This is the time of year when many college alumni respond to their nagging alma mater by sending a contributions check made out to the institution's general fund. Here's one word of advice: "Don't" (unless you want to support theological and political liberalism).
Oh, a few Christian colleges may be exceptions to that four-letter rule, but even then we should trust, but verify. Skepticism is even more important at major state or secular universities. For two decades I've seen and heard about the harassment that Christian and conservative professors and students often receive. Some students have stood their ground and some professors have carved out niches, but secular liberals contest every inch of ground.
What will happen? Gutsy conservatives like David Horowitz have declared war and are marshaling statistics. Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 30-1 among anthropologists and sociologists, according to the National Association of Scholars. Surveys of voter registration among humanities and social science professors at 20 universities including Cornell, Stanford, Brown, California-Berkeley, and Colorado showed left/right ratios of anywhere from 8-1 to 28-1. If the surveys were to examine theology rather than politics and ask about faith in Christ, the numbers would be even more skewed.
Will those stats prompt action to increase a diversity of ideas? Most universities are heavily dependent on government funding, and some Republicans are asking why they should continually subsidize their opponents. There'll be demands for fair hiring of ideological minorities (conservatives), but such requirements will be hard to pass or to enforce. The best move would be for state legislatures to create a level playing field in higher education by offering scholarships usable at any college-governmental, private, or religious. That would foster competition rather than conformity in higher education, but we're probably a generation away from such change.
So, for the time being, how can conservative Christians promote alternatives within the belly of the beast? Four suggestions, in rising order of wallet size.
First, instead of writing undesignated checks, direct funds to Christian groups on campus such as Reformed University Fellowship, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, or Campus Crusade for Christ. Crucial questions to ask: Is a group helping students to think Christianly about what arises in their courses? Does a group implicitly tell students not to make waves academically, or does it instruct and honor those who stand up against classroom propaganda?
Second, contribute to the creation and staffing of Christian study centers near campus. Such centers should have fellows and tutors capable of challenging secular conventions, and libraries with books and films that display an alternative, biblical reality.
Third, if you want to contribute directly to a university-sponsored program, find out which professors (if any) are conservative Christians and unafraid to speak out about the issues of the day. Designate donations to support their research, writing, and training of graduate students.
Fourth, if you have lots of money and want to make a big difference, go beyond campus groups, study centers, and individual professors, and work to set up programs within universities. Some moderates and conservatives, with great determination, have already done that at institutions like Princeton, Duke, Brown, Colgate, the U. of Colorado, City University of New York, the U. of Nebraska-Omaha, and the U. of Alaska.
Some of these programs are little more than beachheads. Some emphasize good free-market principles but not other biblical values. Others emphasize natural law in an appealing way, but don't examine Scripture as deeply as they should. Those efforts are helpful, and Christians participate in some of them, but to my knowledge no major state or secular university has a program designed to advance Christian understanding in the campus marketplace, even though Islamic centers abound.
In some ways the lack of evangelical-led programs reflects the tiny number of outspoken evangelicals within the humanities and social sciences faculties at major universities. In some ways that paucity also reflects a failure of vision among major donors, and the difficulty of getting past college deans who hate Christ.
It's important to remember, though, that many academic officials who have turned their backs on God now serve Mammon, and cannot help salivating at the sight of a check waved in front of them. If funding emerges, breakthroughs will come.