Fizzle Alert: New Campus Center Will Try to Prove that Jesus Was Not a Socialist

The history is not particularly encouraging. Nevertheless, Liberty University plans to open a new academic center, one devoted to promoting Judeo-Christian values in American society. How do we know it won’t work? Three reasons, plus one counter-point.

Here’s what we know: Liberty University recently announced its new Falkirk Center. The name comes from a combo of Jerry Falwell Jr—Liberty’s president—and Charlie Kirk, leader of Turning Point USA. The goal of the center will be to blitz social media with traditional Christian messages. As Falwell and Kirk described,

Said Kirk, “We’re in a culture battle right now where you have to fight and play offense, and part of this effort is to try and play offense against the secular Left.”

Falwell added, “As attacks on traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs grow in frequency and intensity, the need has never been greater for a national revival of our foundational principles throughout our society and institutions in America.”

The center will use an aggressive social media campaign to push back against what Kirk described as the Left’s effort to “try to convert young Christians into socialism and to intentionally misrepresent the gospel and the teachings of the Bible to try to convert young people to be further on the left.”

Will it work? No.

First of all, there are a few big established conservative think-tanks that don’t leave much room for a new one. Why would anyone go to work at the Falkirk Center when they could go the Heritage Foundation instead?

Second, the name itself spells doom. Generally, any academic center or think-tank needs a clear and unified purpose. Often, that takes the form of a charismatic leader. In this case, trying to balance the big egos of both Falwell and Kirk will mean that neither of them gives the center his full attention and support.

Third, as I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, when conservative evangelicals have tried to establish alternative academic centers in the past they haven’t had a lot of success. Consider the ill-starred National Freedom Education Center (NFEC). It was an organization based at The King’s College in New York (now in New York City).

national freedom education center letterhead

They had enough money for letterhead, but that’s about it…

One of the NFEC’s goals was to spread “American Studies” programs on evangelical campuses. As their promo materials put it,

What philosophy shall give direction to the material world we are developing?  Shall the long-felt influence of the Christian ethic be brought to bear on current history?  Dare we succumb to the seemingly plausible suggestions that in our time government-over-man is preferable to America’s long proven concept of man-over government?

Can we survive as a people, even with our unparalleled abundance of things, if our thinking excludes our traditionally motivating intangibles . . . . reverence for God, total human concern for the individual, an abiding dedication to preservation of our Constitution and a cherishing regard for personal Freedom? [sic]

Did it work? Nuh-uh. A few institutions, such as Azusa Pacific, signed up. They received a few hundred dollars and some books for their libraries. Other schools blanched. Gordon College in Massachusetts, for example, rejected the overtures of the NFEC. The faculty at Gordon did not want to turn their conservative religious school into merely a conservative political school.

There’s no doubt, however, that the NFEC would have had more luck if it had had deeper pockets. And that’s where the Falkirk Center might get its glimmer of hope. Liberty University has bajillions of dollars to spend from its online empire. Could that $$$ make a difference? Maybe.

After all, the Falkirk Center is NOT trying to build academic prestige. That takes time, vision, and patience. It is only trying to mount an “aggressive social media campaign,” which is quick, dirty, and easy. It seems at least possible that the Falkirk Center might splash out money on a blitz of popular media, and that the blitz might reinforce already-existing stereotypes. It COULD become, even, a new sort of academic center, one that doesn’t care much about traditional academics but has a big social-media footprint.

I don’t think it will happen, because President Falwell has always been more invested in football than academics, but it seems at least possible that the Falkirk Center might take advantage of a fat wallet to do more than talk about making a difference. I’m not going to worry too much about it, yet.

Can HBCUs and Fundamentalist U Learn from Each Other?

Is there a common denominator? It is not easy these days to be a small college or university. Both public and private colleges are closing their doors. It seems as if some purpose-built institutions, such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and evangelical colleges might be able to learn from one another.

Ken Ham hooded at Bryan

Desperate times at Bryan College

Both are in tight spots. Evangelical colleges like Bryan College in Tennessee, for instance, has slashed tuition in the face of dropping enrollments. And many HBCUs find themselves, in the words of a recent report,

facing existential threats and will need to be transformed, reinvigorated, to ensure that their futures are as vibrant as their pasts.

