The Difficulty of Being an Atheist College Administrator

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by “Madalyn Dawkins” (a pseudonym combining Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Richard Dawkins) discusses the relative ease of being an atheist professor but the difficulty of being an atheist administrator:

Donors will give your school money… but only if it’s not led by an atheist, says ‘Dawkins’

Faculty members regularly announce themselves to be godless without consequence, but for an administrator — especially a high-ranking one — such an announcement could amount to professional suicide.

My spouse has had a succession of administrative posts over the last few decades, and my experience is that in academe there is a kind of God Squad that monitors and polices administrators’ beliefs and attitudes toward religion. The real danger for campus officials who reveal themselves as agnostic or atheist is retaliation from powerful donors, board members, alumni, or other administrators in the institutional hierarchy.

The main reason, she says, is that the job is political, and we know politics is not a safe space for atheism. I don’t have personal experience with academia at that level, but the explanation would make sense. University administrators are, in large part, fundraisers. They need donors of all stripes to give the school some money and controversial opinions of any sort, really, don’t help.

Her advice is for administrators to avoid the topic and not show their cards. I don’t know how realistic that really is. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if we found out a significant percentage of college presidents were atheists… and if you were a donor, wouldn’t you go into a discussion with an administrator assuming that the person was an atheist?

In any case, it’s a sad state of affairs when the people who run our institutions of higher education are advised to avoid serious discussions about controversial topics because it might hurt their bottom line.

Jack Vance has a few rebuttals to the article worth checking out.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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