What about our "integral agencies"!
- An interesting article sent to another list. There, the question was
> I wonder how much applies to our
> schools. Comments?
Cracks in the Tower
A closer look at the Christian college boom.
by Allen Guelzo
The same imperative that pushes Christian colleges in pursuit of
managerial leadership also pushes them in pursuit of prestige faculty,
who, presumably, can act as enrollment magnets (and, incidentally, as
hiring trophies for administrators).
We want, naturally, the best faculty talent we can get, and we want to
get it from the best schools. But the "best" schools frequently turn out
to be also the most secularized ones, which means that we are likely to
find ourselves recruiting people who are already deeply enculturated in
the value systems of élite universities, and who cannot be easily
persuaded to abandon them for the missions of Christian colleges. Or
else, we recruit faculty whose professional expectations have been
shaped by the research university, and who experience disgruntlement and
communicate disaffection when they discover the teaching loads and
salaries on offer in the cash-strapped Christian colleges.
Even when we are able to recruit new Ph.D.s who can pass doctrinal
muster, the passing grade is often not a high one. Lacking much
theological training beyond Sunday school, faculty are often unwilling
or unable to fully embrace and explain the mission of a particular
Pascal once remarked that "pious scholars" were rare, and this would not
be a bad thing for search committees to commit to memory. In some cases,
I have seen Christian college faculty positively pride themselves on
being only "amateur" or "lay" theologians, on the grounds that they are
much too committed to their disciplines or their students to acquire
deep theological learning. (I have found this to be especially true in
those evangelical traditions, like the Anabaptists, which have long
histories of anti-intellectualism.)
Unhappily, theological amateurism often becomes a vacuum into which
secularism fears not to tread.
In 1996, a Bethel College student, Andrea Sisam, went to the
extraordinary length of suing Bethel for forcing her to view in class
selections from the film The Tin Drum, which included scenes of
simulated oral sex; and I remember being recruited for a senior
administrative post at another Christian college, and being asked how I
would respond to parents who were upset when a faculty member in the
arts assigned Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs to his students.
All of this is certainly first-rate academics; whether it is still
Christian is a good question, and one which I expect was once asked at
Oberlin, Grinnell, and Amherst, too, before the tide washed the
Can Christian institutions choke on their own success? Quite possibly,
and especially on the success we have most prided ourselves upon, which
is student enrollments.
We concentrate on the increased enrollments without also asking what it
is we are increasing our enrollments of. And that may be a much more
troublesome proposition than the numbers themselves.
As Arthur Levine and Jeanette Cureton noted in 1998, "students are
coming to college overwhelmed and more damaged than in the past." More
than half of the campuses Levine and Cureton surveyed reported
difficulties with student eating disorders; 44 percent reported campus
disruptions, 42 percent drug abuse, 35 percent alcohol abuse, 25 percent
gambling, and 23 percent suicide attempts. Nearly one-third of all
freshmen grew up in single-parent households; and they are driven to
college, not by a passion for learning, much less truth, but by terror
that without a college degree they have nothing to look forward to but
lives on minimum wage.
There have always been problem students; but the numbers who bring
problems with them to college have grown, as have the intractability of
the problems (histories of sexual abuse as children, single-parent and
dysfunctional homes, chronic psychological traumas and illnesses). The
less selective a college can afford to be, the more likely it will see
mounting numbers of the damaged among its student population.