In addition to the usual financial pressures facing all institutions of higher education, HBCUs and evangelical colleges find themselves losing students due, in part, to broader trends in American culture. Some evangelical college—like Gordon College near Boston—have had a hard time convincing evangelical families to pony up extra money for a uniquely evangelical experience. And some HBCUs find themselves in a new competition for African-American students with historically white universities.

The news is not all bad. Some evangelical institutions—like Trevecca Nazarene in Nashville—have plenty of students. And some HBCUs—like the well-endowed Spelman College—are not on the verge of closing.

spelman

Doing fine…

Moreover, both HBCUs and evangelical colleges can hope for financial fillips by taking advantage of their unique cultural niches. Gordon College, for example, recently attracted a huge donation by emphasizing the school’s cultural conservatism. And HBCUs can hope for more public support, based on the promises of leading Democratic candidates such as Elizabeth Warren.

But both types of schools would be wise to heed the advice of a recent report about HBCUs. As it recommended,

The schools will need to further engage alumni beyond homecoming events and Greek life. It may also be helpful for them to create broader marketing campaigns — to lobby school counselors and state departments of education to better explain the richness of HBCUs — explicitly encouraging students of other races to apply as well.

Similarly, evangelical colleges would be wise to explore possible pools of students who might be interested in their unique type of higher education. Beyond evangelical families, who else might be interested in a college that promises a conservative Christian consensus among its faculty? Conservative Catholics? Conservatives in mainline Protestant churches? International evangelical organizations?

The numbers don’t have to be enormous to make an enormous impact. With yet another evangelical college closing its doors this semester, evangelical leaders will need to do something, fast.

Do People Actually Listen to Academic Books?

The numbers seem pretty clear, but I still have a hard time believing it. Based on the Amazon.com reports, the audio version of Fundamentalist U is its most popular format.Fundy u new audible screen shot_LIMaybe I’m just an old out-of-touch codger, but I’m surprised. I can understand why someone would want to listen to an exciting novel, but do people really listen for twelve hours to a book about the history of evangelical higher ed in the USA?

Maybe it’s a quirk of the Amazon ranking system. Perhaps there are not as many Audible books to choose from, so the ranking of the audio format of this book looks a lot higher than the ranking of the hard-copy format.

Even if so, my question remains. I’m not saying Fundamentalist U isn’t a good enough book and all, but I can’t imagine listening to ANY academic history. Am I out of step? Are the kids these days really listening to academic titles along with their podcasts and tik toks and whatnot?

Is Trump the Real Menace to Evangelical Higher Ed?

We’ve had a lot to talk about this week. When Beto O’Rourke told CNN he would try to revoke the tax-exempt status of any religious institution that didn’t recognize same-sex marriage, he set off a firestorm among the evangelical-higher-ed community. As two Democratic congresspeople pointed out this week, though, the bigger threat to evangelical higher ed might actually be coming from a very different direction.

As SAGLRROILYYBYGTH are aware, the discussions at evangelical universities and colleges about LGBTQ rights have been intense. By stating that he would revoke the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that did not recognize same-sex marriage, O’Rourke raised the specter of Bob Jones University v. USA. Back in the 1980s, that SCOTUS case proved that the government really could deny tax-exempt status to schools that insisted on maintaining racial segregation. Might the government make a similar move about LGBTQ rights?

Evangelical intellectuals reacted furiously. As John Fea commented,

Beto has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination. His campaign has been on life support for a long time and last night he probably killed it.  You better believe that his comment will rally the Trump base and legitimate the fears of millions of evangelical Christians.

In my opinion, too, Beto’s comment was a poorly considered response to a badly worded question. I’m no evangelical, but like Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta, I disagree with Beto on two counts. First of all, the government should not be in the business of policing religious belief. (When we want to talk about federal funds for student loans, we will need to have a different conversation.) Second, though, simply strategically, Beto goofed. In short, when the clown car of Trumpism is on fire, opponents should do everything they can to help people escape. It makes no strategic sense to lock people in.

Unnoticed in all the hubbubery about Beto’s comments, though, two Democratic congresspeople this week sent a letter to Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos. Representatives Andy Levin of Michigan and Jamie Raskin of Maryland complained that the Trump administration was selectively enforcing its rules about campus free speech.

