Dec 26 2013

Some mid-year thoughts on college graduation

Category: college,education,higher educationamuzikman @ 2:33 pm

For those of you who have recently run the gauntlet and graduated from college, first of all my most sincere congratulations. it is a milestone in your young lives and something for which you can look back upon and always feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. It is no small thing to invest so much time and (in some cases) so much money to achieve a goal. And like the many who have gone before you, you discovered that the closer you came to the finish line the more obstacles were thrown in your way. But you did it. you navigated the maze of requirements, you jumped through all the hoops, you endured the red tape, you completed the journey successfully.

Anyone who has completed a college degree program knows the feeling of frustration and annoyance at the seemingly endless last-minute minutiae that crops up and seems to want to cling to you and pull you down like swimming through seaweed.  It seems as if only half the battle was completing the course work and the other half was going 12 rounds with the academic bureaucracy in a bare-knuckled fight.  But that also lends to the feeling of victory and relief when you do finally have your diploma in hand.  You fought the man and won!

But there is a percentage of grads who seem to be annoyance-driven.  Every road block, every late fee, every form to fill out, are all a personal affront to them and they cannot wait to wreak social media revenge by airing each and every complaint as loudly as possible to as many on the web as possible.  Our virtual culture certainly provides for ample opportunity for that very thing.  But those words do carry a certain amount of weight and do affect the reputation/perception of the institution and those who work there.

I’d like you to consider something from another perspective.  There are a few of us, known as faculty and staff, who have walked that journey with you.  We have invested in you and we have gone the extra mile for you, sometimes in ways you cannot know and without your knowledge.  We do it because it is our job.  But more that that we do it because we want you to succeed.  We want you to like amazing, wonderful, happy and fruitful lives.  We do it because we care about you, plain and simple.

So in the midst of your electronic “taggings” of annoyance, pause a moment, perhaps take a moment and consider this.  it is likely your entire tenure at the college of choice was not 4 (or more) years of endless irritation and frustration.  (If it was, then one must call into question your judgment and why it is that you stayed and spent all that money…)  I’ll bet anyone reading this can remember a kindness shown to them, some individual attention given to them, some wise counsel, a word of encouragement, a pat on the back in the hallway or a listening ear over a cup of hot coffee.  For those who extended such kindnesses it is somewhat painful to read your frequent posts, made up almost exclusively of contempt and disregard, as you walk out the door.  It isn’t that we want your posts to instantly become filled with thanks and appreciation, trumpeted all over social media, frankly most of us would be roundly embarrassed by such a thing.  But we do want you to remember the good with the bad, and to hold onto a little appreciation of what you have been given by those who have only your best interest a heart.  Remember that long after your frustrations have become distant memories, we’ll still be there, and it is encouraging to us to know that we do not labor in vain.

 


Feb 28 2012

What Kids Now Learn in College

Category: higher educationharmonicminer @ 11:30 pm

Dennis Prager at NRO online tells us:

As high school seniors throughout America will be receiving acceptance letters to colleges within the next month, it would be nice for parents to meditate on what they are getting for the $20–$50,000 they will pay each year.

The United States is no better than any other country, and in many areas worse than many. On the world stage, America is an imperialist country, and domestically it mistreats its minorities and neglects its poor, while discriminating against non-whites.

There is no better and no worse in literature and the arts. The reason universities in the past taught Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Bach rather than, let us say, Guatemalan poets, Sri Lankan musicians, and Native American storytellers was “Eurocentrism.”

God is at best a non-issue, and at worst, a foolish and dangerous belief.

Christianity is largely a history of inquisitions, crusades, oppression, and anti-intellectualism. Islam, on the other hand, is “a religion of peace.” Therefore, criticism of Christianity is enlightened, while criticism of Islam is Islamophobia.

Israel is a racist state, morally no different from apartheid South Africa.

Big government is the only humane way to govern a country.

The South votes Republican because it is still racist and the Republican party caters to racists.

Mothers and fathers are interchangeable. Claims that married mothers and fathers are the parental ideal and bring unique things to a child are heterosexist and homophobic.

Whites can be racist; non-whites cannot be (because whites have power and the powerless cannot be racist).

The great world and societal battles are not between good and evil, but between rich and poor and the powerful and the powerless.

Patriotism is usually a euphemism for chauvinism.

War is ignoble. Pacifism is noble.

Human beings are animals. They differ from “other animals” primarily in having better brains.

We live in a patriarchal society, which is injurious to women.

Women are victims of men.

Blacks are victims of whites.

Latinos are victims of Anglos.

Muslims are victims of non-Muslims

Gays are victims of straights.

Big corporations are bad. Big unions are good.

There is no objective meaning to a text. Every text only means what the reader perceives it to mean.

