Bryan College and evolution: maybe the board and president should listen to the faculty and students on this one

Inside Higher Education posted recently the latest developments in the unfortunate yet expected and predictable events at Bryan College over evolution. (See my earlier post here.)

You will recall that college’s board voted to “clarify” the colleges original statement on human origins from this:

“that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]”

to this:

“We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

I suppose one could call this a clarification, though a critical mass of faculty and students see this as shifting the goal posts. Those who do not sign the new statement of faith will be, according to President Stephen Livesay, “rejecting” the college’s offer of employment.

According to the article, this move by the board, along with other concerns about the president, was the straw that broke the monkey’s back, so to speak, and led to a 30-2 no-confidence vote in President Livesay’s leadership.

Apparently some faculty are resigning because 4 months is hardly enough time to think through this issue and if necessary make alternate employment decisions. I certainly see the point. It normally takes about 18 months (in a good job market) to find a new teaching position.

It seems like the leadership might not have thought this one through.

On the other hand, maybe they did….

Others have resigned because of the content of the “clarification,” and students have enacted various forms of protest (including on Twitter), and which lead to the following statement by the Student Government Association, quoted in the IHE article:

We believe that the current motion will alienate faculty, our brothers and sisters in Christ, by requiring them to affirm a negative on an ancillary matter of faith….We believe that the expertise and opinions of faculty have been largely if not entirely disregarded in the making of this decision. We believe that there has not been sufficient counsel sought, as per Proverbs 15:22, of those the college has hired specifically for their breadth of wisdom.

The student letter also questioned the manner in which the clarification was introduced, and the consequences for faculty members who felt they could not sign it. The college’s charter says the statement of faith cannot be changed, so some students felt calling the new language a “clarification” was disingenuous at best.

We believe that though the change has been largely billed as a clarification, professors who came in under the old statement of faith — having made no secret of their theological distinctives — will lose their jobs….We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.

They sounds like a bright bunch of young people.

Perhaps as telling as anything about what is happening on campus is Livesay’s public comment, as reported in the article, that “faculty-administration relations were ‘solid.’”  Given what we see above, that claim sounds like a bit of a stretch to me.

Still others have hired a lawyer, and in my very non-legally-expert opinion (though I do watch CSI occasionally with my daughter), it sounds to me like they have a case, at the very least concerning the timing of the “clarification” and the how current faculty members are expected to respond. Much depends, however, on what the school’s governing documents say about the lead time faculty are obligated to get from the administration.

I know how hard it can be for institutions to re-examine issues that were crucial to why they were founded in the first place. But still, on the issue of human origins, age of the earth, etc., I do think it is time to move past fear and protecting of theological boundaries and join an adult conversation that’s been going on now for several generations.

At the end, the article quotes Karl Giberson, one of the co-founders of BioLogos (along with Francis Collins) and a former colleague at mine there.

[Religious] colleges should become more accepting of science, not less… Bryan’s stance is quite extreme, requiring faculty to sign on to young earth creationism, which includes the belief that the earth is 10,000 years old.

In my opinion, schools like Bryan should lose their accreditation. There should be no government approval of any sort for an institution that forces people to affirm that the earth is 10,000 years old, when we know it is 4.5 billion. It is also unconscionable to expect a scientist who knows the earth is 4.5 billion years old to suddenly start believing it is 10,000. How is that supposed to work?

I’ve uttered a similar sentiment in various places, including on this blog. Colleges that seek “secular” approval (accreditation) and money cannot maintain egregiously idiosyncratic positions on academic matters are that are open to investigation by any and all with proper training (e.g., how old is the earth; not, matters of faith like, “Is Jesus the Son of God?”).

This is not a matter of religious freedom but academic and intellectual integrity, not to mention responsibility. Their students are not actually being educated but indoctrinated. They are not being encouraged to cultivate the mind but hone apologetic skills.

In my opinion, in those cases, we have left the world of college education, which expands horizons, and moved to fear-based insulation that builds ever higher walls.

And the thing is, on the whole, Bryan College seem to be ready to find a better way forward.

 


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