As they noted, President Trump signed an executive order threatening to withhold grants from universities that do not welcome free speech. The idea was to punish public universities such as the University of California that de-platformed conservative speakers. As the congresspeople noted, however, the worst offenders against campus free speech are conservative evangelical colleges like Liberty University.

As the Congresspeople complained,

Despite Executive Order 13864, which directs the Department to ensure institutions promote free inquiry, you have failed to act in cases of suppression of ideas that involve the administration’s political allies, such as Liberty University.

It’s not just Liberty U., which by any standards is an outlier in the field of evangelical higher ed. As I’ve argued in these pages and in Fundamentalist U, free speech presents a unique challenge to conservative evangelical higher education as a whole. Restrictions on speech and belief are the defining feature of evangelical universities. Unlike mainstream colleges, evangelical colleges do not claim to represent forums for all sorts of controversial ideas.

liberty letter devos

Dear Queen Betsy:

Threatening to revoke the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that don’t believe in same-sex marriage might sound scary to conservative evangelicals. But Trump’s warning to revoke student grants from institutions that don’t recognize free-speech rights should be of more immediate concern. To be fair, Trump’s executive order specified that private institutions should only be pushed into

compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech.

Presumably, that wouldn’t help Liberty much, but it would give cover to conservative evangelical colleges that respect their own official rules restricting student and faculty speech. However, in the big picture, by threatening to take federal action against schools that restrict free speech, Trump might be planting the seeds of a longer-term problem for evangelical institutions.

After all, the language of LGBTQ rights has some wiggle room. Plenty of evangelical institutions could plausibly claim to recognize the rights of LGBTQ students and faculty while still embracing their religious skepticism about LGBTQ “practice.”

When it comes to free speech, however, evangelical universities have been built on a promise of restriction. If they were forced to abandon those rules, it would force them to give up the biggest single feature that distinguishes them from mainstream higher ed. It is free speech, not LGBTQ rights, that is the most important thing separating evangelical colleges from others.

Beto is talking a lot, but the real danger to evangelical higher ed might come from the other side. It might be Trump, in the end, who blunders into undermining the very foundation of evangelical higher ed.

Christian College? Or Hetero U?

What’s the problem? That’s the question I’ve heard from interested evangelical-higher-ed watchers the last couple days. Since I warned that Gordon College’s ‘uge new donation could put them in a difficult position, people have asked me to explain my concern. What is so bad about a gigantic donation? In short, I worry that huge donations—and even the promise of huge donations—has always threatened the religious mission of evangelical universities and colleges.

american studies conference 1966 program

…the plans for the canceled NFEC conference at Gordon:

First, a quick reminder: Gordon College announced last year that it was in financial straits. To survive, Gordon restructured its academic offerings and reduced its faculty. This week, Gordon announced a $75.5 million donation from an anonymous source.

Second, a disclaimer: I have absolutely no inside information about the goings-on at Gordon. I do not know anything about the goals of the anonymous donor. I don’t know if there were any formal strings attached to the donation. Plus, I have no skin in this game. I am not an alumnus or financial supporter of any evangelical colleges. I’m just a mild-mannered secular historian with a lot of respect for evangelical academic life.

Third, the history: Back in the 1960s, Gordon faced a similar dilemma, as did many conservative evangelical colleges. As I described in Fundamentalist U, Gordon’s president in the 1960s was excited about a new funding source. The National Freedom Education Center offered evangelical colleges financial support if presidents signed their schools up. Participating schools would agree to align their teaching with free-market/free-enterprise conservatism. As the NFEC leaders put it,

Objective: Inclusion in the curricula and teaching emphasis in Christian colleges of a pervading high regard for Freedom in its spiritual, economic and political dimensions and to create an informed student-citizen leadership needed to safeguard and extend Freedom in the years ahead.