The American Founders were sexist, racist slaveholders whose primary concern was preserving their wealthy status.

The Constitution says what progressives think it should say.

The American dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima was an act of racism and a war crime.

The wealthy have stacked the capitalist system to maintain their power and economic benefits.

The wealthy Western nations became wealthy by exploiting Third World nations through colonialism and imperialism.

Defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman is as immoral as defining marriage as the union of a white and a white.

Some conclusions:

If this list is accurate — and that may be confirmed by visiting a college bookstore and seeing what books are assigned by any given instructor — most American parents and/or their child are going into debt in order to support an institution that for four years, during the most impressionable years of a person’s life, instills values that are the opposite of those of their parents.

And that is intentional.

As Woodrow Wilson, progressive president of Princeton University before becoming president of the United States, said in a speech in 1914, “I have often said that the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.”

In 1996, in his commencement address to the graduating seniors of Dartmouth College, the then president of the college, James O. Freedman, cited the Wilson quote favorably. And in 2002, in another commencement address, Freedman said that “the purpose of a college education is to question your father’s values.”

For Wilson, Freedman, and countless other university presidents, the purpose of a college education is to question (actually, reject) one’s father’s values, not to seek truth. Fathers represented traditional American values. The university is there to undermine them.

Still want to get into years of debt?

I wish the situation was different at most Christian universities.  But it is not clear to me that it is.  Sure, they’ll teach some form of theism and maybe even semi-orthodox Christianity.  But 90% of the list above is common fodder at the modern, upwardly mobile Christian university looking for a higher rating in US News and World Report.  Not uniformly, of course.  Most Christian universities, even the ones trending to the left, have some proportion of “conservative” faculty who attempt to supply the education the students’ parents think they’re buying (“conservative” faculty being those who aren’t committed progressive liberals in full-on proselytization mode).  But students are likely to hear most of the points above being supported by this professor or that during their college years, and in some majors and courses, those staffed by mostly left-leaning faculty, they’ll get a nearly exclusive diet of most of the above.  It may be more subtly communicated than at a secular school…. and then again, it may not.

Will parents catch on, at some point, that they need to be wiser shoppers in how they spend college tuition dollars?  Much has already been written about the “higher education bubble,” and if parents paying the bills begin to figure out that their kids are being taught to despise their parents’ values, it may hasten the bubble’s bursting.  These days, it would be a great idea for parents who don’t want their children being indoctrinated by the left to ask some really hard questions of the university they are considering, even if it’s a Christian university.

If you’re a parent, you should also become a wise reviewer of university websites.  Search for keywords that represent the values of the left, and keywords that represent more traditional values.  Read carefully what you see, and count the number of mentions of particular issues that seem indicative of the overall values that you think are important, and the ones that you may disagree with.  Take a look at the issues that seem important to the campus.  Notice which alumni are lionized, and for what.  Notice what isn’t mentioned on the website.

Are there things YOU think are important?  See if the university is bragging about any alumni who do that thing, or represent that value that you hold.  Make no mistake:  education hasn’t been a neutral enterprise in acquiring information and thinking skills for a long, long time.  Your student is going to be taught values, not just information.

DON’T just read the headlines and the links the university website provides for you.  They are carefully crafted to appeal to the widest possible audience, and to be as unthreatening as possible to all kinds of readers.    You’ll have to search for the information you really need, and be discerning in reading what you find.

Pray for God’s guidance.  It’s a big decision to spend that much money.   You want to be sure you’re getting what you think you’re buying.

 


Dec 16 2011

Christian universities not Christian enough to be allowed full freedom of religion by the US government?

It seems that the National Labor Relations Board is now in the business of judging whether Christian colleges and universities are sufficiently serious about their Christian commitment to warrant the full protections of religious liberty from the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.  The matter in question is whether the NLRB can force Christian institutions of higher learning to accept unionization similar to that which afflicts state and secular private schools, and enforce other “non-discrimination” aspects of federal labor law (e.g, can Christian institutions be forced to hire or retain employees who are clearly living at variance with Christian moral expectations?).

According to Patrick J. Reilly, in Are Catholic Colleges Catholic Enough? – WSJ.com, the case hinges

on the Supreme Court’s ruling in NLRB v. The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, et al. (1979), which found that the NLRB had violated the First Amendment’s free exercise clause by requiring Catholic schools to comply with federal labor laws, thereby possibly interfering with religious decision-making. But that ruling didn’t stop the NLRB from claiming authority over most Catholic colleges and universities by arguing that Catholic Bishop protects only “church-controlled” institutions that are “substantially religious,” a phrase taken from Chief Justice Warren Burger’s majority opinion in the case. Many of the nation’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities are legally independent of the Catholic bishops or the religious orders that founded them.

