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Marsha Miller/Courtesy University of Texas

Into exile

What happens to a professor who does everything right but has wrong ideas?

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

Fellow promotion committee members: Let's go through the checklist on Assistant Professor of Sociology Bob Woodberry's request to receive tenure at the University of Texas at Austin.

Educational background: Check. Ph.D. from the highly regarded University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Caution: Undergraduate degree from evangelical Wheaton College, but he's probably outgrown that.

Publications: Check. Numerous articles in refereed journals such as the American Sociological Review. Chapters in books published by the Oxford University Press and other prestige outlets. Caution: Some odd publishing choices-why would anyone write for the Encyclopedia of Missions and Missionaries?-but I guess it's important to document how missionaries exploited natives.

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Grants received: Check. Brought to UT a lot of money from both private foundations and government payers. With Rick Perry and legislators saying professors are overpaid and underworked, this is big.

Teaching (not that this matters all that much in promotion): Check. Outstanding student appraisals and awards. Caution: High ratings probably mean Woodberry is wasting time on students that he could use to publish even more journal articles, but some professors have twisted priorities.

Multicultural? Check. Grew up in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. Worked in China and Japan and traveled to more than 50 countries.

OK, due diligence time: Gotta read a couple of his articles, instead of just weighing them.

Let's see: Woodberry's data show how Protestant missionaries created schools and had mass literacy campaigns in British colonies because they wanted people to read the Bible in their own language. Hmm. He acknowledges that some missionaries did harm. Good. But wait-he shows with multiple regression analyses that "evangelism by 1900 is by far the most consistent predictor of modern elementary education." He's FOR evangelism?!?

At least he has lots of statistics. How about these tables in his American Political Science Review article? Wait, they show a positive association between years of exposure to Protestant missions and the growth of democracy-and it's consistent across continents and world regions, even when controlled for geography, climate, disease prevalence, and many other factors.

Ah, this part of Woodberry's research is better: He shows how British imperialists disrespected multiculturalism. British gunboats forced the Muslim sultan of Zanzibar ... oh, to end the slave trade. Wait a minute: Woodberry shows that Muslims enslaved East Africans until evangelical pressure pushed Britain to deploy its fleet to stop slavery in non-Western societies. Not good, not good. But he documents everything so well.

Dean, you don't have to stare at me like that: Woodberry's not convincing me, no sir. I know the missionaries tried to hook the natives on drugs. Oh oh, Woodberry quotes an 1888 missionary conference's declaration that the opium trade is "a standing reproach to Christianity. ... We are responsible in the sight of God for this culminating wickedness. ... We have to reckon with Divine Judgment if we neglect this matter."

Dean, I know we'll have to reckon with our colleagues' judgment if we offer Woodberry tenure. But this is interesting stuff: From the 1820s to the 1850s missionaries in India campaigned to protect Indians from landowner abuses. They brought cases to court on behalf of low caste believers. In 1865, when Jamaica's royal governor killed a black leader, missionaries mobilized a campaign that led to the governor being recalled to England and put on trial for murder. Kind of interesting.

Dean, you're right: I can't let my mind start wandering. You're right: Even if those Protestant missionaries taught people to read and pioneered efforts to educate women and poor people, they did it because they wanted to proselytize. And this idea that when missionaries come, standards of living improve dramatically? No way that could be true.

Those words are imaginary. The result is real: The University of Texas denied Woodberry tenure. He then applied to 108 other schools. No U.S. institution offered him tenure. One Christian college interviewed him and made a tentative offer, but it did not make a formal offer. No other school invited him for an in-person interview or made him a job offer.

To get a job, Bob Woodberry last month moved nearly 10,000 miles. The National University of Singapore is giving him a 50 percent increase in salary, free housing for up to nine years, the first semester off, and $85,000 for his research.

Email molasky@worldmag.com

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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