Cover Story

Salt and light on campus

"Salt and light on campus" Continued...

Issue: "Coat of many dollars," May 3, 2014

In response, the school government held talks this year on “sexual minorities,” where faculty and administrators answered questions about same-sex marriage and transgendered individuals. President Jon Wallace reiterated the school’s official stance that “humans were created as gendered beings” and “heterosexuality is God’s design for sexually intimate relationships.”

Ashley Duckgeischel, who was both an undergraduate and a graduate student at APU, said at first the different views of her professors—including one who attacked her belief in Bible inerrancy—surprised her. She considered transferring, but the longer she stayed, the more she found students with genuine faith and professors helpful in her academic and spiritual growth: “If you want to find awesome Christians, you can find awesome Christians. If you want to find a party school, you can find a party school.”

A COLLEGE PRESIDENT CAN ALSO SET THE TONE of the school’s culture, sometimes negatively, as is the case of Louisiana College in Pineville, La.

President Joe Aguillard attained his position in 2006 and did what the Louisiana Baptist Convention asked him to do: He got rid of secularly minded professors. But that initial accomplishment was followed by a series of setbacks, as Aguillard borrowed money to build a football stadium, even as moldy campus facilities desperately needed $35 million in repairs. Planned medical and law schools never materialized. Faculty salaries remained among the lowest of CCCU schools, while the president's salary was the 7th highest in the CCCU when compared against the school's budget, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Former students and professors also spoke of an atmosphere of fear and retribution. No current faculty would talk to us, but two professors who criticized Aguillard told us they received non-renewal letters. Accrediting agency Southern Association of Colleges and Schools said in March that it plans to open an investigation into Louisiana College after allegations that school officials submitted forged signatures, according to The Town Talk. On April 15, the college announced that Aguillard will step down as president on May 31 and become president emeritus.

Houston Baptist University shows how strong leadership can revive a school. A decade ago HBU struggled with dwindling enrollment, low retention and graduation rates, and seeping secularization among its faculty. Robert Sloan, the former Baylor University president, became HBU president in 2006 with a plan to re-establish “a distinctive Christian education,” and freshman enrollment last year increased by a record-breaking 10 percent, even as average enrollment among CCCU schools fell 8 percent. Sloan also hired officers and faculty prominent in the field of Christian apologetics, such as provost John Mark Reynolds, William Lane Craig, Nancy Pearcey, and Lee Strobel.

The future of Christian higher education is hazy. The economic challenges are immense, and maintaining or building a strong Christian identity is difficult. But in HBU’s case, building a strong Christian focus helped with the economic challenges, prompting higher enrollment and donations to expand the campus.

Our investigation found that several key factors may doom a Christian institution: incompetent financial planning, poor leadership, indistinctive education, and unorthodox professors. CCCU schools can err at either extreme: On one end, coddling students within a “Christian bubble” and quarantining them from “bad ideas,” and on the other offering a nearly secular education, relegating the “Christian” part of higher education to chapel and campus ministries.

HBU’s Nancy Pearcey, who teaches cultural apologetics, believes both sides fail to equip the future generation: “Young people are not going to survive in this increasingly secular society if we don’t find a way to permeate every field with apologetics”—not just in overtly religious classes, but in every discipline from psychology to computer science: “You have to teach young people how to defend a Christian perspective in their fields. Young people’s questions are going to be different from the questions faced by earlier generations. … We need to love them enough to answer their questions.”

Darwin and Bryan

De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

The board of trustees at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., on April 11 held to its insistence on a college statement of faith clarification likely to push out professors who do not believe that God created Adam by a special formative act rather than through the process of evolution. 

The latter view, held by many theistic evolutionists, allows for faith in God and strong faith in mainstream scientific theories, but diminishes confidence in Genesis as history rather than myth, and undercuts the teaching of Paul and other authors of the Bible (for details regarding Bryan’s specific debate, please visit wng.org ), but the controversy also spotlights a debate on the goals of CCCU institutions generally.

Many Christian liberal arts colleges assert that their goal is to teach students how to think and not what to think. That is laudable in most areas, but should it mean that colleges do not care if students graduate with the belief that the Bible is merely a book compiling man’s fallible teaching rather than God’s inspired wisdom?

Last month an online poll produced by Bryan’s campus newspaper asked students, “What do you believe about the origins of the universe and man?” Some 40 percent of respondents said they believed God created everything in six 24-hour days, and 20 percent said they supported Intelligent Design, which usually means creation over a longer period of time. But 40 percent supported different theories, with half of those supporting theistic evolution, most of the rest endorsing Darwinian evolution that leaves out God entirely, and a few saying they did not know.

That 40 percent slippage is not surprising even at a college sometimes labeled “fundamentalist.” Mainstream scientists ridicule critics of evolution, whether they have doctorates or not, and deprive them of career and publishing opportunities. The New York Times in 1925 demanded “faith” in evolution even as it castigated William Jennings Bryan for having faith in the Bible, and the pressure to conform has only intensified since then. 

In such an environment, a Christian college that proclaims it will just throw out to students a variety of theories and let them decide, is abandoning the battle for the Bible. The playing field is not level, and the tendency of most teens to seek popularity and security will incline many to accept evolution. If Christian colleges at least hope to balance out cultural pressure, they need professors who will confidently and enthusiastically put before students the ample biblical and scientific evidence for Intelligent Design.  —Marvin Olasky

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