So the NLRB has put itself in the position of judging schools’ religious character, and it has concluded over the years that many Catholic institutions are inconsistent in their application of Catholic principles to teaching, course requirements, campus life and faculty hiring. It’s a serious overreach by the government, though many Catholics would agree that colleges and universities often demonstrate inconsistent religious observation.

Of course, it isn’t only Catholic colleges and universities that “often demonstrate inconsistent religious observation.”  Many protestant and evangelical institutions are fighting similar battles….  or maybe not fighting them enough.

The erosion of religious identity in Catholic higher education over the past 50 years has been marked by theological dissent, hostility toward the bishops, and increasingly liberal campus-life arrangements such as co-ed dorms and lax visitation rules. These issues fueled the 2009 confrontation at Notre Dame, for example, when pro-life Catholics objected to the school honoring President Barack Obama.

The temptation to please the world is always there in Christian higher education.   Many initiatives undertaken by ostensibly Christian universities seem to be very similar to those that get excited attention at secular schools, but there are things that Christian higher ed talks about less and less (abortion-on-demand, for example) while it holds countless workshops on hot topics like human sex trafficking (as if there was something controversial about it, as if there was someone, somewhere, who thought it was a good thing).

Catholic educators are now awaiting the result of Manhattan College’s appeal to the NLRB regulators in Washington. Their appeal relies heavily on an argument put forward in 1986 by future Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Writing for half the members of an evenly divided D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Breyer argued that the NLRB had contravened the Catholic Bishop ruling by establishing a “substantial religious character” test to determine whether a college meets sectarian standards.

The D.C. Circuit has formally embraced Justice Breyer’s reasoning twice over the past decade, instructing the NLRB to stop interfering with any college or university that “holds itself out to students, faculty and community as providing a religious educational environment.” In ruling against St. Xavier University and Manhattan College, NLRB regional staff seem to have ignored that instruction.

Protestant and evangelical Christian colleges and universities, take note: the candidate of hope and change you helped elect, possibly as part of your diversity initiatives, has his sights set on making you follow the same federal employment rules as any other school.  You may be forced to hire people who do not “model the Christian life” for students…  unless, of course, your notion of the Christian life has recently undergone radical revision.


Sep 06 2011

An Open Letter to a College Freshman (but it really works for any university or college student, at any kind of school)

Category: church,higher education,religion,societyharmonicminer @ 10:56 am

In Timothy Dalrymple’s An Open Letter to a College Freshman, he gives advice that is good for Christian students entering secular colleges and universities. Surprisingly, however, much of this advice is likely to apply to incoming students at Christian colleges and universities, too, where it isn’t always so clear who is and who is not teaching from a Christian world-view, nor who really believes and practices the faith that presumably underlies the institution’s mission.

 

At last your time has come.  Leaving behind the old world and the deep ruts you carved in the corner of that world that belonged to you, you’re off to explore undiscovered countries, to join a new and ever-replenishing society of fascinating people and learned scholars and impassioned artists and driven achievers, off to a place where the world is new and so are you.  Whether or not your college years will be “the best years of your life,” they will almost certainly be among the most transformative.

The question is whether that transformation will be for the better.  Unmoored from the people and places that once defined you, you’ll feel a fluidity in your identity that’s both thrilling and frightening.  You may feel as though you can be anyone and become anything.  I pray that you will become who you are — the individual you most truly and deeply are, the one God dreamt of when he made you — and not the person that you or your parents or your friends think you should be.  In service to that end, I thought I would offer seven pieces of advice.  Though it feels churlish to say so, I offer this advice on the basis of some personal experience — more than many and less than some, with four undergraduate years at Stanford, three at Princeton Seminary and seven at Harvard for my Ph.D.  I did a fair amount of teaching, came to know many professors well, and spent time too at universities overseas.  So, on the basis of those experiences, here are my thoughts:

1.  Seek wisdom, not merely intelligence. My father shared this advice with me before my departure for Stanford, and he was precisely right.  On a university campus, intelligence is common.  Wisdom is rare.  Intelligence is cheap, because it’s inherited freely; wisdom is of inestimable value because it’s gained through suffering and sacrifice and years of hard study and experience.  Every night at Stanford I watched the most intelligent people doing the most foolish of deeds, chasing after the most worthless of goals, and believing the most baseless of things.  Their intelligence did nothing to make them more loving or joyful or genuine.  In fact, in many cases it led them astray, as they came to worship their own intellectual powers along with the admiration and accolades and material consolations they could win.  They became immune to criticism, self-indulgent, and chasers of intellectual fashions.  When you love the reputation of intelligence, then you will do and believe those things that will sustain that reputation.  Intelligence does not make you more likely to do what is right or believe what is true.  This is why it’s important to…

