Sadness Regarding Academia

3 Comments

English: Old Well at the University of North C...

English: Old Well at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been out of town in Tennessee, my home state, and am back in North Carolina–only to discover that my library books checked out from UNC Libraries could not be renewed because of fines. I drove to Chapel Hill, paid the fines, returned some books, and renewed and checked out more. As I walked the sparsely populated summer school campus, I felt a twinge of sadness at the current state of the academy. Academia is my job and my vocation. I enjoy working in an academic setting, teaching, reading, writing, wandering through libraries, walking around lovely campuses. At its best, the academy teaches the great traditions of Western Civilization as well as introducing students to other civilizations after they better understand out own. Great philosophy, literature, and art are introduced to students. They can also learn science, mathematics, and various technical skills. Ideally, a college or university campus should be a Mecca of learning, free-spirited discussion, and developing the wisdom to use learned knowledge in a prudent way.

Ideals are never actuality, especially in a fallen world. I remember the summer after my senior year in high school, naively thinking that college would be an intellectual community with students like those who used to appear on the GE College Bowl. Alas, that was not the case for the most part. There were serious students, but most were wanting a degree and that was it. They were not interested in learning about the high points of civilized life. It is no surprise to me, looking back to those days in the early 1980s, that the children of those students now have similar attitudes–or worse. Yet there are students who, in spite of themselves, learn something, and that is a joy to any teacher.

The saddest aspect of the current academy is its radicalization by left wing, Neo-Marxist ideas. Along with such comes speech codes, an anti-Christian bias, and a refusal to entertain alternative points of view.. What used to be a venue for knowledge has become, in most places, a soapbox for left wing propaganda. The days when the Agrarians could survive in the academy are long gone. Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe Ransom would probably pass muster–perhaps even Allen Tate. I doubt that Andrew Lytle or Donald Davidson would be hired. I do not think any of them would be hired today at Vanderbilt University where they once wielded such influence. I could name other academic conservatives from the past who would have difficulty in today’s academy, but that would be superfluous–and it is a pathetic fact that such would be superfluous. For once I would like to see a college or university that believes in teaching the classic works of Western Civilization. St. Thomas Aquinas College in California does, but it is by far a rare exception to the rule.

I hope in the future that there will be good alternatives to the academy–private tutorials in Greek and/or Latin classics or in great works in philosophy, for example. That is most likely a pipe dream. I hope that one day academics wake up that their current course often does more harm that good, creating clones instead of wise thinkers.

Political Correctness and the Stifling of Debate over World Views

10 Comments

No political correctness

One of the negative results of the tenured leftist radicals’ influence in academia has been political correctness–the aggressive advocacy of leftist ideology and the personal demeaning of those who disagree. Sometimes faculty members and students find that being demeaned by leftist professors and administrators is the least of their problem. I personally know two professors who were fired for attacking politically correct ideology. Both found other positions, one won a lawsuit against the school that fired him, but both are more hesitant to speak up against leftist positions, which is precisely what the radicals in academia want. At Vanderbilt University, Christian student groups are banned that do not allow those who disagree with the theological and moral teachings of traditional Christianity. This communicates the idea that traditional Christian views are not welcome in the public square of academia. When traditionalists are attacked, no rational arguments are given; rather, there are a plethora of personal attacks on those who oppose the leftist agenda, often vicious and using foul language. Such attacks are intentional and are an attempt to intimidate.

The most divisive moral issues in American society–the morality of procured abortion, active euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, the ethics of sexuality, including homosexuality, etc., are closely tied to specific world views. For example, the battle over the moral rightness of homosexuality is, to a significant extent, a battle between those who accept the malleability of human nature vs. those who believe in a stable human nature. This is not the only world view issue in this debate, but it is important, and a debate over different views on human nature and world views should be an important part of learning in academia. Instead, a new orthodoxy, more rigid than the most rabid of Christian fundamentalists, has invaded academia with speech codes, attacks on traditional Christians, dismissed students, fired faculty, and a shutting down of freedom of speech and free debate. Academia, the institution that should be at the heart of free debate that is essential for an educated human being, has become the New Inquisition, excommunicating all who disagree with a radical leftist agenda. Some schools have become more open since political correctness was identified, but traditionalists generally have a harder time in academia–that is bearable as long as open discussion of world view issues, including moral issues, is allowed to continue. Smaller schools that have not faced political correctness in the past, perhaps with some faculty and administrators falsely believing that they are being the wave of the future, may push for shutting down world view debates “to be like the bigger schools.” As radical faculty are hired who are loud, pushy, and intimidating, most faculty and administrators will give in to shut them up even if such cowardliness corrupts education. I have known liberal Democratic faculty who strongly oppose political correctness–hopefully the true liberals can join with conservatives in opening the university up to an open, frank discussion of world views. The faculty will learn more–and so will the students.

What is Vanderbilt University’s Problem with Traditional Christianity?

3 Comments

Vanderbilt Commons.

Image via Wikipedia

Vanderbilt University has recently been “investigating” Christian groups on campus after an openly homosexual member of a Christian organization was expelled, not for being homosexual, but for openly stating that practicing homosexuality is morally acceptable. That belief violated the organization’s constitution. Such an attitude by Vanderbilt’s administration reflects a bias in academia as a whole, with the exception of those Christian schools who still remain traditional (and which are becoming fewer in number) against traditional Christianity. Many people in academia hate (and that word is not too strong) the moral views of traditional Christians: their opposition to abortion, to practicing homosexuality, to premarital sex, to a hedonistic lifestyle. The academics claim to be open minded and tolerant, but their open mindedness and tolerance ends at the door of traditional morality and religion.

I attended Vanderbilt from 1986-87 as a student in the Graduate Department of Religion. Conservative Christian students lived in fear of saying something that offended theologically¬† and morally liberal faculty members. I found the atmosphere far more stifling and intolerant than the very traditional Churches of Christ religion in which I was reared. If I talked to a traditional student about the bodily resurrection of Christ or about traditional sexual morality, the student would often look around, put his finger to his mouth, and say “Shhh…. you want to remain a student here, don’t you?” Even Professor James Barr, certainly no Fundamentalist or Evangelical, said in his parting article in The Spire, Vanderbilt Divinity School‘s newsletter, that there was closed-mindedness from the theological left at Vanderbilt. Although the philosophy department was a bit more open-minded, it was still hostile to traditional Christian moral positions on sexual ethics. It is no surprise, then, that the Vanderbilt administration shares such hostility and is willing to enforce it by discrimination against Christian groups’ rights to determine which members meet their standards.

If a student wanted to join a chess club but openly argued that a knight should move like a bishop and vice-versa, and then tried to use that rule in the games he played, any self-respecting chess club would expel that member for violating the standards of chess. In religion, however, both secular agnostic and atheistic university administrators as well as liberal administrators of all faiths, refuse to allow traditional Christian groups the same privilege. Would the administration be consistent and investigate Muslim or Orthodox Jewish groups who also accept traditional moral values? Or is it only traditional Christianity that is the target of administrative ire?

Concerned alumni who disagree with these administrative moves at Vanderbilt (and at other colleges and universities) need to speak up–and if the administration ignores them, to talk with their closed wallets. Legal measures are also an option, as well as communicating what is happening to other traditionalist of all religious stripes as well as to sympathetic secular people who recognize the academic totalitarianism in the attack on Christian organizations. A strong, concerted, and consistent response is essential to keep administrators in line with their supposed commitment to freedom of speech and religion.