Monday, January 11, 2016

Freedom to think aloud

A Wheaton College professor on an advantage possessed by that institution:
.... Wheaton College is a covenant community. We faculty members all voluntarily allow our beliefs and practices to be held to account by the standards of this community. We annually affirm the college's statement of faith and agree to abide by the manner of life in its covenant. Prayer, worship, study and work all exist side-by-side in the regular rhythms of our lives on campus. In most people's minds, I think this makes us more like the Abbey of Monte Cassino than the University of Illinois.

Indeed, for some of our most thoroughgoing critics it means that we are not at all like the University of Illinois. A statement of faith, they assert, prohibits academic freedom and thus disqualifies us from being a genuine institution of higher education.

It feels differently from the inside. The vast majority of the professors Wheaton hires come either straight from a Ph.D. program at a major, secular school or from teaching at a secular university. Again and again they revel in the luxurious, new-found academic freedom that Wheaton has granted them: For the first time in their careers they can think aloud in the classroom about the meaning of life and the nature of the human condition without worrying about being accused of violating the separation of church and state or transgressing the taboo against allowing spiritual reflections to wander into a conversation about death or ethics or hope.

Just like no Catholic wants everyone to join a monastery, so I would not want every institution of higher education to be like Wheaton. Still, I have no doubt that the intellectual life of the entire nation is stronger because places like Wheaton exist than it would be if all higher education had its academic freedom curtailed by prohibiting theological lines of inquiry. .... [more]