I hate to interrupt guest contributor Sarah Jones's excellent series on Cedarville University. But as fundamentalist encroachment proceeds apace at a number of evangelical colleges with no sign of letting up, I have to ask, Where is the CCCU?
For the uninitiated, the Council for
Conservative Christian Colleges & Universities is a Washington, D.C.-based lobby for a very small subset of Christian colleges. We've written about the CCCU here before. Last March, we quoted Gordon College Professor Karl Giberson, who rightly said that some CCCU schools' "lingering attachment to some of the more dubious certainties and habits derived from Fundamentalism" badly hurt their credibility as legitimate academic institutions. In April, Save OBU Contributing Editor Veronica Risinger wrote a series on women at OBU. She prefaced it by looking at women in CCCU schools, which the CCCU strongly implies are the only schools that are "intentionally Christ-centered." On this score, Veronica noted that only 6% of CCCU institutions have female presidents: "For women who want to lead, the odds are a lot better if your school isn't intentionally Christian." Finally, in July, I congratulated outgoing CCCU President Paul Corts and welcomed the newly-elected president, Ed Blews.
My interest in academic freedom and ethical administration in Christian higher education began when I heard about failings in those areas at my alma mater (Oklahoma Baptist University) from 2009 to 2011. But I have been saddened (though not surprised) to learn that the situation is worse -- much worse -- at peer institutions like Shorter, Cedarville, and Louisiana College. This is without even mentioning other Baptist schools who have apparently made their peace with the new, fundamentalist direction of the post-Takeover SBC such as Union University, Southwest Baptist, and North Greenville University. And we constituents of institutions related to Baptist state conventions are just beginning to learn about goings-on at colleges related to other, smaller evangelical and pentecostal denominations that comprise a majority of the CCCU's membership.
Now, I suppose the CCCU does not want to meddle in its member institutions' internal affairs. But unlike accrediting bodies, which must verify colleges' independent governance, the CCCU seems either unconcerned about or uninterested in stopping problematic threats to academic freedom and lapses in ethical administration that occur when fundamentalists take control.
Thank God moderates at OBU still had enough clout to prevent, or at least delay, the new administration from turning it into a fundamentalist Bible academy. But if we OBU constituents are losing the battle slowly, constituents of Louisiana College, Cedarville, and Shorter are losing the battle swiftly and forcefully. Will no one in the CCCU stand up for them?
I would think the tide of embarrassing press (Cedarville, Shorter), threats to accreditation (Shorter, Louisiana College) and dramatic declines in national rankings (OBU, maybe others) would get the CCCU's attention. But I know of no evidence that this is the case. CCCU President Ed Blews wants to focus on protecting scholarship and loan programs (which is good, I guess, though the wisdom of borrowing heavily to finance a private undergraduate education is debatable). Blews also wants to protect "religious freedom" (i.e., challenge the so-called HHS Mandate, which is a little strange since the CCCU excludes all Catholic universities as insufficiently Christ-centered). Of course it's vital for the CCCU to advocate on issues relevant to all its member institutions and I am as confident as anyone that under Blews's leadership, the council will continue to do so very effectively.
But the CCCU needs to realize something. All is not well. Sure, there are a handful of mainline-affiliated (literally no more than 15) and a few unaffiliated CCCU schools where academic freedom is secure and denominational politics cannot or will not interfere. But at many member institutions, faithful Christian scholars and students are suffering.
I know it's a fine line for the CCCU to walk. After all, the CCCU is a big tent considering its rather precise definition of what constitutes "intentionally Christ-centered." Its membership includes some very reputable, academically rigorous institutions and some pretty wacky, nominally accredited, and avowedly fundamentalist degree mills. But at this point, the CCCU's silence is deafening. One prominent evangelical blogger, noting problems at several institutions (CCCU and otherwise) more eloquently characterized the current collective problem as an "Evangelical Inquisition."
It's well and good that Ed Blews was smiling and joking around with Messiah College President and CCCU Board Chair Kim Phipps at his inauguration last month in Washington. But it's time to get serious about fundamentalist encroachment and oppose this inquisition. It recently hit close to home for Dr. Phipps (incidentally one of the handful of female CCCU college presidents), as one of Messiah's professors is under fire for a blog post that challenged unthinking, literal interpretations of Scripture. The CCCU requires its members to "be supportive of other Christian colleges." Well, we at OBU, Cedarville, Shorter, Louisiana College and a host of other member institutions need to feel that support.
We need it now more than ever.
P.S. I live in Washington, so I am willing to meet with senior CCCU staff to strategize about how we can all work together to protect academic freedom and ensure ethical administration at our beloved Christian colleges.
P.P.S. The hymn "Forward Through the Ages" was sung at Mr. Blews's inauguration service. It's one of his favorites and it's one of mine, too. I hope it calls to mind the unity and determination we need to protect and preserve the traditions and values we hold dear.
1. Forward through the ages, in unbroken line, move the faithful spirits at the call divine; gifts in differing measure, hearts of one accord, manifold the service, one the sure reward.
Refrain: Forward through the ages, in unbroken line, move the faithful spirits at the call divine. 2. Wider grows the kingdom, reign of love and light; for it we must labor, till our faith is sight. Prophets have proclaimed it, martyrs testified, poets sung its glory, heroes for it died. (Refrain) 3. Not alone we conquer, not alone we fall; in each loss or triumph lose or triumph all. Bound by God's far purpose in one living whole, move we on together to the shining goal. (Refrain)