Friday, February 17, 2006

Academic Freedom and Calvin College

We have been traveling, the elder teen and I, seeing colleges where she she may attend 18 months from now. Our first campus visit was to Calvin College (as in "John ...", not "... and Hobbes"). They have this "Fridays at Calvin" program for prospective students.

The lovely Carol wasn't really sure about the idea of a Christian college. "You could take along a copy of GENDER & GRACE (Mary van Leeuwen, IVP, 1990) and see if anyone raises an eyebrow," she suggested. I took it, but left it in the car.

But there at Calvin, in a parent/student/staff "small group," a professor of Communications said she loved the academic freedom.

My ears perked up. That's not what I was expecting.

This prof had previously taught at another college, where she was told not to talk about nor publish anything based on her faith or on her feminism. But at Calvin she is free to do both from her perspective as a Christian feminist.

(Note to any readers on the Far Right: What she meant by "feminism" is probably not what you think.)

I gamely asked if evolution was taught at Calvin, and if so, how. (It is.)

Later, we visited a psychology class, where we saw a copy of -- you guessed it, GENDER & GRACE -- near the lectern. (By the way, there were 4 or 5 non-white faces in this class of 21. In Grand Rapids, Michigan! )

The instructor handed out a list of psychology professionals. Students were expected to select someone to interview, and the prof explained the diversity of backgrounds among the professionals. "You might select someone with a background and tradition similar to yours" as a sort of role model. "But I would encourage some of you to interview..." and he pointed out two people on his list who don't even believe in God. These people, he said, would challenge you on your faith, and you'll have to think about why you believe what you do.

He then went on to review someone's theory of the origin of ethics, which was a speculation based on principles of evolutionary biology. This would be standard fare in any college psych class. But then he picked up GENDER & GRACE and referred to van Leeuwen's interpretation of Genesis 1.27, invoking the technique of parallelism in Hebrew literature.

Can you tell I was impressed? My conclusions:

  1. You get the whole story, not just the politically correct parts -- as mentioned above, both biblical and naturalistic explanations of the origin of ethics.

    I can already hear you: "You don't teach junk social science (or biological science) in a college classroom!" Yeah, right. I have one word for you: Semmelweis. People love to talk about how open-minded they are, unless they disagree with you. Then YOU're the one who's backward, or closed-minded, or teaching junk science, or whatever. End of rant.

  2. It's not a cocoon either -- note the psych prof's exhortation to interview professionals from different traditions and different faiths. (I don't say "no faith" because you really gotta believe it if you say there's no God.)

I am really impressed. They've got something special going there. Or maybe they did a great sales job. Or maybe both.

No comments: