Outstanding Letter to All College Freshman

Tim Dalrymple, my Patheos colleague, has written a letter that is must reading for all college freshmen. Tim has written this specifically for Christian students, but it contains wisdom for all who are beginning college. If you know anyone who is a new freshman, be sure to pass on this link.

Here’s an excerpt from this great piece:

Seek wisdom, not merely intelligence. My father shared this advice with me before my departure for Stanford, and he was precisely right.  On a university campus, intelligence is common.  Wisdom is rare.  Intelligence is cheap, because it’s inherited freely; wisdom is of inestimable value because it’s gained through suffering and sacrifice and years of hard study and experience.  Every night at Stanford I watched the most intelligent people doing the most foolish of deeds, chasing after the most worthless of goals, and believing the most baseless of things.  Their intelligence did nothing to make them more loving or joyful or genuine.  In fact, in many cases it led them astray, as they came to worship their own intellectual powers along with the admiration and accolades and material consolations they could win.  They became immune to criticism, self-indulgent, and chasers of intellectual fashions.  When you love the reputation of intelligence, then you will do and believe those things that will sustain that reputation.  Intelligence does not make you more likely to do what is right or believe what is true.  This is why it’s important to…

Tim, as a father of a college freshman, I thank you. And as someone who is deeply concerned about the next generation of leaders, I thank you doubly.

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  • That looks really good, but I had trouble finding the link, so here it is: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2011/09/01/an-open-letter-to-a-college-freshman/

  • Evan


    That is a fine letter. Unfortunately, consdiering its youthful target audience, it likely falls under “tl;dr”– “too long, didn’t read.”

    So I would excerpt two quick quotes above all that young people should know as they head into college. They regard the agenda of many of the professors one will encounter in college:

    >>More than a few had left their faith in their youth, and had devoted their scholarly careers to justifying that decision.<>If you are a conservative (white) Christian, however, then your parents are a part of the problem, and, for your sake and the sake of the world around you, you have to be liberated from the bonds of prejudice and ignorance.  Thus we had professors who promised the students at the outset of a year-long course that any Christians in the lecture hall would lose their faith by the end of the year, or who scoffed that “God is dead beneath my feet,” or who verbally high-fived their fellow faculty when they provoked evangelicals into crises of faith.<< (parentheses in original)

    That was my experience. That is all the comment I can add.


  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Evan, for this comment.

  • Bill Goff

    From 1962 – 1966 I was a student at UCLA – hardly a Bible school, yet I never encountered the anti-Christian hostility Mr. Dalrymple warns about in his letter.  I felt free there to express my Christian views without fear of reprisal.  I once had a private meeting with the late Professor of Philosophy, Hans Meyerhoff, who listened patiently and respectfully as I tried to articulate the relationship I saw between existentialism and Christianity.  No doubt the spiritual climate varies from college to college and there may be universities where hostility to Christianity is prevalent.  But I don’t think we should send freshmen off to college assuming that they are entering a spiritual war zone where their beliefs will constantly be under attack.
    Mr. Dalrymple is certainly right about the need for a Christian support group.  Mine was the “College Department” at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.  We could bring our intellectual doubts to our college pastor, Dr. Don Williams, and he would help us deal with them.
    In my senior year I lived across the street from Hal Lindsey long before he became famous for writing The Late Great Planet Earth. Then Hal was on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and encouraged me and other Christians in bold evangelism of our fellow students.  So both Don Williams and Hal Lindsey were important mentors to me at UCLA.  I graduated in 1962 and went on to four years at Fuller Theological Seminary and then became ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
    In all I agree with Mr. Dalrymple’s letter which I find insightful and articulate.  I wish I had read it before I started college and I wish it had been available to give to my daughter and son when they went off to college.  -Bill Goff

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Bill: Thanks for your comment. Even at Harvard (1975-1979), I didn’t find too much anti-Christian hostility, though there were some snide comments by faculty. Unfortunately, things have changed a great deal today. In 2007, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research did a major survey of more than 1,200 professors in secular universities. One of their key findings was a strong negative bias against theologically conservative Christians. You can download the original here (jewishresearch.org/PDFs2/FacultyReligion07.pdf).

    Faculty Hold the Most Unfavorable Feelings toward Evangelicals
    Just one group elicited high negative feelings among faculty: Only 30% ranked their feelings toward Evangelical Christians as warm/favorable, with only 11% feeling very warm/favorable, the lowest raking among every other religious group, and 53% said that they have cool/unfavorable feelings toward Evangelical Christians. Faculty feelings about Evangelicals are significantly cooler than any other religious group, leading Mormons as the least liked religious group by 20%. These negative feelings are noted across academic disciplines and demographic factors.

  • Smartin Ucsd

    I’ve been thinking about this “letter” for several days now — trying to shake it off and not respond. I’ve been thinking, what can I add, what can I say? Finally, at the risk of being misunderstood, I’m going to try to make a brief remark, that will surely go on too long.
    I’m in the final throes (I hope) of finishing a dissertation in the social sciences at one of California’s best public universities. It’s thrilling work — both the research and the chance to interact on a regular basis with undergraduates. I research public rhetoric and discourse — and at heart what I consider is why there is so much misunderstanding. A lot of my argument is coming down to this: how much relationship and community is lost when principle is continuously privileged over people. And principles — the ideas we cling to — seem to come first all the time, even when people are being sucked into vortexes of pain, are being erased in their experiences, and more.
    What so deeply bothers me about this letter is the total *absence* of the word KNOWLEDGE — universities should be about the pursuit of knowledge, of learning. And this is immeasurably different than trying to find wisdom or intelligence. In reading the paragraphs about the difference between those who are “intelligent” and those who are “wise” — I felt defensive; partly for me but in large part for the faculty, my faculty, who have given their lives to open the world to me that sets me forward in the pursuit of knowledge. And to become expert in doing this has not been, “you must learn how to ask the right questions, and don’t worry about the answers–” Rather, the prodding has been to become more willing to grasp, to come to critically think. This, too, is absent from the call in the letter as it is written.
    To seek knowledge through critical thinking — in my experience this is the thing that students with deeply conservative Christian backgrounds struggle with the most. They are too worried that their faith is under attack, and so when they sit down in my classroom, they too expect for me and the faculty who are guiding me to blow them to bits. Why? A strong faith should not be so threatened. A faculty member who behaved in the outrageous ways described in the post you have linked to would be in all kinds of trouble should (s)he be reported to administrators. Such behavior is outrageously and incredibly unacceptable, not to mention discriminatory.
    But what the post does, is set those of us who are waiting to teach, to prod, to open the minds of students to new and provocative ways of thinking into the imaginary position (in the minds of those who read it) of the “boogy (wo)man”. Though we love our students and the opportunity to teach and challenge them, instead there is the perception that we must be bulwarked and buttressed against; and that though alternate epistemologies to the Christian worldview might be offered, this will necessarily mean something deeply suspect. What this leads to is students landing on the couch in my office, trying to write papers with predetermined conclusions — “I have to argue this, I simply must, I must, to be true to the faith of my youth that I deeply desire to make the faith of my adulthood, my life…” And then the work is left to do to help them see — the faith of your youth is just fine. But you cannot seek to read that with facility into every single assignment or article you are presented with, because if you do, your knowledge will not grow. You will be making your education into your own image, the image in your mind. Your image will be utterly defensive and frightened. Until you learn to trust that your professors and instructors would love nothing more than to teach you and see you grow — and that your family and your faith belong solely to you, and this you will be able to use this new knowledge to grow that family and faith in incredibly new and unpredictable ways — this entire enterprise will fail completely.