2.  Seek mentors, not merely teachers. Intelligent people are dazzling and engaging — and a dime a dozen.  The fascination wears off.  Colleges and universities are replete with intelligent fools, because academia worships the intelligent.  You should know better.  Seek out people of wisdom.  The wise are harder to find because they are fewer and they do not advertise their wisdom (they may not recognize it as such).  Intelligence, like physical strength, is a morally neutral capacity that can be bent in any direction, and it’s most often bent in the direction of personal advancement.  Wisdom’s native movement is toward the true, the good and the beautiful.  So darken the doors of many professors, and return most often to those professors — whether or not they’re the most renowned or powerful — who have true wisdom to impart.  But bear in mind that those who teach you the most, your true mentors, may not be professors at all.  They may be staff, coaches, campus ministers, and especially your friends.  Invest in these relationships.  These are the people who will guide you through the many — and there will be many — difficult and consequential decisions you’ll face in these years.  For pragmatic, social and spiritual reasons, invest deeply in a handful of relationships that you will intentionally pursue for the rest of your life.  It’s better to come away from college with five true friends and mentors than with fifty playmates you’ll barely recognize at the tenth reunion.  In this way you will…

3.  Seek the truth, not merely prevailing opinion. All too often, universities, especially elite research institutions, reward intelligence more than wisdom and the fashionable argument over the solid one.  The reasons are simple — and important to understand.  Publication is the route to academic prestige.  Hiring and tenure decisions at research universities are overwhelmingly influenced by publications.  Yet publishers are not looking for what’s true; they’re looking for what sells.  If you want to publish in the most respected journals and presses, if you want to become a shining academic celebrity, then the question is not whether your contention is true — the truth is old, boring and probably oppressive — but whether your contention is new, provocative, and flattering to the vanities and affirming of the politics of the academic establishment.  The problem is, most true things have already been explained and defended well; but in order to make your name as a scholar, you have to publish and push the envelope, which means you have to explain and defend new theses.  So there’s an intrinsic bias within the academic system toward the novel and the sensational, toward that which challenges tradition.  While young scholars do have to marshal the evidence and argumentation, the truth is that the arguments that tear down the outmoded and ‘oppressive’ — the arguments that lead to the politically correct conclusions — are held to a far lesser standard.  Older, more established scholars scarcely have to advance an argument at all; they coast on the reputations they established in their youth and they’re rarely challenged as long as they fight on the side of the preferred causes.

Appreciate your professors and learn what you can from them, but do not venerate them and do not view them as the tribunes of the truth.  Sadly, the better I came to know my professors, the less their opinions swayed me.  For some I still have the utmost respect.  Yet it became clear that some were constructing elaborate defenses for the things they had long ago determined to believe and do.  More than a few had left their faith in their youth, and had devoted their scholarly careers to justifying that decision.  Many were world-renowned for their intelligence and learning; many were wonderful human beings; some were wise.  Yet academics, no less than other human beings, are swayed by their desires, their fears, their biases, and especially the latest trends sweeping through the halls of academe.  The best professors are no smarter than the best doctors, the best lawyers, the best business executives, and so on.  Many have led sheltered lives with limited forms of social interaction, and they can be, at times, astonishingly insecure and socially under-developed.  So as any true academic should tell you: listen to your professors’ views, take them seriously, but never take their word for gospel.  They, like the rest of us, are limited, biased, sometimes immature, often selfish, fallible creatures.

4.  Seek answers, not merely questions. You may hear the opposite in the freshman orientation process.  ”It’s not the answers but the questions that matter,” they might say, “not the verities but the inquiries, not the destination but the journey.”  Yes and no.  The faculty certainly want you to question the views with which you were raised, especially when they do not agree with those views.  When I was teaching, it was commonly said amongst my colleagues that the purpose of our instruction is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.  Our aim, in other words, is to cause young people to see how dubious and arbitrary are the moral, political and religious beliefs with which they were raised, and how sensible and compelling the beliefs of others could be.  Of course, this was not applied evenly.  If you were a liberal pluralist, then you had no oppressive, exclusivist, intolerant and irrational beliefs from which you had to be disabused.  And if you were a conservative Muslim, then the religious studies faculty would stumble all over themselves to defend your perspective.  If you are a conservative (white) Christian, however, then your parents are a part of the problem, and, for your sake and the sake of the world around you, you have to be liberated from the bonds of prejudice and ignorance.  Thus we had professors who promised the students at the outset of a year-long course that any Christians in the lecture hall would lose their faith by the end of the year, or who scoffed that “God is dead beneath my feet,” or who verbally high-fived their fellow faculty when they provoked evangelicals into crises of faith.  This is important to remember: if you are a conservative Christian of one stripe or another, many professors will view your loss of faith as a good thing for you, and an accomplishment for them.

