Academic Freedom and Christian Scholarship

Academic Freedom and Christian Scholarship


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The dawning of the third millennium finds many Christian colleges and universities in a search for identity. Coming to grips with the confused, often maligned topic of academic freedom is an essential part of this search. In this volume an unabashed defender of academic freedom offers well-founded advice to an academy that has seemingly lost its way. Drawing on forty years in higher education, including twenty years as president of Calvin College, Anthony Diekema reflects on the extensive scholarly literature on academic freedom against the backdrop of personal experience. He develops the larger philosophical framework necessary for thinking about academic freedom but also offers pointed advice gleaned from specific events and challenges to academic freedom that he has personally confronted. This balanced approach provides a seasoned perspective for those struggling with the subject of academic freedom in their own institutions. In the course of the book Diekema develops a sound working definition of the concept of academic freedom, assesses the threats it faces, acknowledges the significance of worldview in its implementation, and explores the policy implications for its protection and promotion in Christian colleges.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802847560
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 07/06/2005
Pages: 236
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.54(d)

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Introduction (pages 1-5)

The dawning of Christianity's third millennium finds many Christian colleges and universities in a search for identity. These institutions, once again, face the challenges of a new generation of students. In addition, they face a new postmodernist influence in scholarship and a declining influence of religion and churches in society. All present new contexts and new issues. Society's forward march will not permit a stable state for anything; it will not tolerate the status quo. Christian higher education must constantly confront the task of examining what it is and how it is to accomplish its mission in an increasingly secular academy. It must find a place to stand. Even then, any redefinition runs the risk of losing something valuable on the one hand, or being judged irrelevant on the other.

The beginning of the twenty-first century has been the reason, although mostly symbolic, for much reexamination in our society and the world. It goes far beyond the hype of the Y2K issue, and that is good. Each new age presents it own questions and crises, and I do believe we are now living in a time when the challenges are especially substantive, intensive, and pervasive. As a society we are confronted with a dramatic shift in our cultural worldview, or more accurately, worldviews. Indeed, I believe we live in a period when both increasing pluralism and rampant individualism collide in the social cauldron of what some have come to call the "culture wars." Reexamination, reassessment, and redefinition are both necessary and inevitable.

Of course, the dawning of new eras is what makes history interesting and life exciting. Reflect for a moment on the movement from the Classical to the Enlightenment periods. Higher education and intellectual development shifted from God-centeredness to man-centeredness, from faith in God to faith in Reason. The power of that change in the way the scholarly task is defined has been significant. It had a dramatic and perhaps irreversible impact on all of higher education, and continues to present Christian higher education with challenges on every hand. But evidence now points to the dawning of a similar epoch of radical transformation — a new era — and another intense shifting of paradigms and worldviews.

It is no secret to those involved in scholarship that Enlightenment answers have become post-Enlightenment questions. The fundamental presupposition of autonomous reason's self-sufficiency has been found to be seriously flawed. Much of what has been built upon that presupposition has been rejected or is fast failing. Indeed, a new worldview, or set of worldviews, is taking shape that tends to relocate reason within a much more expansive range of human gifts and talents. A very pervasive rediscovery of values, spirituality, ethics, emotions, intuition, and human communal concerns seems to be shaping the new worldviews emerging in our society and all over the world. There seems to be a shift away from the Enlightenment culture to another whose parameters are still to be determined.

The emergence of a new era with new worldviews is an especially challenging and exciting time for Christian higher education. Worldviews are well known to us, and we embrace the concept as vital to our task and calling. They give us much of our identity and we take them seriously. We also know their risks and threats. A deliberate move toward radical relativism in the secular academy (postmodernism) is one such risk in this era, but it need not immobilize us. And while the exact shapes of the new worldviews that are emerging in our culture are not yet transparent, we can begin to detect their tendencies and directions. Most importantly, amidst the heat and debris of the culture wars, I believe we have an opportunity to understand and influence this "world in the making" in ways that will have lasting value. Our Christian colleges and universities exist to foster and enrich the interchange that must take place under these conditions, and they can enhance the continuing dialogue between faith and all of human knowing. It is a time when our Christian scholars can deepen the understanding of Christian faith within the different fields and disciplines of human inquiry. It is a new and open window of opportunity to challenge each field of intellectual endeavor with the Christian claims and worldviews about God and people, and the meaning of life.

Christian colleges and universities will have new and special opportunities in the academy during this period of cultural transformation. But it should be understood that it is in precisely such periods that the church and Christian community also feel the stresses of change and challenge to strongly held views and beliefs. It will be important for Christian colleges and universities to help guide the community of faith through this difficult period by providing perspective and insight, while at the same time seizing every opportunity to influence the academy and intellectual communities toward a fuller understanding of Christian worldviews. We must establish learning environments that can maximize the advantage of these opportunities for Christian scholarship.

