Christian college presidents

Two important Christian institutions of higher education have appointed new presidents.

Baylor University has chosen Ken Starr. Best known as the special prosecutor in the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair, Starr has been a law school administrator at Pepperdine with loads of academic credentials. This still doesn’t tell me where Baylor is going, though. The university has been torn between the goal of a former president to become a true Christian university, an evangelical Notre Dame, and the goal of many of its entrenched faculty to become just another liberal university like nearly all the others. Choosing someone known for his politics rather than his theology seems like yet a third way for the Baptist school, one that may please neither side.

The new president of Wheaton College will be Philip Ryken. What a good choice! I know him. The son of Wheaton professor and major Christian literary scholar Leland Ryken, Phil is currently the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he succeeded the late James Boice. Phil will bring to the job a depth of scholarship, the heart and skills of a pastor, and Protestant orthodoxy.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • kerner

    As it turns out Pepperdine Law is my alma mater. That was way before Ken Starr’s time, but if he reflects the same attitude and policies of the law school I remember (and I’m pretty sure he does) perhaps I can shed some light on Baylor’s future.

    At the time I was there, I felt that Pepperdine Law was trying to have things both ways, but now I think they may have swerved into the Lutheran doctrine of vocation. In my day, Pepperdine Law was an “up and comming” school. A recent bequest had given the university a significant parcel of land in Malibu, and the most of the undergrad schools were already there. The Law School Building was finished during my sophomore year.

    Pepperdine’s promotional literature mentioned it’s affiliation with the Churches of Christ, an evangelical denomination. There is a group called the Christian Legal Society that holds bible classes and retreats and so forth for Law students and professionals. While most Law Schools in Southern California were lucky to have 5-10 people attend Bible classes, at Pepperdine we routinely had about 30-40 people show up (out of a student body of 300-400). But, as those numbers might suggest, Pepperdine Law was not about educating Christian lawyers. It was about educating good lawyers, while encouraging Christians to attend. There were also a lot of Christians on the faculty, and some were highly respected, but the lectures and textbooks were similar to what would be presented at any other law school.

    The bottom line was that Pepperdine Law was trying to be good at what it did, and recognised for it. Sometimes that treanslated into the relentless pursuit of excellence. Our intramural Moot Court competition was fierce and our School teams beat many better known (even Ivy League) schools. On the other hand, as early as when I was there Pepperdine began to bring in coinservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices as speakers and eventually as Moot Court Judges. But when a Supreme Court Justice lectured, only students in the top quarter of their classes could attend. The other seats were reserved for faculty and potential contributors to the school. I blush to admit that I missed the lecture. At the time I thought this was rather ruthless self promotion at the expense of the students. But now I wonder. Pepperdine Law’s long term goal has been successful, I think. I don’t live there anymore, but I believe that Pepperdine Law is a respected law school on the west coast. It attracts highly qualified students and has a reputation for graduating good lawyers who, if they are so inclined, make good money. It still has a significant number of Christians on the faculty, but neither the faculty nor the student body is restricted to Christianity. But William Renquist and Antonin Scalia were guests at Pepperdine Law. I don’t think John Paul Stevens ever got an invitation.

    So I still wonder, was all this pursuit of excellence and recognition for it by secular society being conformed to this World, or was it executing the Lutheran doctrine of vocation by being Christians meeting the needs of their neighbors (providing the students a high quality education and a good reputation to start their professional careers–at some significant expense I might add)? I’m still not sure, but I’ll bet that Baylor gets something similar from Ken Starr.

  • kerner

    As it turns out Pepperdine Law is my alma mater. That was way before Ken Starr’s time, but if he reflects the same attitude and policies of the law school I remember (and I’m pretty sure he does) perhaps I can shed some light on Baylor’s future.

    At the time I was there, I felt that Pepperdine Law was trying to have things both ways, but now I think they may have swerved into the Lutheran doctrine of vocation. In my day, Pepperdine Law was an “up and comming” school. A recent bequest had given the university a significant parcel of land in Malibu, and the most of the undergrad schools were already there. The Law School Building was finished during my sophomore year.

    Pepperdine’s promotional literature mentioned it’s affiliation with the Churches of Christ, an evangelical denomination. There is a group called the Christian Legal Society that holds bible classes and retreats and so forth for Law students and professionals. While most Law Schools in Southern California were lucky to have 5-10 people attend Bible classes, at Pepperdine we routinely had about 30-40 people show up (out of a student body of 300-400). But, as those numbers might suggest, Pepperdine Law was not about educating Christian lawyers. It was about educating good lawyers, while encouraging Christians to attend. There were also a lot of Christians on the faculty, and some were highly respected, but the lectures and textbooks were similar to what would be presented at any other law school.

