Are Christian Colleges Better at Intellectual Diversity?

No educational institution can be purely unbiased

“At least in the humanities and social sciences, universities can’t seem to get by without some kind of centering intellectual commitment. At most secular schools, that centering commitment is political liberalism. Thus ideological diversity is intolerable. At Christian universities, we can afford to have political diversity, because our centering commitment is faith in Jesus.”

 

I recently had a productive exchange at First Things with historian Molly Oshatz about the issue of diversity, intolerance, and hypersensitivity to disagreement at America’s elite colleges. It allowed me to test out a theory I’ve had for some time: Christian colleges and universities may be the best educational institutions today for fostering real political diversity.

Here’s the exchange:

Kidd: I commend Molly Oshatz’s “College Without Truth” for getting at the heart of the political hypersen­sitivity at so many elite colleges. The stated commitment to demographic diversity and the utter lack of ideological diversity are among the top reasons for higher education’s crisis of credibility today.

I wonder if Oshatz might have had a different experience in a setting other than San Francisco State University, however. You would be hard-pressed these days to find a university that does not identify “diversity” as a first-order good. But I suspect the touchiness about disagreement is not quite so frantic at many of the schools between the East and West coasts, especially at many religious institutions.

As a professor who has taught his whole career at Baylor, a Baptist university in Texas, I know that the diversity question can roil schools like ours, too. But I am also struck by the fact that many Christian colleges feature surprising levels of ideological diversity, even as we seek to unify around our common faith.

My theory is that if Christ is the center of a Christian university, that commitment can open the door for a real range of views on politics, because politics becomes a second-order priority. (Traditional seminaries, I would argue, are a different matter— there you must have stricter theological standards that tend to produce more uniformity in all areas of life and thought.)

At Baylor, I am definitely on the conservative end of the faculty’s spectrum of political views. But I am not alone as a conservative, and there are plenty of professors who are on the liberal end. The litmus test for being hired is not one’s politics, but (aside from academic qualifications) church involvement and an articulate faith.

Don’t get me wrong: We have our disagreements about ideological issues, too. But that’s my point: We have actual diversity of political thought here. What’s more, this diversity has emerged organically, without requiring any special “initiatives” to create it. Many Protestant and Catholic institutions that remain committed to their faith could say the same thing.

At least in the humanities and social sciences, universities can’t seem to get by without some kind of centering intellectual commitment. At most secular schools, that centering commitment is political liberalism. Thus ideological diversity is intolerable. At Christian universities, we can afford to have political diversity, because our centering commitment is faith in Jesus.

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