Wednesday, October 11, 2006
In praise of tolerant colleges
By John Zmirak
In a more subtle instance of intolerance, the administration of Georgetown university — the Jesuit university where crucifixes were only kept in classrooms thanks to the intervention of the school’s Islamic chaplain — allowed its office of Protestant ministry to expel six Evangelical groups, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, from the campus. Their crime? The ministry’s press release was a quilt of weasel words, but it’s safe to conclude that the Evangelicals’ offense lay in their theological conservatism. Such groups tend to be vocally pro-life, against gay activism (for instance, the redefinition of marriage), and hostile to the liquidation of traditional Christian doctrine. In other words, the school’s chaplaincy represents the dying hulk of mainstream liberal Protestantism — just as the university, in the main, shills for the fading faith of liberal Catholics. And it doesn’t want the competition from people whose faith is on fire.
At Harvard University, where a panel re-examining the school’s anemic distributional requirements recommended adding a mandatory course in religious studies, (to which I say “Boola-boola!”) the school’s semi-official Memorial Church (Mem-Church) conducts same-sex weddings. What is more, two of its official chaplains are openly gay. As Harvard graduate (and now editor at The Atlantic) Ross Douthat, complained in the Harvard Salient, the appointment of such clergy “was intended to establish Mem Church as a place where those with orthodox religious views would not be welcomed.... Tolerance for gays, it is now clear, means intolerance for others, namely those who cling to what the administration obviously regards as outdated nonsense — the idea that not all sexual behavior is morally equivalent.”
At Louisiana State University, where I finished my Ph.D., one graduate student was given a failing grade on a final paper which would have led to her expulsion from the program — and the loss of her teaching job at another college. Her crime? Citing Thomas Aquinas and Dante as a source in critical theory, and using their “fourfold method” to interpret a novel. Her paper was good enough to get accepted at a professional conference, but the embittered ex-Catholic professor — himself a squeaky Marxist feminist — gave her a zero. Not an “F.” A zero. Having spent the entire semester cracking jokes about all the “Bible-thumpers” on campus, he got his revenge on this student when she dared to employ her knowledge of medieval literature and theology in an academic paper. The department backed him to the hilt. It took the threat of a lawsuit, asserting that the professor’s repeated slurs aimed at Christians had created in the classroom a “hostile learning environment,” which amounted (hold your breath) to sexual harassment. In a piece of cleverness, the student turned the leftist bureaucrats' own regulations against them, and the university blinked. She passed the class — but was so traumatized by the year she spent fighting the system that she dropped out of the school. She’s now happily home-schooling her son, but she’ll never get her degree.
Such stories are commonplace nowadays, far more common than open gestures of “homophobia.” Indeed, the phenomenon of intolerance by students, faculty, and administrators towards more traditionally-minded students is well-known among conservative parents — who are becoming ever more dubious about bundling up their kids for four years of the silent treatment. For that reason, the organization where I work, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has produced a counterpart to The Advocate’s guide, aimed at the group which is really underserved and sometimes persecuted on campus nowadays: All American Colleges: Top Schools for Conservatives, Old Fashioned Liberals, and People of Faith. In it, we examine 50 academically excellent schools, including such stars as Princeton and the University of Chicago; religious schools which are faithful to their founders, such as Wheaton College, Yeshiva University, and the University of St. Thomas; and several colleges where a prevailing liberal consensus does not prevent conservative or religious students from learning or voicing their views, such as Deep Springs in California and Whitman College in Washington.
These are not schools where students with unconventional sexuality would find themselves persecuted — though the dress code at the Citadel, for instance, might prove awkward for cross-dressers. They are schools which take seriously the old ideals of humane liberal education, academic freedom, and openness to faith. At these schools, students of many different viewpoints will find the breathing room they need, in an environment of intellectual rigor. To my mind, those qualities ought to be what any student is seeking.
And isn't "unconventional" here a euphemism? Why are people so cowardly in facing the fact that a great deal of human sexuality is dysfunctional and detrimental to society and healthy living? The answer to this question is very important. Sexuality has grown to play a huge part in self-glorification (?) ideas and discourses, sometimes even surpassing nationalism and religious precepts.