    The bottom line was that Pepperdine Law was trying to be good at what it did, and recognised for it. Sometimes that treanslated into the relentless pursuit of excellence. Our intramural Moot Court competition was fierce and our School teams beat many better known (even Ivy League) schools. On the other hand, as early as when I was there Pepperdine began to bring in coinservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices as speakers and eventually as Moot Court Judges. But when a Supreme Court Justice lectured, only students in the top quarter of their classes could attend. The other seats were reserved for faculty and potential contributors to the school. I blush to admit that I missed the lecture. At the time I thought this was rather ruthless self promotion at the expense of the students. But now I wonder. Pepperdine Law’s long term goal has been successful, I think. I don’t live there anymore, but I believe that Pepperdine Law is a respected law school on the west coast. It attracts highly qualified students and has a reputation for graduating good lawyers who, if they are so inclined, make good money. It still has a significant number of Christians on the faculty, but neither the faculty nor the student body is restricted to Christianity. But William Renquist and Antonin Scalia were guests at Pepperdine Law. I don’t think John Paul Stevens ever got an invitation.

    So I still wonder, was all this pursuit of excellence and recognition for it by secular society being conformed to this World, or was it executing the Lutheran doctrine of vocation by being Christians meeting the needs of their neighbors (providing the students a high quality education and a good reputation to start their professional careers–at some significant expense I might add)? I’m still not sure, but I’ll bet that Baylor gets something similar from Ken Starr.

  • Winston Smith

    While President Clinton came in for much well-deserved condemnation in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, let us not forget that it was Starr, not Clinton, who made the sordid details of the affair public. No one — including impressionable children — would have heard endless discussion of oral sex, Altoids and cigars were it not for the Starr Report and posturing Congressional Republicans. (Whatever you will say about President Clinton, he at least tried to keep the matter private.)

    This President of a “Christian” college, in my opinion, was responsible for the coarsening of public dialogue and morals in the serve of political opportunism.

    (P.S. I am a registered Republican. This is not about politics.)

  • Winston Smith

    While President Clinton came in for much well-deserved condemnation in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, let us not forget that it was Starr, not Clinton, who made the sordid details of the affair public. No one — including impressionable children — would have heard endless discussion of oral sex, Altoids and cigars were it not for the Starr Report and posturing Congressional Republicans. (Whatever you will say about President Clinton, he at least tried to keep the matter private.)

    This President of a “Christian” college, in my opinion, was responsible for the coarsening of public dialogue and morals in the serve of political opportunism.

    (P.S. I am a registered Republican. This is not about politics.)

  • justme

    Winston…I feel your pain, but how can you blame the investigator for including the results of his investigation, and excuse the behavior of the target of the investigation? Wow! Afterall, if there had not been an endless parade of the coarse behavior (am surprised you would include a list of such sordid things on this very genteel blog!) to report, it would have been very clean and a disney-rated document suitable for family viewing. And by the way, there would have been no impeachment! It’s kind of like the kids who kill their parents and then beg for mercy on the grounds that they are orphans?

  • justme

    Winston…I feel your pain, but how can you blame the investigator for including the results of his investigation, and excuse the behavior of the target of the investigation? Wow! Afterall, if there had not been an endless parade of the coarse behavior (am surprised you would include a list of such sordid things on this very genteel blog!) to report, it would have been very clean and a disney-rated document suitable for family viewing. And by the way, there would have been no impeachment! It’s kind of like the kids who kill their parents and then beg for mercy on the grounds that they are orphans?

  • DonS

    Winston, I appreciate what you are saying. But, the basic details were already out there when Starr began his investigations. And, truly, the allegations were stunning, not just because of their sexual nature, but because of workplace harassment issues — we had a president taking full advantage of an intern! Should those issues have been ignored?

    I disagreed with the impeachment at the time, for a number of reasons, one of them being the fact that it would cause our nation to wallow in this stuff for months on end. But, it certainly wasn’t black or white as to whether the investigation should have been pursued, and I don’t think it is fair to blame Starr, rather than Clinton, for coarsening our nation’s dialogue and morals, or to simply assume that he was in it for political opportunity. The president is not above the law.

    Kerner, Pepperdine continues to have a solid reputation as a first-rate law school, at least regionally here in southern California, and particularly if you desire a more centrist view of the law than you are going to get at most local schools. Chapman Law School is another rising local school, in a similar mold.

  • DonS

    Winston, I appreciate what you are saying. But, the basic details were already out there when Starr began his investigations. And, truly, the allegations were stunning, not just because of their sexual nature, but because of workplace harassment issues — we had a president taking full advantage of an intern! Should those issues have been ignored?

