The University That Might Want To Stop Calling Itself A University

Recent events at a well-known Christian school got me thinking about proper naming and free speech issues in the kingdom of God.

What Christians Call Their Institutions Matters

Cedarville University has been going through big changes over the past couple of years.

First, faculty and staff started leaving over what they consider interference by school administration that obstructs the employees’ ability to serve God fully in an academic ministry.

More recently the administration has has taken action against the students. Both Rachel Stone and Warren Throckmorton (a Cedarville alumnus) report that administrators are cracking down on a student-run newspaper that printed articles critical of school policies and practices.

Stone and Throckmorton give details of the school president and vice president personally confiscating copies of the newspaper as the paper’s staffers were ready to pass them out to fellow students. The president’s justification is that the newspaper distribution was “unauthorized” and violated a school policy he interprets as prohibiting students from criticizing the school in print.

My point in writing is not to reiterate Stone’s and Throckmorton’s reports. Rather I want to point out one thing this type of administrative action proves:

Cedarville does not live up to its claim of being a university.

They should just drop the word from their name.

They Could Do So Much Better

Technically, universities are almost exclusively higher education institutions that confer doctoral degrees. In a more general sense, universities are also generally understood to be places where  higher education occurs in a marketplace of ideas marked by academic freedom and robust student participation.

Cedarville’s recent actions hinder that marketplace freedom and robust experience.

Here are some tips for Cedarviulle if it desires to be a real university.

  • If the student journalistss need guidance, offer it to them.
  • If their articles are critical, listen to them.
  • If there is a difference of opinion on how the school should operate, live together as fellow believers striving to follow Paul’s wisdom in Philippians 3:15:

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

Paul offered this irenic advice on differences of opinion relating to core doctrine, so why can’t a school administration follow suit on matters of mere school policy?

Perhaps Cedarville could call itself a Bible college or Christian training center or something similar but its actions these last couple years, especially the latest about the newspaper, show that Cedarville is not what most people think of as a university.

They really ought to stop calling themselves one.

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14 Responses to The University That Might Want To Stop Calling Itself A University

  1. Love the Scripture you quoted. Hadn’t thought through that one before, but had underlined the previous one. Also like “let us be of the same mind” that follows. Some times on some issues it is hard to be of the same mind.

    I am a graduate of a liberal arts Christian college. I often reflected on the differences between a church and a college/university. At times the debates were just open and the administration let us agree to disagree when we students participated in a chapel debate.

    But the verse you quoted “that too God will make clear to you” is our ultimate authority and when it goes to court, we need to obey Caesar as in Matt. 22:21. Hopefully Christian universities will not have to go to court over issues.

    • Tim says:

      It sounds like your university experience was at a school where the leadership understood that the Spirit guides God’s people into truth and peace, and that strict rules restricting what people say in pursuit of God’ will are not that helpful.

  2. Michelle Mosier says:

    This was a very interesting article. I commend your recommendations to the university because they highlight the importance of what it means to live in community.

    • Tim says:

      Good point, Michelle. Universities are communities of learning and thinking, a mission that is not at all incompatible with the Body of Christ.

  3. Jeannie says:

    I like your 3 tips for Cedarville. That freedom of ideas can feel uncomfortable and threatening, but it’s part of what should characterize a university.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Jeannie. I think God wants us to bring our thoughts and ideas into conversation with one another, just as he invites us to come and reason together with him. (Isaiah 1:18.)

  4. EricaM says:

    I have firsthand experience in distributing an “underground” newspaper, although it was at my high school. The administration reacted much the same way when we wrote anything critical of the policies. These were things the students had tried to discuss with the administration, but they only did the equivalent of nodding and smiling.

    I like your three tips for these situations. I think the help of a neutral party both to guide our writing and to get to the bottom of what our problems were and why we wanted to write about them would have helped us tremendously. That said, our administration that year was made up of people handpicked by the superintendent who wouldn’t question her, so it was a problem from the top all the way down.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for giving us your personal experience, Erica. I bet these administrators would not play the “unauthorized” card if the student papers were praising the school rather than criticizing it.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Wow, Erica, sounds like you were getting good experience before college. I have found that many “universities” are their own marketplace for their own ideas.

  5. karen d says:

    There is this sense, tho’, in conservative circles that mainstream universities are indoctrinating students (without parents and students being aware of said indoctrination, suggesting that our high school graduates and their families are not only naive but stupid), so the Christian community needs its own higher education institutions so that Christian students are NOT indoctrinated but rather learn to think critically and biblically (and we know what that means). It of course goes further, that these Christian university graduates are then prepared to be on the front lines of the culture wars, reclaiming America for Jesus. Just typing that sentence gave me the creeps, by the way. Here is my point: there is a deep danger in equating the kind of education you find at a normal, secular or (healthy) Christian university (Azusa or Baylor let’s use as examples) and a fundamentalist Christian one like Cedarville. The former educate; the latter indoctrinate. As a UCD grad (’91) and then Penn State grad (’93) my experience was that instructors of course had their own ideologies and political agendas, but they were not propagandists but rather took particular pride in teaching students not what to think but how.

    • Tim says:

      Great distinctions, Karen. Both of my kids grew in their faith while attending huge public research universities. If someone really thinks that Cedarville’s policies are essential to the formation of adult Christians (or some such notion), then I think the person might not have as much faith in the Spirit of Christ as they might think.

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