This is the diversity we need: Christian colleges and universities that are unafraid to pursue their distinctive missions regardless of the spirit of the age. When acting in accordance with its trademark commitment to curricular intentionality, faith integration, and programmatic integrity, Christian higher education offers something different in the marketplace than the vast majority of educational options available to prospective students. Professional handwringers may lament the lack of conformity to regnant ideologies, but the rest of us should applaud principled independence as a buttress to academic freedom, religious autonomy, and freedom of association. In an age of capitulation, American higher education—and the public it serves—are better for it.
Have you heard? Writers for The Chronicle of Higher Education are concerned. Very concerned.
It turns out that not all colleges and universities are exercising their academic freedom in the same way. In fact, some have even proposed alternative approaches to engaging diversity contra the antiracism of Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi.
Now, you may be thinking this sounds exactly like what academic freedom should entail—different people approaching important issues from their own considered perspectives. But don’t worry, the higher education commentariat will set you straight.
You see, the only way for colleges and universities to foster success for all students is to implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives grounded in Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Gender Ideology. It’s just a fact. People who question this fact are dangerous to democracy.
One such person is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Keith E. Whittington declares that DeSantis has unleashed a “terrifying plot against higher education” via his Stop WOKE Act, which threatens majors in Gender Studies and CRT. Presumably the threat to democracy also includes the 6 in 10 state lawmakers who voted for the bill, as well as the 6 in 10 Floridians who returned DeSantis to the governor’s mansion for a second term after the bill became law.
Lest you conclude that the problem could be limited to just one state, Megan Zahneis is here to alert you to the insidious consequences of anti-woke activity. She reports that the spread of anti-DEI legislation “is having a chilling effect on the recruitment of faculty members and administrators in Florida and Texas.” Even more worrisome is the totally real threat of brain drain from these states—plus Georgia and North Carolina—where a staggering one-third of faculty “said they were actively considering employment in another state.”
Conditions are so dire that colleges have begun building a modern-day underground railroad for beleaguered students. Amita Chatterjee profiles Colorado College’s Healing and Affirming Village and Empowerment Network (HAVEN), a program targeting students from the anti-DEI states of Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. This altruistic initiative aims to give refuge to as many as 10 transfer students, each of whom will receive credit for previous coursework, guaranteed campus housing, and full consideration for financial aid.
A clear picture emerges from these stories. Threats to democracy have so damaged American universities that faculty and students alike must seek shelter in the remaining academic enclaves that still know how to properly honor diversity. The situation is bleak, or so we are told.
By this point, you may have developed the sneaking suspicion that a certain political agenda is directing the reporting of one of our nation’s leading trade publications for higher education. Unfortunately, the next story will do little to disabuse you of that notion.
Helen Huiskes, herself a senior at Wheaton College (IL), reports that the woke wars have claimed another casualty—the integrity of Christian higher education. It seems many Christian colleges are reacting to the DEI controversy in ways both cynical and craven. Some are policing the content professors teach in class. Others are writing statements on CRT to attract more applicants. Few will host Jemar Tisby on campus anymore, and one can only assume that Tisby’s former boss, the aforementioned Kendi, won’t be receiving many more speaking invitations either.
In Huiskes’ telling, these developments point to Christian higher education’s willingness to abandon racial justice in pursuit of stronger enrollment. Hers is a shopworn progressive framing: “Don’t subscribe to critical theory’s worldview of power, privilege, and intersectionality? You must care more about the bottom line than about loving your minoritized neighbors.” Against the backdrop of recent trends in American higher education, however, the institutional behaviors she describes should be viewed as praiseworthy acts of courage and conviction, not recalcitrant avoidance of the real issues surrounding race in America.
For decades, leftist ideology steadily advanced through key American institutions, laying the groundwork for the cultural revolution that erupted in the summer of 2020. Colleges and universities were central sites for this advance, the activist spirit of which became more aggressive and transparent after the election of President Donald Trump. The trajectory of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), a national organization of scholars of postsecondary institutions, is illustrative.
The 2016 ASHE Annual Conference commenced the day after Trump’s election, which sent shockwaves through the left-leaning association. The following year, ASHE President Shaun Harper described American higher education as an enterprise conceived in racism and declared that scholars must fight the abuses of white power in the academy. The 2018 ASHE conference theme, “Envisioning the Woke Academy,” was promoted by an eight-minute video of scholars declaring that “current higher education research is in an awakening process.” The ultimate goal? To cultivate a critical consciousness that recognizes existing forms of systemic oppression, such as inequality and microaggressions, and brings about institutional “transformation for justice.”