    I disagreed with the impeachment at the time, for a number of reasons, one of them being the fact that it would cause our nation to wallow in this stuff for months on end. But, it certainly wasn’t black or white as to whether the investigation should have been pursued, and I don’t think it is fair to blame Starr, rather than Clinton, for coarsening our nation’s dialogue and morals, or to simply assume that he was in it for political opportunity. The president is not above the law.

    Kerner, Pepperdine continues to have a solid reputation as a first-rate law school, at least regionally here in southern California, and particularly if you desire a more centrist view of the law than you are going to get at most local schools. Chapman Law School is another rising local school, in a similar mold.

  • Winston Smith

    justme and DonS, an argument could be made that by impeaching the President for what was disgraceful behavior but possibly did not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, Starr et al effectively insulated President Clinton from impeachment for more serious offenses, such as allowing the sale of military technology to China and accessing raw data in hundreds of FBI files for blackmail purposes (to say nothing of the suspicious deaths of Ron Brown and others close to the Clintons). By diverting Congress’ attention and the public’s anger onto that most salacious topic, they let him skate on more serious matters.

    I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the details of the Starr Report on this nice Christian blog. What continues to bother me, though, is this: I can remember overhearing the evening news as a kid, circa 1973, and asking my parents why President Nixon was being made to turn over the tapes.

    Fast forward 25 years or so and other intelligent and aware children, overhearing CNN, couldn’t help hearing all about o*** s**. It was Topic A for months, if you will recall. There was already enough dirt and smut in the media without further stimulating kids’ imaginations on that topic. The Republicans were determined to get Clinton for anything, but they could have done it on other grounds that made for family-friendly viewing. As noted above, there were plenty.

  • Winston Smith

    justme and DonS, an argument could be made that by impeaching the President for what was disgraceful behavior but possibly did not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, Starr et al effectively insulated President Clinton from impeachment for more serious offenses, such as allowing the sale of military technology to China and accessing raw data in hundreds of FBI files for blackmail purposes (to say nothing of the suspicious deaths of Ron Brown and others close to the Clintons). By diverting Congress’ attention and the public’s anger onto that most salacious topic, they let him skate on more serious matters.

    I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the details of the Starr Report on this nice Christian blog. What continues to bother me, though, is this: I can remember overhearing the evening news as a kid, circa 1973, and asking my parents why President Nixon was being made to turn over the tapes.

    Fast forward 25 years or so and other intelligent and aware children, overhearing CNN, couldn’t help hearing all about o*** s**. It was Topic A for months, if you will recall. There was already enough dirt and smut in the media without further stimulating kids’ imaginations on that topic. The Republicans were determined to get Clinton for anything, but they could have done it on other grounds that made for family-friendly viewing. As noted above, there were plenty.

  • DonS

    Fair enough, Winston, but it was not Starr who elected to impeach, it was the House of Representatives and its leadership. Starr’s investigation was precedent to that decision, and it was Clinton’s testimony under oath, coupled with that of others testifying during the investigation, which caused the magnitude of the evil of Clinton’s acts to be in the public eye long before impeachment commenced.

    Again, I don’t disagree with you about the decision to impeach, but it cannot all be laid at Starr’s feet, and it was not the reason the details became public. And I don’t think it is good policy to not investigate wrongdoing by public officials, whether Nixon, Clinton, or others, because we are worried we will bring to light something unsavory. Better that we elect higher quality public officials!

    Nor would I think that episode some 12 years ago has any bearing on Starr’s fitness to serve as president of Baylor.

  • DonS

    Fair enough, Winston, but it was not Starr who elected to impeach, it was the House of Representatives and its leadership. Starr’s investigation was precedent to that decision, and it was Clinton’s testimony under oath, coupled with that of others testifying during the investigation, which caused the magnitude of the evil of Clinton’s acts to be in the public eye long before impeachment commenced.

    Again, I don’t disagree with you about the decision to impeach, but it cannot all be laid at Starr’s feet, and it was not the reason the details became public. And I don’t think it is good policy to not investigate wrongdoing by public officials, whether Nixon, Clinton, or others, because we are worried we will bring to light something unsavory. Better that we elect higher quality public officials!

    Nor would I think that episode some 12 years ago has any bearing on Starr’s fitness to serve as president of Baylor.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Given the fact that these days the presidents of colleges and universities are primarily fund-raisers, the choice of Mr. Starr makes some sense. I’m not aware of his credentials to lead a university community though. Perhaps there is that too.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Given the fact that these days the presidents of colleges and universities are primarily fund-raisers, the choice of Mr. Starr makes some sense. I’m not aware of his credentials to lead a university community though. Perhaps there is that too.


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