The Friar notes, but doesn’t really discuss, Alan Wolfe’s update of the article I cited just below. I have some factual quibbles--he gets Michael Farris’s name wrong, refers to the Christian Reform Church instead of the Christian Reformed Church, and I don’t think Patrick Henry College could be rightly described as "emphasiz[ing] a Great Books education." They give me some cause for pause about the extent to which he actually has control of the material with which he’s dealing. For example, he makes much of the brouhaha at Calvin College when George W. Bush gave his commencement address there (something about which I blogged, perhaps too often. Wolfe’s summary description is that "the event made clear that not all faith-based colleges in the United States are filled with loyal Republicans pleased by America’s recent turn to the political right." No one who has paid any attention to evangelicalism in higher education and politics could have thought anything else: across the country, somewhere between 25% and 35% of evangelicals didn’t vote Republican in the last couple of elections. And, as I noted in one of my Calvin posts, that "only" 1/3 of the faculty signed a letter protesting the visit suggests a massive difference between Calvin and any equally "good" secular liberal arts college. So Wolfe’s lead-in is a little misleading.
And then we get to the thrust of his argument, which is that academic excellence and religious fidelity are inconsistent with one another. He particularly objects to statements of faith:
Faculty and administrators at these schools defend faith statements on the grounds that they protect and nurture community; because we have a shared mission, they like to point out, one will not find among us the groundless anomie and lack of direction associated with more secular institutions. That may be true, but community and diversity represent different values, and frequently one must choose between them. All too often, evangelical colleges prize the former over the latter. By their very nature, statements of faith are designed to defend against religious diversity. That is one reason I object to them; they smack of religious bigotry and suggest a lack of appreciation for academic freedom. But there is something else wrong with statements of faith: they manifest a defensiveness that is one of conservative Christianity’s less attractive features.
What this amounts to saying is that adherence in an academic setting to anything remotely resembling the confessions and creeds of traditional Christianity is "bigotry." Belonging to a creedal or confessional church is "bigotry." A college sponsored by a creedal or confessional church would have to engage in "bigotry" if it wanted to be faithful to its denomination. If this is what Wolfe thinks is necessary for the "evangelical mind" to be "opened," then I hope that my colleagues in such institutions don’t take his advice. It’s possible to have a serious intellectual life taking as one’s point of departure certain "presuppositions." Most "scientific" disciplines do this all the time (consider this particularly colorful recent example). And, as Bruce Kimball has shown, there’s a perfectly distinguished conception of liberal education that has at its roots a notion of religious formation.
But that’s enough for now.
Update: Another quibble: my friends at the University of Tulsa would be shocked to learn that they’re teaching at a public institution. But (once again) seriously: Wolfe is on the strongest ground when he raises questions about the pursuit of a political agenda allegedly following from a religious mission. One of the things upon which I would insist (both to folks on the left and on the right) is that there is a role to be played by prudence whenever we engage in politics or other "practical" enterprises. Prudence can be cultivated in an educational setting, but not if we don’t leave room for its (varied) formation, hence not if we’re committed to a particular practical agenda. In other words, it’s not just intellectual life that suffers if "everything" is dictated by politics, but even moral formation (and hence ultimately citizenship and politics).
Update #2: Touchstones David Mills has some characteristically thoughtful Mere Comments.