Friday, February 22, 2013

Things Fall Apart

Cedarville University Series
Part 1 - Cedarville: A Very Brief Introduction
Part 2 - The Worst are Filled with Passionate Intensity
Part 3 - Things Fall Apart

After the Cedars controversy, I spent a semester overseas. By the time I returned to campus, I’d started dating the son of a high-ranking staff member. Though not a student, he had free access to campus, and eventually got a short-term job at the university due to his father’s connections. That relationship should have been a mere footnote to my Cedarville story, but like so many college relationships, it became abusive. My ex, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, started drinking again, and I became the target for his anger.

Abusive dating relationships aren’t unique to Cedarville. What sets Cedarville apart is its campus culture, defined by events like the one I criticized in my Cedars article. Women are sexualized, but restricted from sexual behavior. They are the gatekeepers of sexual purity, charged with dressing modestly in order to prevent male lust.

So it’s probably no surprise, then, that when my ex’s abuse escalated to attempted rape, one of my first thoughts (after the humiliation and fear) involved the modesty panel I’d criticized. Specifically, I remembered a male classmate’s assertion that women should not wear pajama pants in public, because that made men think about bed, which made them think about sex.

My boyfriend tried to rape me while I was wearing pajamas. And at the time, I couldn’t shake the deep-seated conviction that I’d brought it upon myself.

This isn’t easy to write. I write it because I believe it’s necessary. I write it because I want you to understand why I, and so many others, have spoken so extensively about Carl Ruby’s compassion. It is because his compassion stands in stark contrast to the treatment many of us received at Cedarville. We speak about the philosophy professors, Dr. Mills and his colleague, Dr. Shawn Graves, because they encouraged students to think critically about ethics and faith. Cedarville needs that, too.

In the days that followed the assault, I became severely depressed, but I told no one about the attack. I feared retribution, and for several months, I found the event too traumatic to revisit. I did go to Dr. Ruby and others about different aspects of the abuse. And though my abuser faced no consequences for his actions, he, Dr. Mills and other faculty members who have since moved on from Cedarville deserve credit for showing me the emotional support that helped me move on and begin to heal.

Cedarville’s refusal to punish my abuser alerted me to the depths of the corruption in Cedarville’s administration. When I received word this past fall that a Bible professor had been fired for his interpretation of Genesis, that the philosophy major could be cut, and that Dr. Ruby could lose his job, I credited these decisions to these same deeply rooted failures in leadership. These failures became evident to many when the university officially announced its plans.

The backlash stumbled to life when the university fired Dr. Michael Pahl. The reason: Pahl, a literalist, proved not quite literalist enough to suit Dr. Tom Cornman, the fundamentalist academic vice president. Dr. Cornman had recently authored a then-secret series of white papers that codified the university’s doctrinal position, beyond the statement publicly available on the university’s website.

Dr. Cornman and the provost, Dr. John Gredy, also a fundamentalist, later led the charge to eliminate Cedarville’s philosophy major. Neither publicly stated an ideological motivation behind their decision, but behind the scenes, bias tainted every administrative move.

Last month, Cedars thoroughly documented the flaws in the review and appeal processes as applied to the philosophy program. The rushed review process and the obscured rationale behind it fuelled student and alumni concerns that this signalled an imminent fundamentalist takeover of the university. When Carl Ruby announced his unexpected resignation on January 10th, those fears seemed to be confirmed. The resignation seemed especially suspicious after Christianity Today revealed that Dr. Ruby had already undergone a hearing in the fall, and that Lorne Scharneberg, chairman of the Board of Trustees, denied the hearing ever occurred. After twenty-five years of service to the university, Dr. Ruby was forced to leave campus five days after his public resignation. Conveniently, a non-disclosure agreement forbade him from revealing the true reasons for his departure. The conditions of Dr. Ruby’s resignation have prompted one trustee, Chris Williamson, to publicly call for his reinstatement.

During a topical Town Hall chaired by Dr. Gredy, he and Dr. Cornman misrepresented the true number of students enrolled in philosophy courses at the university, and generally avoided specific student concerns about the philosophy major and Dr. Ruby’s resignation. In the wake of the university’s decisions, petitions to reinstate Dr. Ruby and revive the philosophy program received 1071 and 1170 signatures respectively. Either petition by itself dwarfs an older petition about Hoffeditz’s termination. Combined, they represent a thriving opposition to fundamentalist encroachment at Cedarville University.

That opposition has been bolstered by the revelation that trustee Michael Loftis had been forced to abandon the presidency of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) for failures in leadership. The failure? Although victims first informed Loftis about the activities of a pedophile missionary doctor in 2002, Loftis did not launch any sort of investigation into the crimes until 2011. Loftis remains a trustee and the pedophile, though now dead, still posthumously holds an honorary doctorate from Cedarville.

Loftis is not the only trustee charged with covering up child molestation. Trustee Bill Williams resigned from his position as the superintendent of Worthington Christian Schools in 2008 after it was revealed that he had a hired a known child molester to teach at the school.

To our further dismay, an open letter by Dr. David Olsen, Cedarville graduate and co-founder of Cedarville Out, described the sexual harassment of male students by now retired Professor Ed Spencer, and the sexual harassment and abuse of other male students by former professor, Dr. David Robey. The incidents span decades.

The male victims of Dr. Spencer and Dr. Robey encountered the same cultural obstacles that I did, complicated by the school’s strident homophobia. We had few allies, and reporting the full scale of the abuse seemed impossible. We each found ourselves marginalized by the university’s culture of silence. That culture of silence protects Michael Loftis and Bill Williams. It is responsible for the tactics used to remove Carl Ruby, Michael Pahl, David Mills and Shawn Graves from their positions. It benefits only the fundamentalists who enforce it in order to protect their vision of Cedarville University. Their vision leaves no space for debate or for compassion shown to the marginalized. It does not include justice for gay and lesbian students, or, it seems, for feminist student journalists.

I am 25 years old. I hold a master’s degree from Goldsmiths, University of London, and last month I went public about my assault. My abuser, who also attacked another female student, is currently under investigation by the university. At the moment, there are no investigations into the claims regarding Dr. Spencer and Dr. Robey.

On Thursday evening, we received word that Lorne Scharneberg has confirmed to an alumnus that he intends to return Cedarville to its fundamentalist roots. According to Scharneberg, Carl Ruby and others wanted Cedarville to “become like Wheaton (College)” and that he does not care if this return to fundamentalism results in a drop in enrolment. It is clear that the financial arguments employed by the university to defend its decision to eliminate the philosophy major are entirely facetious, that Carl Ruby’s resignation was forced, and that this fundamentalist faction remains bent on destroying any remaining semblance of academic freedom at the university.

Tomorrow, the board will meet to discuss the elimination of the philosophy major and Carl Ruby’s resignation for the final time. If Scharneberg and his allies succeed, Cedarville University will go the way of Bob Jones University and each of us can forget about our individual campaigns for justice. Please keep the entire Cedarville community in your thoughts and prayers this weekend. On Monday, I’ll report here on the board’s decisions.

Editor's Note: Increasingly, groups from the evangelical and fundamentalist communities are raising awareness about how fundamentalist culture protects abusers and mistreats victims.  I have elsewhere asked where the CCCU is on fundamentalist encroachment at member institutions.  Given the pervasive sexual scandals (and cover-ups), that question seems even more pertinent.  I also want to acknowledge the unkind anonymous comments on Sarah's previous posts.  For obvious reasons, I am disabling comments.