WSJ: A Compromise on Creationism

@TedDavis , I’m not sure if this is the right analysis.

BJU enforced a ban on interracial marriage till 2000. That ban is rooted in Bob Jone Sr.'s segregationist theology. It is correct that the court cases ended their right to deny non-white people admission, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t still operating by segregationist theology. In fact, it seems they were till very very late in the game. To give some perspective on the timeline here, I graduated from undergrad in 2000…so we are talking my time as a student.

I do not know the history in detail, but I suspect it is not coincidental that Tracs was admitted to CHEA in 2001, a year after BJU ended their interracial dating ban.

That isn’t to say that BJU is segregationist now (or TRACs). I know a couple professors there that believe this reality was true, but also very lamentable. So I’m not trying to paint them all with a particular brush, and I’m also careful to use the term “segregationist” rather than “racist.” Still, this is too important an issue to whitewash…

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I’m not vouching for its accuracy, but that is not among the reasons listed on Wikipedia:

Although BJU had admitted Asian students and other ethnic groups from its inception, it did not enroll African or African-American students until 1971. From 1971 to 1975, BJU admitted only married Black people, although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had already determined in 1970 that “private schools with racially discriminatory admissions policies” were not entitled to federal tax exemption. In 1975, the University Board of Trustees authorized a change in policy to admit Black students, a move that occurred shortly before the announcement of the Supreme Court decision in Runyon v. McCrary (427 U.S. 160 [1976]), which prohibited racial exclusion in private schools.[121] However, in May of that year, BJU expanded rules against interracial dating and marriage.[122]

In 1976, the Internal Revenue Service revoked the university’s tax exemption retroactively to December 1, 1970, on grounds that it was practicing racial discrimination.[123] The case eventually was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982. After BJU lost the decision in Bob Jones University v. United States (461 U.S. 574)[1983], the university chose to maintain its interracial dating policy and pay a million dollars in back taxes. The year following the Court decision, contributions to the university declined by 13 percent.[124] In 2000, following a media uproar prompted by the visit of presidential candidate George W. Bush to the university, Bob Jones III dropped the university’s interracial dating rule, announcing the change on CNN’s Larry King Live .[125] In the same year, Bob Jones III drew criticism when he reposted a letter on the university’s web page referring to Mormons and Catholics as being members of “cults which call themselves Christian”.[126]

The year 2000. CE, to be precise. That is the year they dropped the ban. Not before then. Flabbergasting.

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Thanks @Mercer, @stlyankeefan & @TedDavis for your responses. They have helped explain and enlighten my lack of knowledge of (what appears to be a fairly heterogeneous ecosystem of) American conservative Christian tertiary education.

A substantial proportion of TRACS’ member institutions seem to be seminaries and Bible colleges. The contents and standards of their tuition would appear to be an issue more of concern to their respective religious communities, than to the scientific community. They would also tend to be less likely to offer science courses (beyond papers in Religion and Science and/or Science-based apologetics).

Like the College of the Ozarks, Cedarville University is accredited by the HLC. Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), but was at one stage accredited by TRACS.

This leads me to draw a couple of conclusions.

Firstly, being a conservative Christian tertiary institution does not, in and of itself, seem to be a barrier for achieving more mainstream/secular accreditation. This would tend to mitigate against any advantage that TRACS would gain by becoming more rigorous – it would move it into a niche that is already being catered to.

Secondly, in spite of its name, nothing of what I have heard about Liberty University (which, prior to his departure, seems to have been run by Jerry Falwell Jr as somewhat of a personal despotic fiefdom) indicates that it places any particular emphasis on freedom (academic or otherwise). I know that it does not offer tenure (outside its Law School). This would seem to make it problematic for CHEA to try and push TRACS to enforce academic freedom more, when secular accreditation agencies do not do so.

Does anybody know what the prevalent accreditation standard (if one exists) on academic freedom is?

One institution that caught my eye on the TRACS list was the American University of Health Sciences. This was because (i) it is second on the list, (ii) its name does not indicate that it is a religious institution, (iii) has an explicitly science-related name & (iv) lacks a Wikipedia page (nor could I find anything substantive in terms of independent information on it with a quick Google search). Does anybody know anything about it? If the concern is about TRACS and the quality of tertiary science education, this sort of institution would likely to be at the forefront.