President Forrester was on board. Faculty members on campus pushed back. When President Forrester announced his plans for a big free-enterprise conference on Gordon’s campus, faculty rejected the plan. One influential faculty leader said Gordon was against a merely political program. He insisted Gordon would not ever indoctrinate students with “a program of education in conservative thinking”. His vision, and the vision of most faculty members at the time, was that their conservative religion was far broader than mere political conservatism. Even if many of them personally supported free-market ideas.

national freedom education center letterhead

There are ALWAYS strings attached…

Fourth, the problem: Back in the 1960s, evangelical intellectuals at Gordon and elsewhere rejected the pressure to adapt their teaching to only one secular conservative goal. They also rejected the funding that went along with it.

Today, institutions such as Gordon College are taking a lonely stand in favor of conservative evangelical thinking about gender identity and sexual morality. As today’s President [and, full disclosure, a former postdoc colleague of mine] D. Michael Lindsay told evangelical journalists, his school has become a “city on a hill” in secular New England.

In my view, this presents a 2019 version of Gordon’s 1965 dilemma. If they take money from people who want them to over-emphasize only one part of their evangelical mission, it is a dangerous move. It threatens to narrow their traditionally broad evangelical emphasis to only one issue. Yes, many conservative evangelicals today hope to emphasize traditional sexual morality and marriage rules, but that has never been the sole defining issue of their religion. It has certainly never been the sole defining issue of a Gordon College education.

Back in the 1960s, faculty leaders had the power to reject the free-marketeering imposition of the National Freedom Education Center. They rejected the pressure and temptation to turn their Christian college into a single-issue education center.

Today’s faculty members at Gordon and other schools might not have the same power. They are very aware of the effects of financial hard times, with programs slashed and faculty positions eliminated. But the danger seems the same. To survive, will Gordon and other evangelicals schools take money that pushes them to emphasize only one aspect of their complex Christian goals? Will they give up their goal of being an evangelical Christian college to focus on being primarily a Traditional-Marriage University?

A Dangerous Payday for Evangelical Colleges?

Is it worth it? Evangelical college-watchers are agog about a huge new donation to Gordon College in Massachusetts. I have to wonder if this is part of a new culture-war playbook for evangelical higher ed. Will the hidden costs of this largesse end up being too steep? After all, back in the 1960s, Gordon’s faculty turned down this kind of financial support.

Here’s what we know, and it’s not much: Christianity Today reports an anonymous donation of $75.5 million to Gordon. As CT describes, this is a very unusual event in the world of evangelical higher education. Only a handful of evangelical universities have ever received gifts this large.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall, this comes on the heels of Gordon’s recent belt-tightening announcement. Last May, Gordon restructured its academic offerings. Faculty were let go, budgets were cut. It wasn’t a stretch to wonder how long Gordon would survive.

Now, for a little while at least, the financial wolf seems to have been chased from Gordon’s door. We don’t know why, but it seems fair to assume that the anonymous donor wanted to see Gordon continue its evangelical mission.

We’re only guessing, but it seems reasonable to assume that the donor might have shared the belief that Gordon played a unique role in its region. As CT described,

[Gordon]’s both a well-known liberal arts college among Christians and an evangelical bastion in increasingly secular New England, surrounded by some of the most competitive, prestigious universities on the planet.

“We’re, respectfully, a city on a hill in this part of the world,” [President D. Michael] Lindsay said. “When our chapel services meet, it’s one of the largest gatherings of evangelical Christians in the Northeast. We’re the largest evangelical employer in six states.”

I agree with President Lindsay. His school really does represent a lonely conservative evangelical voice in the Boston metro area. Under his leadership, Gordon has tacked in more conservative culture-war directions. Five years ago, President Lindsay affirmed Gordon’s established policy against sex outside of heterosexual marriage. And at the time, some conservative evangelicals offered Lindsay some advice that turned out to be prophetic. As one conservative writer wrote in 2014,

To Michael Lindsay, the gifted president of Gordon, and to the board of trustees, I remind you: Many eyes are watching you, knowing that the decisions you make could either strengthen or dishearten many other schools that will soon be put under similar pressure.

I have no idea who Gordon’s anonymous benefactor might be, but I can’t help but wonder: Is this huge gift meant to keep President Lindsay’s evangelical “city on the hill” alive and kicking? …to maintain a conservative evangelical citadel in New England? Was the donor one of the many people watching Lindsay back in 2014, and is this donation a result of Lindsay’s conservative stances?

