give a campus talk about the Bible. The student leader told Wheaton’s president that his group did not want to shake students’ faiths. Rather, he only wanted to strengthen their faith by giving them the experience Professor George describes.

The trustees did not take to such arguments. Professor George’s vision of proper higher education, one conservative insisted, was “a gross violation of the principles for which Wheaton stands.” Moreover, from the trustee’s point of view, this “inclusive, compromising policy” was nothing less than “clearly destructive of every foundation principle for which Wheaton has stood.”

And, lest one think that such anti-free-speech principles have been left behind in the dustbin of history, consider just a few recent cases. Wheaton students who press for greater LGBTQ inclusion have been squelched. Wheaton faculty who question (or maybe who just look like they might question) evangelical theology have been fired.

In my opinion, and the opinions of the thousands of students who thrive in evangelical institutions, these restrictions are part of what makes conservative schools great. Yes, there are significant restrictions on free speech. Yes, the schools are built on the premise and the promise that some ideas will not be given equal space. But there have always been significant advantages to those restrictions, advantages that many non-religious schools are now looking at with envy. (See, for example, trends toward new in loco parentis rules or creating “safe spaces.”)

If, however, we take Professor George’s word for it, real higher education requires a different approach. I don’t think he meant to do so, but by defining proper higher education as disturbing and soul-shaking, Professor George has accidentally insulted a vast network of successful conservative institutions.

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Will THIS Make Colleges Think Twice?

It doesn’t matter how deep your pockets are. An $11,000,000 fine still hurts. I can’t help but wonder this morning if colleges will see Oberlin’s punishment as a wake-up call to rein in their activist students.oberlin protest real.jpg

Here’s what we know: A bakery across the street from Oberlin’s uber-liberal campus has just won a whopping $11 million judgment against the school. Back in 2016, three African-American Oberlin students stole from the bakery. The owner chased them down and they were caught. They admitted to the attempted crime and agreed that the incident was not racially inflected.

Before the students confessed, however, outraged Oberlin students took to the street. They chanted that the bakery was racist and waved signs and banners. According to Inside Higher Ed, the administration of the college assisted with the student protest, suspending business with the bakery, organizing protests, and providing materials such as gloves for the protesters.

In light of the facts of the case, the bakery successfully sued for libel. It convinced a state court that the protests

interfered with business relationships, inflicted emotional distress and libeled the owners.

Will this judgment make other college administrators think twice about supporting student protests? As we all know, no matter if a school is conservative, liberal, or other, no administrator is willing to risk legal liability. I can’t help but think that this case will make cautious university presidents reconsider their knee-jerk support for student activism.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Still getting snow up around here, but May is just around the corner. The weather wasn’t the only wild thing this past week. Here are a few of the stories from the interwebs that captured our attention in the past seven days:

I didn’t say what I said: Trump’s NRA speech fact-checked by NYT.

god guns trump

Make Buttons Great Again…

Michael Ruse on “Darwinian existentialism,” at HNN.

Darwin did not disprove God. When he wrote his great Origin of Species, 1859, he still believed in a deistic god, a god of unbroken law.  But he made it possible not to believe in God and to be, in the words of Richard Dawkins, a “fulfilled atheist.” More importantly, Darwin suggested that the deity is like the common perception of the God of Job, indifferent to our fate.

Unintended consequences: San Francisco’s deseg plans makes schools more segregated, at NYT.

You really didn’t do the reading. But you’re not alone. At CHE, an analysis of college-student reading and a prescription to improve it.

Women and the Christian Right: An excerpt from Emily Johnson’s new book at R&P.

Professor Coyne makes the case: Secular humanism is not a religion. At Quillette.

the absence of evidence is indeed evidence for absence if the evidence should have been there. That’s why most of us are confident that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist. The same should go for most religious truth claims.

How has the religious composition of the major political parties changed since 1978? Great charts from RIP.RIP dems change

Houston high school enacts dress code…for parents. From AP.

