Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Academic Freedom: Where May It Be Found?

Ian Hunter has a terrific article, "Education thrives in a world without 'equity officers'" in The National Post today about the CAUT witch hunt against Christian universities in Canada

In a Feb. 11 letter to the National Post, responding to recent criticism of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, CAUT executive director James Turk defended his organization’s witch-hunt against faith-based universities. He argued that CAUT’s investigation of religious schools was necessary to ensure that parents know what kinds of institutions their sons and daughters are attending — and, as Mr. Turk puts it, “to ensure that neither universities nor outside groups impose ideological requirements on academic staff.” In other words, we are asked to believe that CAUT commissioned studies of Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ont., and others, in an effort to glean information readily available to anyone who took the time to glance at the universities’ respective calendars.

I found the CAUT report on Trinity Western University particularly risible: Two academics (Professors William Bruneau and Thomas Friedman) burrow away through 22 turgid pages — plus four Appendices and 24 footnotes — to discover what the university’s Mission Statement says on the first page of the calendar; namely, that TWU is a Christian institution intended “to develop godly Christian leaders, goal-oriented University graduates … who [will] serve God and people in various marketplaces of life.”
Likewise Redeemer, and the other institutions under scrutiny, do not exactly hide their light under a bushel.

And that is precisely the problem. These institutions, you see, are committed to something other than secular relativism; and that sticks in the craw of the CAUT and however many of its 65,000 members actually support these ludicrous investigations.

So far, Hunter is rehearsing the obvious: those who have been following the controversy know that the CAUT has been caught out perpetrating a witch hunt in the name of "academic freedom," a particularly Orwellian move even for left-wing academics.

But the next part is Hunter's personal testimony to the greater degree of actual academic freedom that exists on Christian university campuses as compared to the speech-code ridden, equality officer dominated, fearful, politically correct atmospheres of most contemporary, Canadian, secular campuses.

As it happens, I have lectured at both Trinity Western and at Redeemer College, as well as many secular Canadian Universities, and, for that matter, at Oxford and Cambridge in England. So I am in a position to offer a bit of direct evidence, evidence overlooked by the prolix twosome of Bruneau and Friedman: Yes, faith-based Universities are different. Allow me to explain.

At Redeemer and Trinity Western, the buildings are clean, the walls undefaced by graffiti. The knuckles of their students do not drag the ground. I noticed immediately that informal and animated discussions were going on everywhere on campus between students and faculty — and the faculty seemed to know each student’s name.

The Staley Lectures, which I was at Redeemer and Trinity Western to deliver, continued over several days: public addresses, seminars and discussions, an evening panel, etc. I experienced culture shock.

I discovered that these faculty and students were unafraid of concepts such as “truth,” or “good” and “evil” — words not only foreign to, but suspect in, the secular university. The students, mirabile dictu, were not intimidated by intellectual debate; ideas were not threatening to them, nor was free ranging inquiry immediately challenged as “offensive.” In fact, I never once heard the word “offensive.” Controversy was not something to be avoided. I quickly realized how long it had been since I had spoken at a school without speech codes and “equity officers.”

It was the experience of lecturing at such institutions that reminded me of what universities once were.

Hunter's point is well-taken: today's Christian universities are essentially conservative institutions where the Western cultural commitments to free speech and an unfettered search for the good, the true and the beautiful still continue to exist.

By contrast, the late modern dogma of relativism makes the unfettered search for truth impossible. By applying a hermeneutic of suspicion to all debate and reducing arguments about truth to nothing but a superficial cover for underlying racism, patriarchy and colonialism, the modern university dismisses old-fashioned truth seeking as naive and insincere. Therefore, all discourse must be examined for political bias and purged of all political incorrectness. The search for truth is turned into the quest for inoffensiveness as the acids of cultural relativism turn all academic discourse into a clash of wills to power.

Now the real problem that CAUT has with Christian universities having faith statements comes to light. They hate and fear any commitment to any kind of truth because for them all truth-claims are nothing but power-grabs. Unable to take the debate over what is true and good and beautiful seriously, they impose relativism on everyone dogmatically - thus showing them selves to have a serious irony deficiency.

The issue is not that Christian universities have a faith stance or a commitment to certain truths like the existence of God, the problem is that they have the wrong faith stance according to the CAUT. If they took an unofficial position of cultural relativism, they could blend right in with the other universities and the CAUT would not spend time "investigating" them.

How strange it is that those who call themselves relativists when they want to blame Christians for saying that Christianity is true and materialism is false, are so dogmatic when it comes time to deciding what a true university is allowed to be or not be. If they are really so anti-dogmatic, why not just let a thousand flowers bloom? Why not just let the conversation go on? Why not allow a healthy debate between serious people about the big questions?

What are they afraid of?

1 comment:

Julie Robison said...

I saw that at Hillsdale College in Michigan as well-- their academic code was written by Russell Kirk!