And there is value, to be sure, in critically examining the beliefs with which you were raised.  Your faith may never truly be your own otherwise.  However, you should resist the advice simply to “rest with the questions” and “grow comfortable with ambiguity.”  Grow comfortable with complexity, yes, and with a proper humility over the things we can know and the things we cannot.  But compelling, reasonable answers are out there.  When I began what became a decade-long study of atheism, my faith was cast into question.  I believed that I had been initiated into mysteries that other Christians had not, that I had come across criticisms of the Christian faith that few if any Christians had heard or addressed.  After all, no one at my home church had read Hume or Voltaire, Nietzsche or Russell.  Yet this, of course, was rubbish.  The more I investigated the matter, the more I discovered that, of course, countless thousands of exceptionally intelligent Christians have read Feuerbach and Freud and Russell and Rorty — and not only read them, but developed very satisfying responses to their critiques of Christianity.  The problem arises when you pit a university course criticizing Christian beliefs against an immature, unlearned, Sunday School faith.  Just as you educate yourself (if and when you do) on the criticisms of your beliefs, you should educate yourself on how your faith community has responded to those criticisms.  Men and women of profound Christian faith and extraordinary intelligence and wisdom have been responding to criticisms of Christian belief for as long as the Christian church has been in existence.  Today there is no field — from biology and physics to philosophy and biblical studies — where there are not committed believers who stand amongst the most accomplished in their fields and stand ready to explain how they see their faith in light of their expertise.

This deserves stress for students at Christian universities, as well, who are often being taught be faculty whose own experiences at secular institutions have damaged their faith.  There ARE excellent answers to the most penetrating criticisms of Christian faith, and it’s unfortunate that many Christian university faculty members do not know them.  So if you, as student at a Christian college or university, have the impression that some faculty are trying harder to move you out of your Sunday School ways of thinking than they are trying to point you to deep Christian thinkers who don’t need to take an intellectual backseat to anybody, you should do your own research into the subject.  Don’t assume that your professor (who may well have been taught a post-modern perspective on truth in a grad program somewhere) is the fount of all wisdom, just because his vocabulary may be larger than yours, or because he can quote obscure (to you) authors who challenge orthodox Christianity.  Be assured: there are plenty of brilliant people, widely and deeply read, careful and honest thinkers, who have answers to the toughest questions anyone can throw at them about the faith.  Seek those writers out.

5.  Seek betterment, not merely achievement. On the one hand, it’s never quite true that you can “reinvent yourself”; you do, after all, bring yourself with you wherever you go, along with your habits and predispositions, your wounds and weaknesses.  But the transition to college offers extraordinary opportunities to improve your character and enrich your personality.  Commit, for your first year, to try something new every week.  Go to a Taiko concert, write a piece for the school newspaper, watch an obscure foreign film, sign up for that sailing (or golf or Swahili or classical guitar) class, attend that public lecture (public lectures are among the most powerful and the most underutilized resources you can tap at college), go bungee jumping or apply for overseas study in Europe or a research trip to the Amazon.  Countless students can attest that the most important things they did in college took place outside the classroom.  If you’re faithful with your classes, you’ll receive your education and training.  But if you’re faithful with the other opportunities college affords you, your horizons, your sensibilities, your sense of yourself and your world will expand exponentially.

The important corollary here is that you should not do those things that diminish you or enslave you to addictions.  No decision is isolated.  The decisions you make in these years will form patterns and momentum for the decisions you’ll make for decades to come.  If you throw yourself into drinking or drugs or even the addictive pursuit of love and sex, you may awaken four years later and find that you’ve squandered your opportunities and wasted your potential.  Envision the person you want to be, the person you believe you are called to be, and start being that person.  And start now.  One of the biggest mistakes college students make is thinking that their college years are a pause from “real life” or a waiting room set apart from “the real world.”  Your older friends or siblings do you no favors when they act as though you do not inhabit the real world.  Yes, you inhabit a particular sphere with its own rules and protections, but you are called to be who you are today, to begin today the habits you want to keep tomorrow — for who you are in the next four years will have an immense impact on who you are for the next four decades.

6.  Seek fellowship, not merely friends. I’ll keep this short.  The best and most important part of my Stanford experience, by far, was the Christian fellowship to which I belonged.  It’s a great joy to be surrounded by people your age, people like yourself, who love God and seek to live their lives according to his Word.  The most significant training I’ve ever received for ministry or for Christian living came through that fellowship world.  The friendships I’ve maintained in the thirteen years since graduation are virtually all from that fellowship.  We played and worked, prayed and worshipped, served and ministered shoulder to shoulder — on campus, in the inner cities, around the country and around the world.  The fellowships also introduced me to remarkable Christian women.  One beautiful relationship ended with pain and regret.  Another led to a beautiful marriage.