“No one can enter the building or be on the school premises wearing a satin cap or bonnet on their head for any reason,” Principal Carlotta Outley Brown said in a letter to parents dated April 9. “You also cannot wear a shower cap of any kind in the building.”

Let em debate: A conservative case for free conservative speech at NR.

High-school artist takes heat for her painting, at IME.

trump nope

Acceptable student art?

 

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another week, another reminder of how education really works. The rich get embarrassed but they still get into Stanford…

The ugliest story everyone was talking about: Admissions scandal rocks elite higher ed, at IHE.

The story more people SHOULD be talking about: Queen Betsy loosens restrictions on ties between religious private schools and public ones, at NYT.

Conservative defense of a conservative professor, at NR.

  • Are these student demands “crazed?”:

We demand that Samuel Abrams’ position at the College be put up to tenure review to a panel of the Diaspora Coalition and at least three faculty members of color. In addition, the College must issue a statement condemning the harm that Abrams has caused to the college community, specifically queer, Black, and female students, whilst apologizing for its refusal to protect marginalized students wounded by his op-ed and the ignorant dialogue that followed. Abrams must issue a public apology to the broader SLC community and cease to target Black people, queer people, and women. (Emphasis in original.)

If you needed any further encouragement to avoid self-flagellation

Why are Catholics and Anglicans so over-represented in Congress? A new Pew poll finds that the religion of the public doesn’t match the religion of the leaders.

Pew congress faithFL pushes vouchers, at AP.

What does it take for good Christian to also be a good American? At Providence.

Be rigid and stodgy and faithful to the dictates of your church. And demand your fellow Christians do the same. Remember that we can only afford to be liberal in our politics so long as we are steady in our inner lives. So avoid cliché like the devil. And be the best Christian you can be. Only then will you find, incidentally, that you also make a good American.

A century of American anti-Semitism: the legacy of Madison Grant’s ‘scientific racism,’ at The Atlantic.

Remembering the My Lai Massacre, at VQR. Mass psychosis, brutal policy, or both?

This picture of actual reward for atrocity and cover-up of war crime leads us to the largest supposition frequently ventured about the massacre and its continuing moral centrality to American memory of the Vietnamese war: that, despite its astonishing and horrifying magnitude, it was in a many ways a microcosm, an abstract or epitome, of the American way of war in Vietnam.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another doozy of a week here at ILYBYGTH International! Here are some of the top stories that caught our eye:

Florida teacher on why the state can’t find enough teachers, at WaPo.

“Ridiculous:” Trump’s angry plan to punish universities for banning free speech, at CHE:

In 2018 the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an effective champion of free speech on campuses, recorded just nine attempts at disinviting or shutting down speakers. In the same year, 20 — if you’re keeping score, that’s 11 more than nine — colleges and universities adopted versions of the University of Chicago’s model principles of free expression. . . . None of that would seem to warrant sending in the feds to manage speech at our colleges and universities. Granted, our standards for declaring a national emergency have grown lax, but this is ridiculous.

More people support “legacy” college admissions than support race-based admissions, at PRC.pew admissions factors

Sympathy for the anti-vaxxers, at NYT. HT: AP:

I know people whom I think of as otherwise intelligent and well intentioned who aren’t convinced that vaccines are safe.

Bad news for Biden 2020: WaPo uncovers some dirt from the 1970s.

The latest anti-AOC rhetoric from CPAC:

They want to take your pickup truck! They want to rebuild your home! They want to take away your hamburgers! This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved!

Forget AOC. America’s most influential conservative sets his sights on a different target: Earl Warren. At NR.

What biden was trying to avoid

What Biden was scared of in 1975:

Are teachers’ strikes really about the students? Or more about protecting the teachers’ union itself? At TC.

Historian Beth Allison Barr on evangelical women.

Beth Moore said the problem isn’t with Hollis; the problem lies with how conservative Christianity has failed women.

Most Americans (90%) believe in some higher power, but only 56% think it is the God of the Bible, at PRC.