Finally, I think the question has to be asked, what is TRACS’ niche within the ecosystem of American conservative Christian tertiary education? Is it a niche that would be enhanced or hampered by it increasing its rigor on science and academic freedom? If hampered, it is unlikely that CHEA will find much traction pushing them in that direction.

The HLC policy manual states, “2D. The institution is committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.”

That being said, I was recently involved in my university’s HLC review. I wrote the section on faculty quality and was interviewed at length by the visiting team. There were a number of questions about faculty qualifications, the ratio of full time faculty to adjuncts, diversity, etc., but tenure and academic freedom never came up. My university does not offer tenure and puts restrictions on academic freedom. I probably have more academic freedom than faculty at some Christian universities, but I must stay within Biblical guidelines as interpreted by higher ups.

It seems that “more honored in the breach than in the observance” sums it up then. Expecting TRACS to do better would seem both fruitless and discriminatory.

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Academic freedom isn’t important merely because it’s a required component of accreditation. Rather it is important because (1) academic freedom will be the go-to excuse for allowing Tracs to deviate from national norms, (2) academic freedom is critical for ensuring welfare of students and faculty, which is part of accreditation guidelines, and (3) YEC institutions are famously intolerant of alternate views with very poor protections for academic freedom, which makes #1 particularly risible.

What YECs will want to do is turn this into a tug-a-war between “national norms (not-YEC)” vs. “academic freedom (YEC).” Instead, the debate is really “national norms and academic freedom (not-YEC)” vs. “rigid application of belief statements supporting large deviations from national norms (YEC).”

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I agree that academic freedom is important for reasons unrelated to accreditation. I have become particularly sensitive to it’s importance since an incident early this year involving a complaint about some of my scientific views (not related to YEC, but still an issue for my employer). Still, I think Tim makes a good point - can we insist TRACS allow more academic freedom than HLC requires? I assume HLC is aware of my university’s policy on academic freedom - it’s in the documentation we are required to submit. Then again, they also know what I teach about evolution (and everything else) because it’s in my syllabi.

I wasn’t suggesting that it was (nor, as far as I know was anybody else).

Whether it’s “a required component of accreditation” is important because it’s the way that accreditation agencies can enforce academic freedom.

We have explicit testimony from @stlyankeefan that HLC does not, in spite of its stated policy, enforce this. Liberty University seems to indicate that SACS doesn’t either. Between them, these two agencies cover 30 of the 50 states in the US. This means its becoming doubtful if the “national norm” is in fact enforcement of academic freedom, rather than merely lip-service to it.

Can anybody tell me if (SACS-accredited) Liberty University actually teaches evolution? This core biology paper seems to cover a number of topics that would (in a normal university) overlap with evolution. Liberty also has a requirement for one of two ‘Creation Studies’ papers in their Biology major: CRST 290 History of Life or CRST 390 Origins. The reason I ask is that it is unlikely that TRACS can be made to be more rigorous in how it requires its member institutions teach evolution than SACS is in how it requires Liberty.

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Well, yes they can, because…

To be clear here, I’ve looked over both CHEA and TRACs guidelines. I encourage you to look closely at them yourself.

Given that I just said that they can, I’m unsure why you’re belaboring this point.

Although HLC policy states “2D. The institution is committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.”, @stlyankeefan states that this policy is not enforced in practice. Liberty University, which does not seem to place much value on academic freedom, maintains accreditation with SACS whose ‘Principles of Accreditation’ state “4. The institution publishes and implements appropriate policies and procedures for preserving and protecting academic freedom.”

This suggests to me that there may be a wide gap between policy and practice. In this situation, “CHEA and TRACs guidelines” may be less informative than you might think.

On another issue that I’ve been pursuing, I notice that HLC-accredited Cedarville University is on AiG’s approved list of ‘Creation Colleges’ (Liberty University however is not). This would seem to suggest that being fairly emphatically Creationism-chauvanistic may not be a barrier to attaining mainstream accreditation.

This in turn further suggests to me that we should better understanding of where TRACS’ niche is within the conservative Christian tertiary education ecosystem, before we try to get them to alter that niche.