7.  Finally, seek first the kingdom and righteousness of God. Plunge deeply into the life of the mind, and savor the beauty and the rhythms and richness of the scholarly life.  Immerse yourself in friendship and fellowship and commit to learn from one another.  Enjoy the sports contests and the public lectures and study abroad.  Explore all the idiosyncrasies of your school and community, the traditions and hidden treasures.  And learn how to love and be loved by a significant other.  You will change majors and change jobs and change careers many times before your professional life is through.  That’s fine.  And you will go through your romantic ups and downs.  That’s fine too.

Just make sure you major in the majors and minor in the minors.  Remember your first love, remember who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, seek him, and the rest will work itself out.  ”Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4).  ”In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).  Whether your college years bring you hardship and misfortune or flourishing and joy, or more likely both, seek God through it all.  Probably the most important thing I learned in my college years came when I broke my neck in a gymnastics accident, and I learned in truth that nothing could separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38).  God’s gracious communion is the one thing needful.  No matter what else might be taken from you, if you have that, then you have enough and more than enough.  The goods of the world will come and go.  Yet the peace and the joy of your fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will endure forever.

Live for that fellowship, live in it, and live out of it.  In the end, the rest are details.

Sincerely,

Your Friend

 


Feb 08 2011

“Prosperity gospel” for Christian institutions? Part 2

The previous post in this series is here, and will help provide background for what follows.

There are many instances of people and groups who take risks for the gospel, do the unpopular thing, and God does bless them. But obvious worldly blessing is not a given. God has His own agenda and ways of doing things, and we cannot assume that our worldly success is due to God’s blessing, nor our difficulties evidence of our failure to seek God’s will and do it. Some missionaries are murdered, and martyrdom in Christ’s service did not end with the fall of the Roman Empire. Lesser difficulties also occur with some regularity, even in the modern world.

Yet how many boards and leaders of churches and para-church organizations proceed with the assumption that apparent worldly or financial success equals God’s blessing, with such a rigid conflation of the two that any policy which carries some attendant risk of worldly disapproval is assumed to be the wrong one? Consider the logic: if we are doing good, God will bless us in worldly ways. Therefore, we should not consider doing something that risks getting worldly disapproval, since if the world disapproves, by our benighted definition, God is not blessing us.

So how can we decide if we are making our decisions according to God’s plan, from a fully Christian worldview, or if we are simply doing what seems best to us, within our human expertise (and afflicted with human pride and desire for power), as we try to strengthen our organization or institution in a worldly sense? There is no way to know for sure, of course….

But one thing seems indicative.

If we find we are mostly making decisions from the point of view of what the world will think of us (not from the point of view of God’s will, God’s commands, God’s moral precepts, and Christ within and among us), even if we have great institutional and public success, even if we are doing some good, we are not doing what God desires of us. Christ’s way is one of sacrifice and risk-taking for the sake of the gospel, most particularly the risk of being misunderstood and vilified by those who do not know Him. This is true whether we are explaining His way to the world, or standing for the principles He taught.

I’ll be developing this idea further in subsequent posts.

The next post in this series is here.


Jul 21 2010

Poor White Christians

Category: diversity,higher education,race,universityharmonicminer @ 7:51 am

Daniel Foster writes to express his disappointment in some responses to a New York Times editorial about the plight of poor, Christian whites when it comes to current diversity policies at many universities and colleges:

I’m disappointed by both Tim Fernholz‘s and Adam Serwer‘s takes on Ross Douthat’s column yesterday. Responding to empirical evidence that poor, white Christians are among the least well-represented “minority” groups at elite colleges, they both more or less default to saying ‘yeah, well, it sucks to be poor.’

Except Douthat’s point is that, when it comes to elite college admissions, it sucks more to be poor and white than it does to be poor and black, and a fortiori, that poor blacks’ chances improve as they get poorer, while just the opposite is the case for whites. Either Serwer and Fernholz are okay with this or they aren’t. But they won’t say, leaving us to assume that they view it as acceptable collateral damage in the battle for diversity.

They also dismiss as so much whining the feelings of alienation from “elite” culture felt by poor, working class whites — at their peril and ours.

Later, Foster points out how often African and Caribbean elites are admitted under “diversity” policies, as if they are those who were harmed by American racism in the past, and should now be favored under affirmative action quotas by another name (“diversity”).

There is much more at the links above, and the Douthat column is worth reading completely.

His final paragraph:

If universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there’s more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers.

