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.”