Skeptics of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom and our efforts to preserve the “marketplace of ideas” often claim that we use exceptions to paint a bleak picture of religious liberty in higher education. Despite the many students, faculty, staff and organizations that we’ve assisted across the country and our clients’ stories, many people still question whether there is a constitutional crisis on campus. That’s why I want to point out George Leef’s post over at Phi Beta Cons today, highlighting the story of a master’s student who hid her political (and presumably, religious) beliefs to complete her degree. Leef quotes the former student’s story:
You see, I received a master’s degree in historical theology from a liberal institution by hiding my conservatism. (I’m not even a conservative by the contemporary definition; I just know I am not a liberal.) When I wrote my master’s thesis on Augustine’s distinction between auctoritas and potestas in the City of God, certain passages caused my professors to realize they had been harboring a pariah in their midst. My application to a respectable doctoral program was turned down on the grounds that my application materials were “not universally excellent.” It turns out that several of my professors damned me with faint praise in their letters of recommendation, and my application was doomed.
The idea that conservatives do not love history, philosophy, and literature is ridiculous. I spend all my spare time poring over the minutiae of early Christian literature, and I have managed to be published several times. But I know that I am not welcome in academia. I know that I could try again at one of the new “conservative” Catholic institutions that have recently cropped up, but I am too old to drop everything now to pursue a doctorate. So I study, write, and publish when I can, but it’s not the same as being in a setting where the open discussion of ideas is welcomed and even cherished. How I miss a world that does not exist!
This student’s story is all too familiar. While in law school one of my professors was a Christian, but refused to make that fact known among her peers. You see, she was untenured and feared that by revealing her true colors she would torpedo her chances of promotion. As a result of these fears she could not advise the Christian Legal Society chapter on campus and refrained from writing too much on religious legal issues, even though she had a deep interest in the religion clause of the First Amendment.
Why do these and other Christians remain silent in the academy? One answer is fear. Many students, faculty and staff (not all) are fearful of even raising their Christian views on campus. And why would they want to when professors and administrators are telling them that these views are “offensive” and “hateful propaganda“? The environment they strive to succeed in is consumed by people who hold the most unfavorable feelings toward Evangelical Christians. To be an outspoken Christian student, faculty or staff member is to guarantee academic or career stagnation and mediocrity. Until the marketplace of ideas begins to reopen its to competing ideas through people who are willing to protect their right to speak, the climate described by Leef’s reader will be the unfortunate reality of the campus culture.