If so, it presents a difficult dilemma for evangelical college leaders worldwide. Yes, taking a firm political stand might earn you huge donations like this one. But they also change inexorably the mission of your school. Instead of focusing primarily on educating young people in evangelical ways, Gordon might now be tempted to organize itself in ways that satisfy big culture-war supporters.

Again, all this is pure speculation at this point. However, none of it seems outlandish. And the danger is clear: If evangelical colleges tack to the political right to attract big donors, will they be able to continue their traditional mission of providing excellent liberal-arts educations to new generations of evangelical students?

In the twentieth century, the faculty at Gordon College rejected attempts to transform their school into a merely politically conservative institution. Today, the power on Gordon’s campus has clearly shifted. Will Gordon and other evangelical colleges resist the allure of a big payday, if it means watering down their traditional liberal-arts focus?

Great Enrollment Crash—Evangelical Edition

There are a lot of jobs I’m glad I don’t have. Being admissions director at a small or medium-sized evangelical liberal-arts college is just one of them. As a recent commentary in Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only, sorry) makes crystal clear, these are dark times for some mainstream colleges. I can’t help but think they’ll be even darker for evangelical ones.

wheaton-website-proofs-102817-1

How much will families pay for fancy buildings and philosophy degrees? …for Christian ones?

Bill Conley, enrollment guru at Bucknell University in Ohio, describes a “perfect storm” of declining enrollments at private liberal-arts colleges like his. Yes, there have been panics before, but this time it is serious. Especially in “soft” non-professional majors, enrollment since the financial crash of 2008 has plummeted. As Conley grimly describes,

with each demographic blip, and with every crossing of a new are-you-kidding-me? threshold for cost of attendance, colleges still reported record selectivity, robust enrollments, and financial-aid programs that, for some, effectively reduced sticker shock. Indeed, reports of a higher-education bubble about to burst appeared to be greatly exaggerated. American higher education seemingly had an elasticity that could withstand periodic, short-term fluctuations in demand and cost.

Then came 2008. The Great Recession devastated university endowments, shattered the majority of family wealth and income, and confounded the predictive modeling of enrollment managers. The near-term chaos was very real. Somehow, at varying rates, most colleges managed to survive, but in order to do so they established a “new normal” that would allow them to claim renewed stability for the long haul. That brings us to the summer of 2019, when the cracks in this new normal really started to show.

What does the future hold for private colleges like Bucknell? Conley is not optimistic. As he concludes,

Higher education has fully entered a new structural reality. You’d be naïve to believe that most colleges will be able to ride out this unexpected wave as we have previous swells.

Not all universities are in the same boat. Public universities with lower tuition sticker prices are booming. Technical and professional programs are doing fine. But parents and students are increasingly unlikely to shell out big bucks for liberal-arts degrees. What will this mean for the world of evangelical higher ed?

As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, when it came to admissions numbers, evangelical colleges and universities shared the historical patterns of mainstream institutions.

Before World War II, the few fundamentalist colleges that offered more than Bible-institute training had more students than they could manage. One survey in the late 1940s found that enrollment at a group of seventy evangelical colleges doubled between 1929 and 1940. In 1936 alone, the enrollment at Wheaton College in Illinois jumped by seventeen percent.

By the 1960s, however, due largely to an infusion of federal money from the GI Bill, the number of evangelical colleges had grown so rapidly that they struggled to fill their classrooms. Suddenly, liberal-arts colleges like Wheaton faced a new dilemma. Students just weren’t coming. In 1964, 8,528 high-school students requested information about Wheaton. By 1967 that number dropped to only 6,403, with only 1,101 actual applicants.

Clearly, Wheaton College survived that 1960s slump and one might be tempted to think Conley’s worries today are similarly exaggerated. I’m not so sure. What would convince parents and students to spend tens of thousands of extra tuition dollars to attend an evangelical college instead of an academically comparable (or superior) state college?

In the past, the answer has always been the uniquely evangelical environment of evangelical colleges. Where else can a family be sure that all the professors share their faith? That most of the students do? That the entire mission of the college is to teach students in a specifically evangelical manner?

The hard truth is that families will have to figure out how much those things are worth, in dollars and cents. Will they pay $100,000 extra? $50,000? $200,000? It doesn’t take much of a historical perspective to see that the magic number will likely shrink past the point colleges can stand. If they pay more to maintain their high-quality evangelical environment, can they compete with cheaper state schools?