Well, yes.  But as many have pointed out, and as we’ve linked and written extensively on this blog, “diversity” as a word in the university lexicon has a meaning unrelated to its normal meaning.  It is not about seeing that the university represents a microcosm of all the cultural elements of society represented proportionally in the university’s faculty, policies and student body.  Rather, it is an unvarnished mouthpiece for the Left, a way to do affirmative action quotas by another name (since the public does not like the idea of quotas), a way to slide most of the Leftist agenda into most aspects of campus life under the guise of being “open” and “accepting” of others…..  except, of course, white evangelical Christians, especially poor ones, and conservatives of any stripe.

If “diversity” meant “representation proportional to society,” at least half of university faculty hires would be conservatives.  Of course, it does not mean that, not even in Christian universities.


Jul 06 2010

Trying to get the credit without doing the work

Category: higher educationharmonicminer @ 12:29 pm

I wish the experience reported in this article was unique, but it is not.  I seem to have it, as a professor, about once per year.  Sometimes twice.


Jun 27 2010

Multi-culti theology at Claremont

Category: church,God,higher education,theology,universityharmonicminer @ 8:48 am

Incredibly, the Claremont School of Theology is getting ready to expand its offerings, just a tiny, wee bit:

In a bow to the growing diversity of America’s religious landscape, the Claremont School of Theology, a Christian institution with long ties to the Methodist Church, will add clerical training for Muslims and Jews to its curriculum this fall, to become, in a sense, the first truly multi-faith American seminary.

The transition, which is being formally announced Wednesday, upends centuries of tradition in which seminaries have hewn not just to single faiths but often to single denominations within those faiths. Eventually, Claremont hopes to add clerical programs for Buddhists and Hindus.

Although there are other theological institutions that accept students of multiple faiths, or have partnerships with institutions of other religions, Claremont is believed to be the first accredited institution that will train students of multiple faiths for careers as clerics. The 275-student seminary offers master’s and doctoral degrees.

“It’s really kind of a creative, bold move,” said David Roozen, director of the Institute for Religion Research at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. “It kind of fits, to some extent, California…. I think there will be a lot of us who will be watching that experiment.”

Claremont’s administration sees the multi-faith expansion as the wave of the future in American theological training. But it is straining relations between the school and more conservative elements of the United Methodist Church, which this year was expected to provide about 8% of Claremont’s $10-million budget. The church suspended its support for the school earlier this year pending an investigation.

I’m not sure just what is meant by the phrase, “the more conservative elements of the United Methodist Church.”  Would that mean the people who think Jesus was actually the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, who was born to the virgin Mary, died on the cross, and was bodily resurrected by the Father on the third day?  Whose sacrifice is the means for our forgiveness, who atoned for our sins by the crucifixion, who demonstrated the He alone has the power of eternal life, as demonstrated in the resurrection?

I suppose that these days only “conservatives” believe these things.  For all the rest, who think the “narrative” is what matters, that the “metaphor” of the resurrection is meant to apply in some analogical way to human life and society, nothing much is true enough to fight for.  Why shouldn’t Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., get their innings?  After all, don’t they have a narrative, too?  Don’t they have some of God’s truth?  What are we worried about, anyway, if all truth is God’s truth?

In the meantime, I think it’s a safe bet that John Wesley, founder of Methodism in the 18th century, would be beyond appalled.  I can’t help but wonder what (few?) remaining United Methodists who believe in orthodox Christian teachings are thinking about this.  I would guess the response of the United Methodist Church to this decision is going to tell the tale.   I am not very optimistic about it, given its recent history.  Essentially, if the UMC doesn’t rise up as a body and resoundingly reject this out of hand, they should just give up, and change their name to Social Justice, Incorporated, or maybe United for Leftist Politicians (ULP).  Or they could just join the Unitarians, who don’t believe in Jesus either.

In the mad dash to be a better exemplar of “diversity” than the other guy, look for other (especially denominationally untethered) seminaries to follow Claremont’s lead.  One can only wonder where they’ll draw the line.  Why not mix in a little Hopi Indian tradition, some voodoo, and a dash of Shintoism?  And these multicultural days, what about Zoroastrianism, or, for that matter, cannibalistic fertility cults of the south Pacific, or African tribal rites?  Who is to say where some slice of God’s truth may not be found?

When Claremont starts building Aztec pyramids in the parking lot on Foothill Avenue, I’m going to begin sticking to the 210 freeway whenever I drive through the area (well…  if the freeway sniper doesn’t make a reappearance, anyway).  I don’t think I would be an acceptable sacrifice to appease the Sun God (who, to the surprise of the eco-pagan Cult of Gore, seems to be unusually quiescent this year), but I don’t want to find out the hard way.  Hey…  maybe the new religion of eco-pagan EarthWorship could get a department at Claremont, too!  Oh, I forgot….  they already have one at most universities.  They just need to move it into the School of Theology, where it belongs.  So maybe Claremont will be ahead of the game.