Evangelical colleges in the Civil Rights Era and the “colorblind campus,” at the OAH blog.north park college

God and Man still on the outs at Yale, says one conservative law student. At The Federalist.

Do you buy it? Conservative predicts Trump landslide, 2020, at TH.

Trump handwriting on the wall

A coming Trumpslide?

The New Conservative Campus Strategy: Punch-bait!

You’ve heard it before: Conservatives have long felt bitterly estranged from mainstream higher education. I’m wondering if we’re on the cusp of a weird new conservative strategy, one in which young conservatives try their hardest to get punched in the face.

Here’s what we know: Hayden Williams has attracted a lot of attention recently as the victim of a conservative-bashing at Berkeley. President Trump brought Williams up on stage during Trump’s CPAC speech to help introduce Trump’s new hard line against universities. As Trump crowed,

Ladies and gentlemen — [Williams] took a punch for all of us. … Here’s the good news: He’s going to be a very wealthy young man. Go get ’em, Hayden.

Williams was on campus as part of Turning Point USA’s recruitment drive. In the past, Turning Point USA has provoked attention on campuses for recruiting students to its brand of millennial conservative campus activism. In Nebraska, for example, a Turning Point USA member garnered significant political support in her fight to be heard on campus.

Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk was quick to capitalize on the Berkeley bashing. As he told CNN,

Our amazing grassroots organizers courageously face threats of violence and discrimination as they fight for the right for conservative voices to be heard on college campuses.

So how about it? Maybe the most effective strategy for conservative pundits will be to get punched in the face. After all, nothing goes further to prove their claims of persecution and anti-conservative discrimination.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another big week. Rough weather outside and culture-war storms on the interwebs. Here are a few of the biggest stories that caught our ILYBYGTH attention:

Queen Betsy proposes federal support for tax-credit scholarships, at AP.

Trump announces plans to force universities to welcome conservative speakers, at IHE.

When it comes to the evangelical vote, geography matters, at RIP.Geography of GOP evangelicalism

What happened with the Methodists? Board meeting votes against allowing full LGBTQ recognition.

Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.

And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”

Meanwhile, Trump also threatened to sue his colleges if they released his grades or SAT scores, at IHE.

What is going on in Florida? A new batch of bills hopes to restrict science teaching, at NCSE.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Happy December! The ILYBYGTH International offices moved this week to the Situation Room to monitor the “War on Christmas.” But we still had time to gather these stories we thought you might like:

“Education is a business.” Libertarian abandons public schools, at Reason. HT: MM.

History majors keep declining, at AHA.

Background on the missionary-killing Sentinelese at NYT.

Creationism? Evolution? Glenn Branch looks at fifty years of struggle for better evolution education at SA.

How Berkeley students are freeing speech, at IHE.

Oh, wow. The weird, wild scam history of evangelical Olivet University, at NYT. HT: MG.

Tennessee study: Big boost for students who have an African American teacher, at NBER.

Is education a civil right? Students in RI sue for theirs, at the Atlantic.Suzanne WilsonHow to avoid solving educational problems, c. 1942, from Larry Cuban.

When I think of (and listen to) current debates about problems like inequality, racism, and poverty as they influence what teachers do, how schools operate, and effects on students, I recall many times when I heard and saw school board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents engage in what Diederich [described in 1942].

Creationism, eh? New poll about evolution and teaching creationism in Canada, at NCSE.

If Dunking is Dangerous…Then What?

It’s not flashy. It won’t make a lot of headlines or get a bazillion retweets. But the students at Cal-Berkeley have been answering a question we’ve been asking here lately. Namely, if it is dangerous to “dunk” on our culture-war opponents, what are we supposed to do?

berkeley antifa

Okay, be honest: Which picture would you click on first? This one…?

Here’s what we know: Since the riots in 2017, students and administrators in Berkeley have taken steps to improve the climate of free speech and civil discourse on campus. According to Inside Higher Ed, it has been more than just empty talk.