These days, as schools like Bucknell see their traditional family loyalties dry up in the face of unmatchable price competition from state schools, evangelical colleges will face similar storms. For more and more families, college will be a chance to learn professional skills, not form Christian faith. If the price difference is steep enough, families will let their churches do the Christian part, and state schools do the higher-ed part.

Why Don’t Christian Colleges Brag about This?

If you’re interested in evangelical higher education, you’ve probably read Daniel Silliman’s piece in Christianity Today by now. And you may have asked why more Christian colleges don’t advertise their sensible approach to deepening students’ faiths. Today the other shoe drops over at the fundamentalist creationist ministry Answers In Genesis.ham on evang colleges

Silliman was following up on new survey data that show students in evangelical colleges are

more likely to feel unsettled about spiritual matters, unsure of their beliefs, disillusioned with their religious upbringing, distant from God, or angry with God than their peers at secular schools as well as those at mainline Protestant and Catholic institutions.

As Silliman found, in many cases, evangelical colleges actively promote religious crises in their students. Why? Because true faith requires it. As one college president told Silliman,

It’s part of the design of college and part of the design of being a young adult. Struggle is built in. What we try to provide are professional staff and faculty who are rooted in their own faith and able to journey alongside, in ways that honor the journey of the student.

Sounds smart, right? Especially for secular people like me, this kind of approach to Christian education makes admirable sense. So why don’t more evangelical institutions brag about it?

As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, evangelical higher ed has always been ferociously divided about this approach to faith formation. Lots of administrators, families, and faculty members have always shared this vision. They have agreed that young Christians need to be open about their doubt, just as they are about their faith. The goal of evangelical higher education—in this vision—has been to be there for students when they doubt, guiding them lovingly and Christian-ly through this predictable crisis.

But not everyone has agreed. As fundamentalist creationist Ken Ham recently charged, Christian colleges who don’t protect their students from doubt don’t deserve to call themselves Christian at all. As Ham accused, colleges that help their students struggle with doubt

compromise God’s Word beginning in Genesis & aren’t teaching creation apologetics & a truly Christian worldview.

The right way to protect faith, Ham argues, is not by challenging it. Instead, evangelical students should be taught how to “stand against the secular attacks of the day,” not how to doubt and question. For parents who agree, Ham offers his list of “Creation Colleges,” staunch conservative schools that promise not to challenge faith.

So why don’t more evangelical colleges brag about their approach to faith formation? Because the world of conservative evangelical higher education has always been divided about it. Not just between more conservative schools and less, but even within many schools themselves.

At less-conservative schools like the ones Silliman talked about, I’ll bet dollars to donuts some faculty members and some trustees hope for a less-wishy-washy approach to student doubt. And at more-conservative schools like the ones Ken Ham praises, I bet there are faculty members and students who yearn to be in an environment in which they can talk more openly about their doubt and struggle.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Back to school; back to … losing our religion? Christian colleges that challenge faith, secular colleges that challenge ideas, Rosa Parks Barbie and, of course, Professor Matthew McConaughey all made this week’s list of must-read stories from around the interwebs:

So…now there’s a Rosa Parks Barbie. A triumph for Civil Rights history? Not exactly, at HNN.

The problem is that the more in-depth narrative that historians have worked hard to reconstruct is continually lost in public consumption.

rosa parks barbieHow does Barbie tie in to Newt Gingrich, Bertie Forbes, and the history of racism in the US? The ILYBYGTH take.

How can colleges foster true intellectual diversity? At NYT.

Is the point of a university education simply to provide students a forum in which they can air their political views, no matter how poorly informed? Of course not — and one reason that some students are reluctant to speak in class is because they are confronted, for the first time, by information that undermines their pre-existing assumptions. So how can professors keep exposing students to uncomfortable facts — because that’s our job — while encouraging them to speak their minds and hear out arguments they find outrageous?

Losing your faith at an evangelical college? Don’t worry; it’s always been part of the process. At CT.

At some evangelical schools, religious crisis is provoked by design. Nyack College in New York City offers a slate of first-year classes coordinated with chapel talks meant to challenge students’ beliefs.

“It’s almost that we have to deconstruct their faith, but in a nice way,” said Wanda Walborn, associate professor of spiritual formation at Nyack. “We have to carefully and lovingly get you back to Jesus, get you back to the grace of God, outside of performance.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Queen Betsy DeVost at EdWeek:

There are no shortage of cabinet appointees to take issue with. But I think there’s something particularly egregious with what’s happening with Betsy DeVos in the Department of Education because it’s not just somebody who’s taking the department in a direction I disagree with. She’s somebody who, in my view, is actively undermining the very purpose of the department.

Recruiting top faculty:

From the Big Surprise file: Turns out better pay can attract more teachers. At FP.

Alumni sue NY Jewish school for sexual abuse, at CNN.

The lawsuit accuses former principal George Finkelstein of targeting the children of Holocaust survivors and then imploring them “to not add to their parents’ suffering by telling them about his assaults.”

She’s not racist, but…this Michigan city council candidate wanted to keep her community white. Because the Bible. At FA.

Why do 55% of teachers hope their kids won’t become teachers? At Curmudgucation. The issues are

tied together with the single thread of distrust and disrespect for teachers. . . . we’ve had decades of federal and state programs meant to force teachers to do a better job. In the classroom, much of these “reforms” have sounded like “You can’t do a good job unless you are threatened, micromanaged, and stripped of your autonomy.” There is a special kind of stress that comes from working for someone who says, in effect, “You have a big important job to do, and we do not trust you to do it.”

Teachers do not experience disrespect only on a national level. Talk to individual teachers about their own work circumstances and you will often hear about district and building administrators who treat teachers like children.

“Gifted & Talented” program is out in NYC. What comes next? At Chalkbeat.

“The label is something that people really crave,” said James Borland, a Teachers College professor who studies “gifted” education. “The fact that the curriculum is very weak in lots of gifted programs — or the fact that it’s not that different — it’s a problematic situation,” he added.

What’s it like to be a progressive Christian in a conservative state? A review of American Heretics at R&P.

we hear Walke describe something of a conversion narrative. She transformed from a Southern Baptist in the pews of a church whose pastor was teaching that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for sin into a different sort of Christian—one who now leads in the charge of Mayflower UCC’s vote to denounce racism and become a sanctuary church.

The most touching moment in the film gives us a glimpse of the toll of Walke’s conversion. We sit in the passenger seat of her truck as she drives away from her grandmother’s home, where we’ve just seen the two women reflecting awkwardly (but with great compassion) on their connection as Christians, despite their current theological and political divide. The two women sang together an old-time hymn about heaven. But the voices in unison could not cover up the palpable tension, as her grandma, Novella Lore, appeared to struggle to find something to say about her granddaughter’s making headlines in the local paper for public LGBTQ advocacy. In the truck afterward, Walke confides that Lore is worried about her granddaughter’s eternal salvation. “I just want to know one thing. Are you going to go to heaven when you die?” she says Lore asked her.

Liberty U.’s president gives another big $$$ gift to an attractive young man, at Reuters.

“The concern is whether the university’s president wanted to do his personal trainer a favor and used Liberty assets to do it,” said Douglas Anderson, a governance specialist and former internal audit chief at Dow Chemical Co, who reviewed both the transaction and Liberty’s explanation of it at Reuters’ request. That would be bad governance, he said. “At a minimum, the terms suggest the buyer got a great deal and Liberty got very little.”

Hellfire in the Amazon: fires split Brazilian evangelicals from other faiths, at RNS.

“Due to their alliance with Bolsonaro, the evangelicals started to oppose the protection of the environment. They assimilated the idea that environmentalism is a disguise for communists and for international leaders who want to take the Amazon from Brazil,” said Renan William dos Santos, a researcher at the University of São Paulo who investigates the relations of Christians with environmentalism.

amazon fire

Evangelicals…support it?

Christian colleges watch SCOTUS nervously about LGBTQ cases, at DN.

“Student housing standards would face new pressure. Affiliated clinics and hospitals could be compelled to provide religiously objectionable medical procedures. A religious university’s tax-exempt status could be challenged or revoked,” the brief explains.