When this whole Aztec-sacrifice-in-the-parking-lot thing really gets up in high gear, it’s going to do a number on the restaurant trade in the city of Claremont.  Talk about eating meat sacrificed to idols….


Jun 21 2010

A Bubble in Higher Education?

Category: college,economy,education,higher education,universityharmonicminer @ 8:36 am

Glenn Reynolds: Higher education’s bubble is about to burst

It’s a story of an industry that may sound familiar.

The buyers think what they’re buying will appreciate in value, making them rich in the future. The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive, but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy.

Buyers see that everyone else is taking on mounds of debt, and so are more comfortable when they do so themselves; besides, for a generation, the value of what they’re buying has gone up steadily. What could go wrong? Everything continues smoothly until, at some point, it doesn’t.

Yes, this sounds like the housing bubble, but I’m afraid it’s also sounding a lot like a still-inflating higher education bubble. And despite (or because of) the fact that my day job involves higher education, I think it’s better for us to face up to what’s going on before the bubble bursts messily.

College has gotten a lot more expensive. A recent Money magazine report notes: “After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439 percent since 1982. … Normal supply and demand can’t begin to explain cost increases of this magnitude.”

Consumers would balk, except for two things.

First — as with the housing bubble — cheap and readily available credit has let people borrow to finance education. They’re willing to do so because of (1) consumer ignorance, as students (and, often, their parents) don’t fully grasp just how harsh the impact of student loan payments will be after graduation; and (2) a belief that, whatever the cost, a college education is a necessary ticket to future prosperity.

Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already.

A New York Times profile last week described Courtney Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt — debt that her degree in Religious and Women’s Studies did not equip her to repay. Payments on the debt are about $700 per month, equivalent to a respectable house payment, and a major bite on her monthly income of $2,300 as a photographer’s assistant earning an hourly wage.

And, unlike a bad mortgage on an underwater house, Munna can’t simply walk away from her student loans, which cannot be expunged in a bankruptcy. She’s stuck in a financial trap.

Some might say that she deserves it — who borrows $100,000 to finance a degree in women’s and religious studies that won’t make you any money? She should have wised up, and others should learn from her mistake, instead of learning too late, as she did: “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life slaving away to pay for an education I got for four years and would happily give back.”

But bubbles burst when people catch on, and there’s some evidence that people are beginning to catch on. Student loan demand, according to a recent report in the Washington Post, is going soft, and students are expressing a willingness to go to a cheaper school rather than run up debt. Things haven’t collapsed yet, but they’re looking shakier — kind of like the housing market looked in 2007.

So what happens if the bubble collapses? Will it be a tragedy, with millions of Americans losing their path to higher-paying jobs?

Maybe not. College is often described as a path to prosperity, but is it? A college education can help people make more money in three different ways.

First, it may actually make them more economically productive by teaching them skills valued in the workplace: Computer programming, nursing or engineering, say. (Religious and women’s studies, not so much.)

Second, it may provide a credential that employers want, not because it represents actual skills, but because it’s a weeding tool that doesn’t produce civil-rights suits as, say, IQ tests might. A four-year college degree, even if its holder acquired no actual skills, at least indicates some ability to show up on time and perform as instructed.

And, third, a college degree — at least an elite one — may hook its holder up with a useful social network that can provide jobs and opportunities in the future. (This is more true if it’s a degree from Yale than if it’s one from Eastern Kentucky, but it’s true everywhere to some degree).

While an individual might rationally pursue all three of these, only the first one — actual added skills — produces a net benefit for society. The other two are just distributional — about who gets the goodies, not about making more of them.

Yet today’s college education system seems to be in the business of selling parts two and three to a much greater degree than part one, along with selling the even-harder-to-quantify “college experience,” which as often as not boils down to four (or more) years of partying.

Post-bubble, perhaps students — and employers, not to mention parents and lenders — will focus instead on education that fosters economic value. And that is likely to press colleges to focus more on providing useful majors. (That doesn’t necessarily rule out traditional liberal-arts majors, so long as they are rigorous and require a real general education, rather than trendy and easy subjects, but the key word here is “rigorous.”)

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.

I’m betting on the latter. Industries seldom reform themselves, and real competition usually comes from the outside. Keep your eyes open — and, if you’re planning on applying to college, watch out for those student loans.


May 14 2010

Sigh…

Category: education,higher education,humor,musicharmonicminer @ 8:20 am

This is a crosspost with MusicalGod.


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