May 06, 2010

Faith statements impinge on academic freedom? (Part 3 of 4)

By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, May 6, 2010)

Faith statements impinge on academic freedom? (Part 3 of 4)

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is blacklisting several Christian universities because, CAUT alleges, these schools violate academic freedom. According to CAUT, culprit schools “have imposed [on faculty] a requirement of a commitment to a particular ideology or statement [of faith] as condition of employment,” and so such schools “cannot be practicing academic freedom.” Thus, or so CAUT would have us believe, the blacklisted Christian schools lack legitimacy and credibility.

I think CAUT’s blacklisting project is problematic, for three reasons. (Last times I set out reasons 1 and 2; this time I will set out reason 3.) [For a fourth reason, see my column of February 24, 2011.]

Reason 3: It is in an important sense false that a Christian school’s requirement for faculty to subscribe to a statement of faith means that such schools “cannot be practicing academic freedom.”

Consider the following. I teach at a Christian university college, and my school’s statement of faith requires me to acknowledge the following central doctrines as true: that God exists, that Jesus is God incarnate, that Jesus physically resurrected from the grave. (There are other doctrines, but space is a concern here.)

Now also consider this. I have three degrees in philosophy from respectable Canadian secular universities: BA (University of Calgary), MA (University of Windsor), and PhD (University of Waterloo). The focus of my academic research has been to examine the merits of philosophical objections concerning Christianity in general and Jesus’ resurrection in particular. My academic work has included the study of logic and critical thinking, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and ethics.

Yes, there is much that I don’t know, but I believe that I have sufficiently good reasons for freely accepting my school’s faith statement.

Now—and here is my point—at the school that employs me I have the freedom to continue to investigate the truth claims of my school’s faith statement. In fact, my school encourages me to do academic research which addresses contemporary philosophical objections concerning core doctrines of the Christian faith.

For example, a year or so ago my department head asked me to review atheist Richard Dawkins’ best-selling book The God Delusion, a book highly critical of core Christian doctrine. My research into Dawkins’ work turned into a faculty forum presentation plus two articles for an academic journal.

And here is another point: When I teach philosophy at the school at which I am employed, I encourage students to investigate freely and carefully the relevant aspects of our school’s faith statement when we address the big philosophical questions: Does God exist? Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus’ resurrection occurred? Is the concept of incarnation logically coherent? What is truth? Can we know truth? Is anything really right or wrong? Is God relevant to ethics? That sort of thing.

My students have the freedom to disagree with my views (and the school’s views) on these questions, as long as they argue well—i.e., appeal to good reasons and evidence, plus show respect to those with whom they disagree. In fact, we seek truth together, and we sometimes know truth (and sometimes even know it well), all the while acknowledging that we are fallible and that our knowledge is not exhaustive. Often we end up with a reasonable faith.

Surely, my students and I have—and practice—academic freedom, even though I subscribe to a faith statement.

CAUT, then, is in an important sense mistaken that a Christian school’s requirement for faculty to subscribe to a statement of faith means that the school “cannot be practicing academic freedom.”

Therefore, to the Canadian Association of University Teachers and its blacklist project, I say this: In the name of academic freedom broadly conceived (my reason 1), in the name of careful philosophical thinking (my reason 2), and in the name of the freedom to seek truth even under the auspices of a faith statement (my reason 3), please stop.

P.S. See also my reason 4.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence College, located in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. Providence College is a Christian university college that asks its faculty to agree with a statement of faith.)


Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Please note:

The three-part argument that I have set out against CAUT's blacklisting project is a cumulative case argument (or what philosopher Trudy Govier in her book A Practical Study of Argument calls "conductive" or "cumulation of considerations" argument). The idea is that each sub-argument taken by itself provides some grounds for the larger conclusion, though perhaps not sufficient grounds, but when the sub-arguments are taken together they converge and provide strong support for the larger conclusion.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here are some additional articles on the issue of academic freedom, the arguments of which can be incorporated as additional sub-arguments for a larger cumulative case argument against CAUT's blacklisting project:

Roger Gingerich, "Return on faith funding"

Al Hiebert, "Who defines academic freedom?"

August Konkel, "Post Secondary Education in a Democratic Society"

Lloyd Mackey, "TWU stands its ground in face of critical academic report"

Richard J. Osicki, "An Intellectual Prisoner?"

John G. Stackhouse, Jr., "CAUT versus Trinity Western: Academic freedom or statement of faith? They're both right"

Ashley Thorne, "Blacklisting a Christian University"

Al Hiebert said...

The May 10 CBC News blog entitled: "Anti-abortion display was misconduct: university" together with the many "pro-choice" comments in support of the U of Calgary's censoring of the pro-life display neatly illustrate the lack of genuine academic freedom on most Canadian secular campuses. Intolerant "liberal" ideology tends not to allow public expression of ideas that contradict its worldviews, CAUT's anti-conservative Christian education campaign notwithstanding. My experiences in both types of schools makes clear that conservative Christian post-secondary institutions generally practice a more genuine form of academic freedom than do our secular post-secondary institutions.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here is another article on the issue of academic freedom, which (also) argues against CAUT's blacklisting project:

Peter Stockland, "'Academic freedom' turns to religious persecution"