The new Gallup poll on creationism is out. The upshot: Lots more people seem okay with evolution this year.

gallup creationism 2019

The problem with ed reform at EdNext:

Why am I able to anticipate these failures in education reform initiatives, while the people devoting fortunes to these efforts and their staff have such a hard time avoiding strategies that result in failure? I’m not that smart and they aren’t that dumb. I suspect the answer is that foundations have organizational interests and cultures that tend to draw them to a mistaken theory about education policy. In its essence, that theory holds that there are policy interventions that could improve outcomes for large numbers of students if only we could discover them and get policymakers and practitioners to adopt them at scale.

I begin with a different theory. I suspect that there are relatively few educational practices that would produce uniformly positive results. Instead, I’m inclined to think of education as similar to parenting, in which the correct approaches are highly context-specific.

Christian College Apocalypse: October 8, 2019

The leaders of America’s conservative evangelical colleges are freaking out, and I don’t blame them.  An upcoming SCOTUS case threatens to upend the entire premise of evangelical higher ed.

A little background: In October, SCOTUS is slated to hear a trio of cases about LGBTQ rights. At issue is whether or not LGBTQ sexual and gender identity deserve the same legal protections as other factors such as male/female gender, race, and religion. Not surprisingly, conservative evangelical colleges are alarmed.  An anti-discrimination ruling could have a serious impact on the way they house students, hire faculty, and earn accreditation. (To be clear here, I don’t agree with most evangelical colleges on LGBTQ issues. I would love to see LGBTQ protections deepened and extended. I DO agree with evangelical leaders that this SCOTUS decision is a big deal.)

If SCOTUS decides that LGBTQ people are covered under Title VII and Title IX, for example, universities that don’t recognize transgender identities could be forced to do so, or give up their federal student funds. That would hurt, but it wouldn’t necessary be deadly. As I examined in Fundamentalist U, conservative evangelical institutions have withstood similar shocks in the past. Bob Jones University famously gave up its tax-exempt status back in the 1980s over racial segregation. BJU took a big financial hit, but it didn’t wither and die. BJU might even have benefited in the long run.

In this case, however, the core premise and promise of conservative-evangelical higher education might be disrupted. Since their foundings in the 1920s, colleges in the fundamentalist (and later conservative-evangelical) movement have promised students something other colleges couldn’t. Namely, institutions such as Wheaton College and Bob Jones University promised that all of their faculty members would reliably agree to a “pure” evangelical statement of faith.

This promise about “safe” and “pure” teachers has always been at the core of the conservative-evangelical college appeal. Back in the 1920s, for instance, Bob Jones Sr. could promise,

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.

And even in the twenty-first century, as the case of Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton shows, evangelical colleges insist that their faculty members endorse a “safe,” “pure” sort of evangelical faith. At least when anyone is listening.

What does any of this have to do with the SCOTUS LGBTQ case? As evangelical colleges and their allies have accurately protested to SCOTUS in an amicus brief, if they lose their ability to be very selective about their faculty, they lose their entire raison d’etre. As they write in their brief,

A religious university identifies itself and its community by religious teachings that ‘cover the gamut from moral conduct to metaphysical truth.’ Hosanna-Tabor, 565 U.S. at 201 (Alito, J., concurring). Because ‘the content and credibility of a religion’s message depend vitally on the character and conduct of its teachers,’ a religious university’s ‘right to self-governance must include the ability to select, and to be selective about’ its employees. Id. For  many religious universities, ‘the messenger matters,’ id.—as do tenets of faith and standards of conduct, see Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2625 (2015) (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).

In plain English, evangelical colleges complain that they must be able to discriminate when they hire their faculty. If they can no longer promise that their teachers will embody parents’ vision of proper evangelical faith—which for a lot of parents has no room for LGTBQ Christians—they will no longer have any unique appeal for the conservative evangelical public. They will no longer be able to fill the unique role they laid out in the 1920s: An entire college filled only with professors who agree on key matters of evangelical faith.

The worst case scenario is troubling indeed, from the perspective of evangelical higher ed. If they lose their ability to insist on the beliefs of their faculty, they lose everything. If they can no longer force faculty to sign their annual statements of faith, they can no longer promise students and parents a “pure” or “safe” evangelical college experience.