It would appear that neither lack of significant academic freedom, nor course contents that hew fairly close to creationism, are barriers to more mainstream accreditation. This suggests to me (i) that pushing TRACS to enforce improved standards on these points are likely to be unavailing and (ii) that there may well be other issues with the institutions that have no choice but to rely on TRACS as their (sole) accreditation.

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I’m not asking TRACS for anything. I’m asking CHEA, a secular institution, to follow its own policy.

I don’t think I suggested that you were “asking TRACS for anything”, merely that it is being suggested that they should be asked.

Given that HLC and SACS likewise don’t seem to be following their own policy on this, I would suggest that the problem is rather larger than the CHEA-TRACS relationship. It may be more productive to suggest that CHEA follow its own policy by tightening up on enforcement of academic freedom across the board.

Addendum: although I could find a number of pages and documents mentioning academic freedom on CHEA’s website, I would find no mention of it in their latest Recognition Policy and Procedures.

The closest I could find was this 2012 CHEA/Association of American University Professors Advisory Statement on Accreditation and Academic Freedom and some “presentations” linked to on this page.

Incidentally CHEA and Dept of Education recognition are not perfectly synonymous, as this table demonstrates.

Further addendum: the DoE accreditation regulations don’t appear to make explict mention of Academic Freedom either:

REQUIRED STANDARDS AND THEIR APPLICATION

602.16 Accreditation and preaccreditation standards.

(a) The agency must demonstrate that it has standards for accreditation, and preaccreditation, if offered, that are sufficiently rigorous to ensure that the agency is a reliable authority regarding the quality of the education or training provided by the institutions or programs it accredits. The agency meets this requirement if-

(1) The agency’s accreditation standards effectively address the quality of the institution or program in the following areas:

(i) Success with respect to student achievement in relation to the institution’s mission, which may include different standards for different institutions or programs, as established by the institution, including, as appropriate, consideration of course completion, State licensing examination, and job placement rates.

(ii) Curricula.

(iii) Faculty.

(iv) Facilities, equipment, and supplies.

(v) Fiscal and administrative capacity as appropriate to the specified scale of operations.

(vi) Student support services.

(vii) Recruiting and admissions practices, academic calendars, catalogs, publications, grading, and advertising.

(viii) Measures of program length and the objectives of the degrees or credentials offered.

(ix) Record of student complaints received by, or available to, the agency.

(x) Record of compliance with the institution’s program responsibilities under Title IV of the Act, based on the most recent student loan default rate data provided by the Secretary, the results of financial or compliance audits, program reviews, and any other information that the Secretary may provide to the agency; and

(2) The agency’s preaccreditation standards, if offered, are appropriately related to the agency’s accreditation standards and do not permit the institution or program to hold preaccreditation status for more than five years. [1]

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Thanks for your research on this.

The Discovery Institute has made some comments on the article:

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I expected this. Should be really interesting to see how it plays out from here.

David, thanks for getting the word out at ENV!

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Argh! Pet peeve! Pet peeve! In Hamlet, that phrase means that it’s more honorable to violate the custom than to keep it.

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Shakespeare meant that phrase in the way you describe (past tense, and yes, I am aware of its original usage). But the meaning (current tense) has changed over the last 420 years. The English language, unlike curated languages such as French, is not meant to be static.

Sometimes those changes can be irritating, and we feel the urge to “take arms against a sea of troubles” against them, but I suspect that our efforts are futile.

In this case, I rather suspect that, were it to be used in Shakespeare’s original meaning of the phrase, it would rarely find employment. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Oh, I know – I’m a thorough-going descriptivist. That’s why I described my response as a pet peeve rather than a correction.

Yes, secular institutions should credit courses on scientific creationism, as soon as religious institutions recognize courses in evolutionary biology. Presently, BJU does not so accredit: (from BJU’s Biology Statement:
“Studying God’s creation is a part of loving God with all your mind. Biologists are confronted daily with evidence of God’s creative genius. And being a Christian biologist, in particular, requires excellence in understanding and applying the principles of biology combined with a distinctly biblical perspective on science.
At BJU, we offer a ground-breaking biology curriculum taught by uniquely qualified faculty committed to the inerrancy of Scripture.”
No mention of secular biology.

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Welcome @OldNassau !

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