Crucially, progress toward real free debate and civil discussion did not come from one side alone. Berkeley’s College Republicans booted their former leader for his destructive, provocative tactics. The club committed to hosting conservative speakers who wanted to do more than simply start fights.

The university, too, opened up more physical space for un-approved demonstrations. They continued to invite conservative speakers to campus and to host civil debates between pundits of various culture-war persuasions.

What does any of this have to do with dunking on D’Souza? Tons.

berkeley christ

…or this one?

First, a recap: I took some lessons from the history of creationism to worry about the after-effects of the Twitter-shaming of conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza has been fond of making historically inaccurate claims about the racial histories of the Republican and Democratic Party. With great success, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse has used Twitter to lay out the evidence against D’Souza’s claims.

So far, so good. But if we have learned anything from our continuing culture wars about creationism, it is this: Mere evidence alone will not win culture-war battles. Indeed, it will tend to prolong and embitter them.

Some smart readers asked the obvious follow-up question: If it is dangerous to simply shame and humiliate our culture-war opponents, what then? Do we simply watch quietly (and politely) from the sidelines as pundits spew falsehoods and bad ideas? That doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Maybe the students at Berkeley have given us a better answer. It’s not something that can be done unilaterally, but perhaps if both sides make real efforts to shun vapid, venal provocateurs we can move forward.

Hate Speech: The Blog Defense

I know, I know, it is not the main point of the story. I can’t help but be amazed, though, at one of the defenses this embattled professor gave. So, yes, he compared sexual-assault accusations to “spin the bottle.” And he called the Democrats the “sissy party” and suggested that all judicial appointees be required to commit sexual assault. He defended his comments as satirical, but he also gave, to my mind, a much more poignant defense.

langbert

Sure, I said it, but I didn’t think anyone was listening…

Here’s what we know: according to Inside Higher Ed, Brooklyn College Professor Mitchell Langbert made some pretty outrageous public comments after the Kavanaugh hearings. For example, Prof. Mitchell opined,

If someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.  The Democrats have discovered that 15-year- olds play spin-the-bottle, and they have jumped on a series of supposed spin-the-bottle crimes during Kavanaugh’s minority, which they characterize as rape, although no one complained or reported any crime for 40 years.

The Democrats have become a party of tutu-wearing pansies, totalitarian sissies who lack virility, a sense of decency, or the masculine judgment that has characterized the greatest civilizations: classical Athens, republican Rome, 18th century Britain, and the 19th century United States. They use anonymity and defamation in their tireless search for coercive power.

The Kavanaugh hearing is a travesty, and if the Republicans are going to allow the sissy party to use this travesty to stop conservatism, then it is time found [sic] a new political party.  In the future, having committed sexual assault in high school ought to be a prerequisite for all appointments, judicial and political.  Those who did not play spin-the-bottle when they were 15 should not be in public life.

Predictably, students at Brooklyn College protested. Such hateful speech, they insist, should be grounds for Langbert’s termination.

In his defense, Prof. Langbert revised his blog post, adding an introductory disclaimer describing his post as satirical, that his point was precisely to underscore the ridiculousness of the current political climate. As he put it,

It is intended to be taken in the same light as Swift’s claim that Irish children should be eaten. I was surprised to learn that some readers took me literally, claiming that I advocate rape.

To this reporter, the satire in Prof. Langbert’s original post is pretty easy to miss. I might call it an example of hyperbolic rhetoric, but as a high-school English teacher, I would never use this example to illustrate the complicated genre of satirical writing.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH might disagree about whether or not this counts as satire, but this morning I’d like to focus on a different aspect of this case. When asked about his controversial blog post, Prof. Langbert offered a much sadder defense as well. Not only was it meant to be satirical, Langbert said, but usually only about twenty people per week visited his blog.

Does that make it okay? We all know some forms of speech are not protected. For example, shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater is not acceptable. However, what if you shouted “Fire” to an empty room?