Last, but not least …
We now come to the last in my series of twelve modest US higher education policy proposals. Policy proposal #12:
Confessional colleges—and not merely those that prepare professional religious workers—should be affirmed and protected by public policy.
In many ways, I am astonished I would be called upon to advocate for such a policy. The overwhelming majority of America’s postsecondary institutions have, for the overwhelming majority of America’s history from colonial days to the present, been confessional colleges. How is it that such colleges are now regarded as, at best, un-meriting of the “postsecondary” designation and attendant religious liberty protections, if not unworthy of even the right to exist?
To be sure, condescension toward religious colleges has been around a long time. They are variously alleged to be hopelessly sectarian, intellectually naïve, incompatible with academic freedom, academically inferior, morally and developmentally stifling. Such condescension, however, has repeatedly and eloquently demonstrated itself naïve by such scholars as Duane Litfin (Conceiving the Christian College), George Marsden (The Soul of the American University) and Mark Noll (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind), to name a few. More recently, distinguished New York Times and syndicated columnist, David Brooks, has weighed in on the matter (see The Road to Character).
From condescension to contempt
Yesterday’s condescension, however, has given way to the undisguised, vitriolic contempt of today’s “post-truth” society. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) offers the following definition of the term: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
I have witnessed otherwise reasonable persons with seething rage assert that students who choose to attend colleges who require community covenants relative to biblical human sexuality should be denied eligibility for Title IV funding. Public policy efforts have moved well beyond the mere disestablishment of religion to active executive and judicial assault upon any vestige of public accommodation of religious conscience.
Post-truth reasoning: an oxymoron?
In view of the ascendant post-truth pattern of public discourse, perhaps it is futile to offer my reasons for a public policy that protects religious institutions. I venture to do so anyway.
Reason #1: Evidence abounds that religious colleges serve the public good. Students typically engage in socially redemptive service learning. Graduates repay student loans, pay taxes, serve employers with integrity, and engage in charitable, public health, social justice, and relief causes at higher rates than their counterparts from other higher education sectors. Protecting and investing in religious colleges pays rich dividends and mitigates losses in terms of both social and economic capital.
Reason #2: Although higher education undoubtedly serves the collective, it also serves the individual. The principle that student aid should follow the student has guided federal policy from the inception of those programs. It remains the wisest course. Students should be able to take their financial aid along with them to the institution most compatible with their personal values and aspirations. Policy that prefers the collective benefits of higher education over the individual benefits is a phenomenon of collectivism, not of Declaration of Independence democratic principles.
Reason #3: Society is better off when its citizens are imbued with a sense of vocation, not merely fueled in their self-serving mercenary ambition. A recent Christianity Today summary of current trends includes the following observation: “Work is shifting toward a gig-oriented, multi-careering, freelance terrain, and there is a profound need for a robust theology of vocational discipleship.” Religious institutions are positioned to offer a superior contribution to such vocational discipleship, not merely for those headed toward ministerial occupations, but for all students.
Religious institutions are not only good for the students who enroll in them, they are good for our country. Public policy and public investment should reflect that. Period.
Keep the conversation going
Well, you’ve done it now, you’ve wasted a perfectly good hour … oh wait, that’s what Click and Clack the CarTalk brothers say.
Seriously, if you’ve been following along with my US (and perhaps to some extent pertinent to Canada) higher education policy propositions, I hope I’ve at least stimulated your thinking. I welcome your interaction. After all, policy currents are always shifting and my perspectives are ever evolving. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
If you are not familiar with the Cambridge Papers produced by the Jubilee Centre, here’s an introduction, You and your faculty members seeking to think and teach from a biblical worldview perspective could really benefit from the Jubilee Centre’s biblical worldview thinking based on the Bible’s social vision. Here’s an insightful and prophetic look at the banking industry, for example.
This New Your Times article reveals that, due to ambiguous documentation, more than $5 billion in student loans from private lenders may not be collectible. If so, it could trigger an economic meltdown reminiscent of the 2008 mortgage backed securities debacle. What are you and your trustees doing to identify alternatives to student borrowing?