I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another week, another whirlwind. Here’s the latest batch of ILYBYGTH-themed stories. Thanks to all who sent in stories and tips.

Conservatives welcome at Brown University, sort of. At IHE.

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Who’s got the biggest…?

Is Liberty University still America’s largest Christian university? At RNS.

Is media coverage of school choice biased? Nope. Well, sorta, according to Rick Hess at RCE.

“Marxist Thugs” by the bay: Milo Yiannopoulos criticizes a free-speech report from Berkeley, at Politico.

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Thugs not welcome.

Teacher strike updates:

Blue campus, red state: CHE looks at campus politics in one Nebraska battle.

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What Junior wants, Junior gets…

“Explosive” accusations against family leaders of Ohio Christian University, at IHE.

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All in the Family

More ugly accusations from the world of evangelical higher education. They raise a perennial question: Why do fundamentalist college leaders create dysfunctional family dynasties?

junior-on-curtain-calls

What Junior wants, Junior gets…

The news from Ohio Christian University is grim. According to Inside Higher Education, the president’s son is alleged to have compiled a long record of shocking behavior, including the following:

  • Told a co-worker that “I hate black people” and that “all black people act like they are entitled to everything.”

  • Told a co-worker he hated Mexican people and viewed them as freeloaders.

  • Told a co-worker he hated gay people.

  • Made jokes about Jewish people, including pretending to speak Hebrew in a mocking tone. Further, he is said to have told a co-worker who dropped a ladder to “stop being such a Jew.”

  • Told a co-worker that another co-worker had been hired for being sexually promiscuous. Then he is alleged to have tried to put his finger in the mouth of another female co-worker. When she stopped him from doing so, he reportedly said, “That was a slut test. If they close their mouth, they are a slut.”

  • Attempted several times to take photographs of a female co-worker’s behind, and after obtaining such a photo, posted it to social media with the caption, “This is why we hire women.” (The lawsuit says that some time later Doug Smith deleted his social media accounts.)

We don’t know if these charges are true. But we do know that conservative evangelical college leaders have a long history of building family dynasties that seem unhealthy for their schools. These days, the most obvious example is Liberty University, now under second-generation Jerry Falwell. In the twentieth century, the most blatant example was Bob Jones U.

As I describe in my book, the Bob Jones dynasty grew out of a fundamental structural dilemma in evangelical higher education. In interdenominational fundamentalist institutions, the structure of authority was very unclear. By the 1930s, institutions such as Wheaton College and Bob Jones College struggled to figure out how to handle basic disagreements about the nature of fundamentalism and the goals of their colleges.

At Wheaton, an awkward house of cards was built to figure out such problems. The leadership weighed opinions from powerful fundamentalist celebrities, conservative trustees, faculty members, students, alumni, and loud-mouthed fundamentalist bystanders. The process took a long time and created a lot of bad feelings, but it had the benefit of spreading authority over a fairly broad group of people.

At Bob Jones College, on the other hand, founder Bob Jones Sr. took all authority into his own hands. Dissenters were dismissed as “gripers” and Bob Jones elevated his own opinions into something approaching dogma.

As Bob Jones Jr. grew up, the family elevated his peculiarities into institutional mandates. Most obviously, Junior’s love of thespianism and classy art became part of the Bob Jones brand. Other fundamentalist leaders at the time pointed out the obvious problems. In 1949, J. Oliver Buswell, who had moved to New York after being booted from Wheaton, publicly called Bob Jones Sr. to account for the college’s embrace of drama. No other fundamentalist college allowed students to put on plays, but at Bob Jones it was mandatory. And, as Buswell put it,

Your own educational program is reeking with theatricals and grand opera, which lead young people, as I know, and as you ought to know, into a worldly life of sin.

As Junior aged and took over a bigger leadership role at Bob Jones University, the dynastic clash created more and more problems. Some of them came to light in the biggest shake-up in BJU history. When long-time administrator Ted Mercer was suddenly fired with prejudice in 1953, he publicly accused the Bob Joneses of creating a hugely dysfunctional family vibe that threatened the very existence of the school.

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No tittering.

As Mercer told his tale, the tension between the father and the son led to terrible effects. When Junior told a group of administrators that Junior was in charge, the group “tittered,” and Junior reacted furiously. All in all, Mercer reported, the high tension created by the father/son dynamic promised to destroy the school.

So why do conservative-evangelical college leaders do such things? Why do they create institutions that elevate their children to heights of authority and leadership when the second-generation leaders aren’t ready for it? The future of the legal case at Ohio Christian is unclear, but the pattern of dysfunctional family dynasties isn’t.

Creation Colleges

Where did you go to school?  Did you learn about evolution?  WHAT did you learn about it?

Non-creationists like me are often dumbfounded by the notion that so many educated Americans believe in a young human species.  But a quick look at the large number of young-earth-creationist colleges shows us how easy it is to earn a college degree without leaving the intellectual boundaries of young-earth creationism.

As recent Gallup polls consistently demonstrate, almost half of American adults agree that humanity was formed in “pretty much its present form” within the past 10,000 years or so.  And of those young-earth creationist adults, the same proportion went to college as non-creationist adults.  That is, believers in a newish human species are just as likely to have a college degree as believers in a long history for the species.

As always, it’s vitally important for outsiders like me to recognize the many different sorts of creationist belief.  Young-earth creationism, the notion that the earth has only been in existence for about as long as is described in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, is only one version.  Intelligent design theorists, like those of the Discovery Institute, or evolutionary creationists, like those of Biologos, also oppose mainstream evolutionary science, but without insisting on a young earth.

And, to be fair, this Gallup question only asks about the age of the human species, not the age of the earth.

Nevertheless, the notion that such large percentages of educated Americans agree that humanity is so new, and so un-evolved, always makes me wonder what kind of education Americans are receiving.

The leading young-earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis provides a handy guide.  To be fair, the map of creationist colleges provided by AiG makes no claims to be an exhaustive guide to all creationist institutions of higher education.  Rather, this map only includes those schools whose presidents have signed AiG’s statement of faith.

A quick glance at the map shows how easy it will be for most college-bound young people to find a college that affirms young-earth beliefs.  Even in my neighborhood of sunny Binghamton, NY, two schools made the AiG map, Davis College and Baptist Bible College.

The sponsoring schools include such fundamentalist heavy-weights as Bob Jones UniversityLiberty University, and Pensacola Christian Colleges.  Other sponsors include smaller schools such as Jackson Hole Bible College and Ohio Christian University.

For those of us trying to understand creationism from the outside, this thriving culture of creationist higher education provides a crucial clue.  We can’t know what all the students, or even all the professors at these schools believe, but the schools themselves devote themselves to promulgating the notion of a young human earth and divine creation by fiat, as described in Genesis.