Should religious colleges lose accreditation?

Religious colleges don’t deserve accreditation because they “systematically undermine . . . skeptical and unfettered inquiry,” argues Peter Conn, a professor of education and English at Penn in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Without accreditation, students wouldn’t be eligible for federal loans or grants.

Conn singles out Wheaton College in Illinois, the “Harvard of evangelical education” for asking faculty to sign a statement of faith.

David Coleman, who runs College Board and helped write Common Core standards, defends the academic excellence of Wheaton and other religious colleges in National Review.

We have institutions in the Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Jewish traditions that all live their identities in diverse ways and bring valuable resources to bear on students’ academic, personal, and civic development. If students want to further both their intellectual and spiritual development at an accredited religious institution, if they feel they will learn best in that kind of setting, if they want to be part of a community that has a faith tradition (often not their own), they should have that option, with federal aid. It’s a wonderful thing and a source of strength that we have religious diversity among our institutions of higher education.

Alan Jacobs, a Baylor professor, found academic freedom when he taught at Wheaton, he writes on The New Atlantis:

My interests were in the intersection of theology, religious practice and literature — a very rich field, but one that in most secular universities I would have been strongly discouraged from pursuing except in a corrosively skeptical way.

Is Conn naive enough to think Penn, where he teaches, is a “value-neutral” institution? asks Jacobs.

But as Stanley Fish pointed out years ago, “What, after all, is the difference between a sectarian school which disallows challenges to the divinity of Christ and a so-called nonideological school which disallows discussion of the same question? In both contexts something goes without saying and something else cannot be said (Christ is not God or he is). There is of course a difference, not however between a closed environment and an open one but between environments that are differently closed.”

“Wheaton is differently closed than Penn,” writes Jacobs. “For the people who teach there and study there, that difference is typically liberating rather than confining.”

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  1. Hmm… according to this page:

    …there are at least six nobel laureates who started in Jesuit schools. Mr Conn sounds like he just might be a first class horse’s ass.

  2. Penn makes this assertion:
    ‘Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research.”

    Then actually brings up Harvard in his discussion. But no where does he address the fact that Larry Summers, as President of Harvard, offered a hypothesis regarding women and science in a speech. This did not provoke skeptical and unfettered inquiry into the hypothesis. Instead, he was forced to resign by Harvard.

    So by Penn’s standards, Harvard should not be accredited.

  3. Crazy how the secular left singled out two colleges this summer: Wheaton (which opposed the HHS Mandate’s accommodation procedure) and Gordon (whose president sought a religious exemption in Obama’s executive order concerning employment nondiscrimination for federal contractors).

    Without weighing in on the merits of their complaints, I do think it is fair to say that Wheaton and Gordon are among the best evangelical colleges by any objective measure. If secularists want to shame and shun Christian colleges out of existence, I suggest they look at some of the more egregious offenders against academic freedom and ethical administration.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    A very smart person believes that people who disagree with him are bigots, while he and his friends are models of open-mindedness.

    I think the Psych Department term for this is “motivated cognition.” People in the English Department may be more familiar with “hubris.”

    • I would re-word that: “a NARROW MINDED, very smart person believes that people who disagree with him are bigots…” A broad-minded smart person would realize that there are many, many issues where smart persons of good conscience can disagree.

  5. anonymous says:

    I think Professor Conn has an uphill argument….

    Chicago, Harvard, and Yale all have active Schools of Divinity — I know Harvard University holds a university service every Sunday, often with the sermon delivered by a distinguished visiting minister.

    Off the top of my head, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Loyola are all Catholic schools that are highly ranked nationally, both for education and research.

    I just took a quick glance through the USNews rankings… There are a lot of highly ranked schools with religious affiliations, especially smaller and ‘good value’ schools. Like most people, I’m not a huge fan of rankings as a precise tool for measuring quality. But it’s probably fair to say that schools at the tops of these lists (religious or not), are producing reasonably competent graduates, rather than dysfunctional, unemployable zealots…