Krieg Barrie

How to decide to move

Biography | To go or not to go? That was the question—but deciding wasn't scientific

Issue: "Boston Terrorthon," May 4, 2013

It’s been another six busy months since my last installment, but it took a commercial to jar me into starting another. The TV ad has a wife asking a husband how his day at work went, and his only comment is: Another day closer to retirement. Given the satisfaction that God-ordained work can bring, what a depressing sense of defeat!

Christians should feel that pain even more strongly, because the Bible says nothing about retirement: God calls us to use the talents He gave us until He either superintends their decline into nonproductivity or summons us home. But some middle-aged and older readers have asked me: How do you decide to make a radical change in employment? Decisions made out of necessity are sometimes easy, but when we’re in a good situation, is leaving it a sign of sub-Christian discontent?

So here’s my story: In 2007, with our four sons all out and about, it was time to assess 24 years of teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, and to wonder whether to stay for an additional 24 or so, should God give me the strength.

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The material advantages of staying were manifold. Tenure at a big state or private university offers full-time pay for part-time, part-year work until death (or utter decrepitude) cometh. Six classroom hours per week. The joke is that a Texas legislator asked a professor how many hours he taught. Six, the prof said, to which the legislator replied: Should be eight hours a day, but I guess you have to spend some time preparing.

The kindness of Texas taxpayers left me lots of time to edit and write for WORLD. Plus, as one of a handful of outspokenly Christian professors out of 2,000 on the UT campus, I had some classroom usefulness. In my journalism history courses, students would learn that America’s past contained more than racism, capitalist exploitation, and religious tyranny. In courses I taught on journalism and religion, students who didn’t know anything about Christianity could learn a little bit.

The road to teaching that religion course is a lesson itself in campus craziness. In 1997 campus leftists had pushed for courses that required students to learn about non-Western cultures. They were victorious, only to realize they had been like a German Shepherd chasing a car: Once its teeth clamp down on a bumper, what then? It turned out that no one in my journalism department knew anything about non-Western cultures or wanted to take time to learn, so I could teach journalists-to-be about three non-Western religions—Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism—and also Judaism and Christianity.

“Journalism and Religion” also showed the marginalization of Christianity in America. Only a handful of the several hundred journalism students in the course over the years had any knowledge of the Bible. The few who had taken Religious Studies courses—usually taught by those who see their calling as shaking the faith of evangelical kids—were often the worst off because they thought they knew something. So teaching students in a way that didn’t disparage Christianity was a positive, although the rules of a secular campus constrained me.

Against that upside sagged a substantial downside. Students in my writing courses improved their prose, but since many espoused anti-biblical positions I started feeling like Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) building a great bridge for the Japanese in The Bridge on the River Kwai. He belatedly asked at the end, “What have I done?”

Plus, the closing exclamation in that movie—“Madness! Madness!”—rang in my head. When I had come to UT in 1983, my colleagues were generally cynical liberal craftsman who offered plenty of entertainment. Over the years radical ideologues who understood deadly theories but not press deadlines became dominant. Some were particularly weird: A professor one floor down from me declared, On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I am male. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays I am female. 

This all led me to meditate about usefulness. My small notoriety as a conservative evangelical made graduate students hoping to be hired as professors steer clear, so my potential usefulness there was gone. I couldn’t be useful in the university generally: Once, at a faculty senate meeting, I had argued against having condom machines in freshman dorms, and seen venerable professors react like snickering teens.

In March 2007, Jerry Falwell called with a surprise request: Come to Liberty University, start a journalism school, be its dean. Potential usefulness? Much. Susan and I flew to Lynchburg during UT’s spring break. We met with Falwell and various administrators, professors, and students, and even went around with a realtor. It ended up not feeling right. We considered it for a while, until one morning I called and said no, sadly. 


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