Inevitably, there will be some conflict between these quite different roles. Handling these and other roles will require a freedom of inquiry and intellectual exploration for each of our scholars and institutions. The temptation to put restrictions on both faculties and colleges will be especially present in the church and Christian communities; on the other hand, the threat of being judged irrelevant in the secular academy will always be with us. To be Christian and scholar, or Christian and college, will generate charges that go beyond that of oxymoron. These times of change tend to be chaotic periods for everyone, but especially for those called to make sense of it all. The latter falls squarely, at least from the perspective of faith and truth and learning, on the Christian academy. It will require solid trust and considerable freedom.

So Christian colleges and universities must be free to do what they are called to do — to search for truth and advance our knowledge and understanding — with all of the rights and privileges of academic freedom for themselves and their Christian scholars. And it will be important for all of us to know more precisely what this comes to in our day to day life in the academy and in the Christian community. So we need to explore that topic again, and together, in the hope and confidence that we can "stay the course" toward our pursuit of truth. This book is intended to facilitate the process.

Academic freedom is "suspect" in our society and especially in the Christian community. But I contend it need not be so. Academic freedom is not the right to "do or say anything you please" (Marty, 1997). Academic freedom is always limited. In every college or university — whether public, private, or religiously affiliated — the rights of academic freedom are never unlimited or absolute. Every college and university has an identity and mission to which it must be faithful. All faculty members have a responsibility to the methods of their discipline, the nature of their academy, and the worldview they embrace. Academic freedom is always a contextualized freedom, and a responsible freedom. It is anchored in community and ethos. And it is important that we communicate this to each other and the society at large. We must do it better.

For anyone who has been caught up in the nasty knots of academic freedom cases, it is clear that the practical problems one faces are usually the result of theoretical and conceptual problems. There is, one soon discovers, no clear and widely accepted definition of academic freedom and even less consensus on the way in which claims of violation may be assessed and adjudicated. It sometimes is hard to distinguish between the heroes and the villains. And there is little practical advice in the literature. On the other hand, the literature abounds with differing definitions and conceptual debates. It is thus important to deal with some of the conceptual issues, to develop a sound working definition of the concept of academic freedom, to assess the threats it faces, to acknowledge the significance of worldview in its implementation, to explore the policy implications for its protection and promotion in Christian colleges, and then, hopefully, to provide some practical advice to those who will be called upon to do it. These same people will need to be prepared from time to time to adjudicate and resolve actual cases on their campuses.

It will come as no surprise to those who have experienced some actual academic freedom cases, or have taken time to seriously review some of the literature on the topic, to find that this book does not provide answers to all the questions it raises. You will have expected that. Indeed, if it reveals a certain disarray in the academy on this topic, that, too, you will have anticipated. But you will know also that academic freedom is a highly prized ideal of very wide embrace and application in the academy. Furthermore, I am persuaded that it is absolutely essential for the advancement of Christian scholarship and the fulfillment of our institutional missions. For that reason it is important that we continue to struggle with both the conceptual and the practical dimensions of it, while all along acknowledging that we shall need to pay the price of some flexibility in the way it is implemented on the campuses. Indeed, it may be in that very flexibility that we discover some of the practical advice which leads first to better policy development, and then to more fairness and justice to both those accused and offended, and to more stability in the processes of adjudication for the campus community.

Table of Contents

II.The Search for Definition6
III.Threats to Academic Freedom11
Ideological Imperialism and Dogmatism12
Political Correctness and Intolerance of Religion15
Prior Restraint and Censorship27
The "Chilling Effect" and Self-Censorship33
Governmental and Institutional Influence37
Toward Vigilance Against the Threats38
IV.Academic Freedom in the Context of Worldview44
Worldview and Enlightenment Objectivity45
Academic Freedom and Christian Worldview53
Academic Freedom: Means or End?71
Academic Freedom as Christian Freedom74
Personal and Corporate Academic Freedom76
V.Policy Development in the Christian College: Modest Proposals82
Definitions of Academic Freedom84
Academic Freedom and Faculty Tenure87
A Socratic Covenant99
Academic Freedom and Christian Scholarship104
Academic Freedom: College and Church115
Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech123
Protection and Promotion of Academic Freedom132
VI.Reflections: Toward an Ethos of Freedom144
AppendixAn Expanded Statement of the Mission of Calvin College153
Bibliography and Selected Reading List197

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