Maclean's - Canada February 15, 2011
Redeemer University College, according to its published statements, promotes religion over knowledge.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I have, in the past, taken issue with religious universities like Trinity Western and Crandall, the sort of institutions that require fundamentalist faith statements of all their faculty and seek to foster religious extremism in their students. You will also know that the CAUT has been after such universities too and has created a black list of universities that require a faith or ideological test for faculty.
Redeemer University College is the latest institution to fall under CAUT’s stern gaze, and the Redeemer case provides a good opportunity to address some of the sloppy and tentative thinking — so it appears to me — that always swirls around this issue. As always, I want to make it clear, that it is the particular kind of religion practiced at these schools that bothers me — I fully acknowledge that there are other, better ways practiced by others.
First, the claim is often made that all universities have an ideology of some kind or another, so why is a Christian university any worse than a secular university? The sloppiness here comes from an inconsistent use of the word “ideology.” In its broadest sense, whereby ideology means any kind of system of ideas, it’s true, a priori, that all universities must have an ideology. In this sense, a university that says that it promotes knowledge and critical thinking because these things serve the greater good of humanity — well they have an ideology.
But that’s surely not what CAUT means when they are concerned about an ideological test for faculty. Because in a more narrow sense, ideology often means a particular and focused set of beliefs about how the world works and how it ought to be. To be sure, individuals or groups at particular universities may have strong ideological commitments, but that is not the same as the institution as a whole requiring a specific ideological view of all faculty. I am a committed atheist, but I would not want my university to require everyone to be an atheist. Academic disciplines may require a certain level of agreement on some basic issues, but typically these are matters of fact (a biologist needs to accept evolution).
But what about, say a Women’s Studies department? To work there you would have to be a feminist, right? I would say no: a Women’s Studies prof would have to accept that the place of women in society is an important issue — but no Women’s Studies department should insist that its members agree on specific details or policies about, say, child care. Show me a department in a public university where all members, as a matter of published policy, must sign a commitment to specific values and views, and I will speak out against them, too.
But even if other universities did have their own ideologies, it would still be misleading to say such a university was ideological in the same way that Redeemer is. Apart from religious zealots, even ideologues differ. Committed socialists can disagree about almost everything and still be socialists. Feminists can, and do, disagree about key issues like abortion. These disagreements are possible because these ideologies, whatever their strengths and weaknesses, are at least grounded in the real world and their arguments can be evaluated by the normal standards of reason.
But Christianity as practiced at Redeemer (though not everywhere, I concede) is not an ideology like that. As with TWU, Redeemer’s vision of Christianity is precise, and exclusionary. According to their stated principles, God created the world, revealed His will to humanity through the Bible, and was incarnated as Christ who is the only hope for the world. This is not just a university with a Christian leaning — this is a university with a very strict program of belief that no Muslim, Jew, or atheist could ever sign in good conscience, and that even many Christians would reject. Indeed, according to Redeemer, knowledge itself is “made possible only by means of a true faith in Jesus Christ, in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (my emphasis). Am I the only one who sees the implication here? So extreme is this institution that it denies the validity of all the knowledge of non-Christians! I’m not making that up; it’s right there on the web site! The kind of religion espoused by Redeemer is not even ideology. It’s superstition.
And Redeemer does not just stop at belief: they also seek to control faculty conduct, a point not stressed in any story I can recall. At Redeemer, faculty members are expressly discouraged from doing too much work on Sunday. More incredibly, Redeemer promises to punish faculty who swear, are gay, who enjoy pornography, and who have sex outside of marriage. Some have had the gall to call the investigation a witch hunt, but how can an institution like this ask others to mind their own moral business while it claims to have jurisdiction over whether Professor Virile’s girlfriend is staying the night? We all know who perfected the art of witch hunting.
Still, if that’s their thing, as Redeemer President Hurbert Krygsman suggests, why not leave them to it? They are not publicly funded and their members are not members of CAUT, so why does CAUT or anyone else care? Well, setting aside that Redeemer does get some public money, I care and CAUT cares because all academics have an interest in preserving the clear use of academic terms like “university” and “degree.” These terms have fairly well understood meanings in Canada and having a “university education” or holding a “university degree” should carry a certain weight and should say certain things about one’s education.
If the aim of the institution is to prepare students to be knowledgeable, curious, critical, and capable of ongoing learning, then we are talking about a university. But if the self-proclaimed task of the institution is to “equip young men and women to serve as witnesses to Christ’s victory in the various vocations they will take up in society” and that they take advantages of ”the opportunities for evangelism that their positions may afford, [...] by testifying to the transforming power of Christ inevery aspect of their professional or vocational conduct” (my emphasis), then you are not a university. You are a radical, fundamentalist indoctrination centre and you should call yourself that. Or Bible College. Whichever you prefer.
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