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Academic Double Standards?

Today, the UT Christian Faculty Network had a good discussion on professors sharing their worldview with their classes. In particular, how many Christian faculty can be slapped down for sharing/defending their worldview, yet other colleagues can mock that same worldview and push their own with little or no fear of reprisals. We discussed how we as Christian faculty can/should respond to this, especially when students come to us to complain or seeking reassurance that it is possible to be a Christian and a scientist or, more generally, an intellectual.

There was a range of responses discussed, and the general conclusion was that each possible response has a place, and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

One solution proposed was to address that faculty member directly and graciously, communicating that their statements are offensive and please desist. If that doesn’t work, then take it up the chain of command or even go out to the media. In short, play their game against them.

Arguments in favor of this position are that it demonstrates that we don’t roll over and let folks walk on us, either in ignorance or deliberately. It also holds the public university community accountable to the public.

Arguments against this approach are that it plays their game following their rules. Personally, I tend to have a problem when someone says they are offended. It is fashionable these days to find offense in what others say/do, because that implies that the offender is intolerant and being offensive is a great cultural sin. It seems as often as not, the offended party tends to be the intolerant one who is too sensitive to be in the presence of someone who stridently holds a different view. I’d rather not be lumped in with that group. Also, most of the media tend to support the double standard and tend to make the Christian view to be whiny. Many, though not all of those that would slam Christianity in the classroom take pride in it, and don’t care if Christians are offended. To some, the very presence of Christians in the academy is offensive to them, so intimidating Christians is acceptable. Finally, any apology that is dictated from above in the chain of command is not a true apology and tends to breed resentment.

That said, there is a time and place for the direct approach.

Another approach is to work with the students that come to you about it. Help equip them to build a relationship with that faculty member so they are not part of some faceless group called “Christian.” Similarly, there is the opportunity for us faculty to build similar relationships with that colleague and put a face on the topic.

Advantages are that it helps potentially change the mindset of the professor without the strong arm approach. It can build understanding in both directions.

Disadvantages are that they may never change and harangue all the harder, it could be dangerous for a student’s grade if they try this while still in the class, or could negatively impact the tenure and promotion of the Christian faculty who engages in this with a more powerful professor.

Another approach is to do or say nothing. Let people do/say what they will. Yes, it is unfair, but this is the way of the world, so just do your job and be the best silent example you can be, and don’t let it ruffle your feathers. They’ll find out the truth eventually and God will sort the whole thing out at the end.

Advantages are that it doesn’t cause controversy so we can, “as far as we are able, live in peace with all.” (Romans 12:18) It keeps your faith from being an issue with the department, et al.

Disadvantages are that it can be a case of denying Christ before others, it doesn’t offer evidence that there is an alternate way to consider worldview, allowing folks to believe that the professor is correct if there is no counterargument. It preserves and strengthens the anti-faith status quo. But again, there is a time and place where this could be appropriate.

In all cases, it was agreed upon that prayer was essential, not just part of a ritual or checklist of spiritual things to do, but a real part of the solution.

There was discussion about the free speech aspect of the issue. Someone argued that the first amendment as is doesn’t quite apply in the same way because the students are a captive audience that paid to hear an expert on a subject, not a proselytizer (regardless of the worldview being presented). That said, there is the principle of academic freedom to allow faculty to consider and explore controversial subjects…as long as it is applied equitably.

Another wrinkle is that in some cases, it may be the professor’s sincerely held professional opinion that their field and faith do not mix, and thus anyone who has a personal faith is professionally disqualified from being in that field. There was a 2003 case at Texas Tech where a faculty member stated on his website that he would not write any recommendation for med school for any student who doesn’t agree with evolution as humanity’s origin. This professor truly believes that holding to another viewpoint means that a student could not be a competent doctor.

Regardless of your viewpoint on Origins, this is a trickier situation. It was handled via the first method, and a quick online search didn’t reveal the result of the case. The second method may have borne fruit and may not have, and the third option would have done nothing. Personally, I think this professor goes a bit far. If a student adequately understands the naturalistic worldview as demonstrated by their grade in the course, then they are competent in that field. It does not seem to me that it also be required that the student agree with the worldview. It is the areas where there is disagreement that reveal where more research needs to be done, or, at the very least, further academic discussion and persuasion to see where and why of the conflict.

We did not come to a hard and fast conclusion or ‘policy’ on the topic, but I came away with a variety of tools, pros and cons of each, and perspectives. Human beings like simple answers to complex problems, and those are very rarely satisfactory in the long term. Wisdom lies in seeing the complexity and responding accordingly and refining as one progresses.

Is there a double standard? Yes, in some situations. How do we deal with it? Through prayer and wise counsel to examine what is most appropriate in the situation. In all cases, respond with grace, humility, confidence and love. There may be blowback, but Christ didn’t promise us victory in each battle, just in the overall outcome, and it’s His doing, not ours. Our doing is living Christlike and letting Him worry with the results.


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