Category Archives: Higher Education

Musings on Our Place in the World

usmapIn the past two weeks I’ve been privileged to represent IWU from California to New York City.  The society in which we are preparing our students to serve is impressively rich and diverse, stimulating and bewildering.

This blog post is “unfinished. ”  It is mostly in the nature of musings that these travels have stimulated.

We spent several days in the colorful mosaic of Southern California.  I love southern California.  For some reason, it feels like “home” to this transplanted missionary kid from the Philippines.  But, not much about southern California is like Grant County, which really has become home to me, and is the place that shapes the university community I have grown to love.  Here’s the question that this visit raised for me.

How much of the identity, ethos, and vision of our Midwestern Christian university is Christian, how much is university, and how much is “Midwestern?”

nycskylineWe flew from California to New York City for a meeting between independent college presidents and the leaders of some of the major philanthropic foundations – Mellon, Hewlett, Teagle, Bill & Melinda Gates, Helmsley Charitable Trust.  We met in the beautiful TIAA-CREF building in Manhattan.  Not much about New York City is like Grant County.  I’m less of an East-coaster than a West-coaster, but New York City is a fascinating place.  New York City is a visceral reminder of the power of cultural and economic centers, of the easy insider strength wielded so unselfconsciously by cultural elites.  Here’s the question New York City posed for me.

Can a Christian university like IWU prepare students to make the world a better place by succeeding in the centers of global influence like New York City?  If so, how do we do this?

Dr. Earl Lewis, President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, reminded us of the difference between charity (short-term relief of current problems), and philanthropy (systemic solutions to long-term social needs).  This made me reflect on the vision we plant in our students’ minds.

Are we preparing our students for both short-term impact and long-term significance?

The latest edition of The Chronicle Review, the excellent higher education opinion journal published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, has two articles that seemed germane to my reflections on the place our Christian university occupies in the national landscape.

In an article entitled, “Why Can’t the Sciences and the Humanities Get Along? “ David Hollinger (professor of history emeritus at University of California at Berkeley) reiterated the ideal that defines the modern university.

ucberkeley“When Immanuel Kant called on people to ‘have the courage to use their own understanding, ‘ to ‘dare to know,” he had in mind a broad expanse of inquiries, including those in the arts and sciences, and even the testing of truth claims offered in the name of religion. . . . That ideal, directing us toward truths that are discovered, not divined, [truths] that are grounded in evidence and reasoning rather than tradition or intuition, is the most important common heritage and resource of the entire modern professoriate.” (The Chronicle Review, October 18, 2013)

Cal Berkeley is as close to the cultural center of American higher education as a university can be.  So it’s fitting that Hollinger articulates the defining identity of the modern university so strongly.  Universities exist to discover and teach truth – truth that is “grounded in evidence and reasoning rather than tradition or intuition.”  This is not simply a definition of the modern university.  It is a definition of truth itself.

To what extent does this ideal define our Christian university?  To what extent can we embrace this ideal?  In what ways is this ideal an uncomfortable yoke for our Christian university?

Intriguingly, in this very same issue is a refreshing article the likes of which I seldom find in the higher education literature.  Carla Arnell, an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College, offers a wonderful personal reflection about her life as Christian faculty member in her article “An Academic Among the Pews.”

pews“I’ll confess,” she says.  “I’m one of those oddballs who define themselves as both spiritual and religious.  I attend church weekly, I observe my religion’s liturgical seasons, and I participate in my church’s fellowship opportunities and service projects.  But because any mention of these ritual behaviors has so often occasioned bewilderment, astonishment, or embarrassment among my academic peers who see themselves as intelligently ‘beyond religion,’ I find myself pausing to consider why I bother.”

Her article is one of the most compelling explanations for a non-religious audience of academic peers of why an academic values her faith and religious life.  Arnell’s personal life of religious faith infuses her life with thanksgiving, beauty, empathy, self-transcendence, celebration, and continuity between past and present.

What is striking is that while Arnell’s article is a beautiful portrait of an academic’s personal faith, any application of this life of faith to her academic work is implied at best.  She is not discussing the way her faith shapes her academic life.  She is simply explaining what she, as an academic, values about her personal life of religious faith.

raphaelHow does our Christian university unite these two perspectives – the academic ideal of the pursuit of truth grounded in evidence and reason, and our crucial immersion in a life of faith? 

At our Christian university we live in two worlds – the Enlightenment world of evidence and reason, and the Christian world of faith, worship, and service.  At our Christian university we unite these worlds.  For us, the academic ideal of the pursuit and teaching of truths about serious and important things (to paraphrase Edward Shils), is inconceivable if it is not shaped by immersion in the world of faithful belief and practice.

How does this way of seeing the world and our contribution to the world’s store of truth shape the way we educate our students?

These have been my musings over the past weeks.  What do you think?  I’d love to hear your answers to my questions.

 

A Question of Value

dlpanoramaWe’re all talking about the cost of a college education these days.  Perhaps we should talk about the value of a college education.

Students don’t make college decisions solely on monetary terms.

Sure, on surveys most students say they go to college to get a better job.  But when you ask them why they choose any particular college, they talk about much more than money.

I wonder if it would help us solve the puzzle of cost if we started with the question of value.

Three related concepts lie at the heart of this discussion – cost, price, and value.  (Robert Urban)

Cost is the amount we spend to produce the services we offer.

Price is the amount students pay for the service we offer.

Value is what students believe our service is worth.

Higher education has a problem with all three.

The cost of producing our service has grown disproportionally to the cost of other professional services.  We have a cost problem.

The price we charge has grown beyond the reasonable ability of many students.  We have a price problem.

But perhaps most importantly, we seem unable to pinpoint and defend the worth of our degrees. We have a value problem.

Brian Busteed, Executive Director for Gallup Education, recently observed that “Americans are spending money they don’t have to finance educations they’re not sure are worth it.” (Is College Worth It? Trusteeship, July/August 2013)

We won’t solve the price problem without solving the cost problem.  We’re slowly coming to grips with this fact.

We typically move straight from this realization to agonizing discussions of personnel cuts, operational efficiencies, and IMG_5203 technological innovations.

I wonder how this conversation would be different if we began by tackling our value problem first.

Robert Urban’s advice seems wise. “Wherever possible, set prices that reflect the value you provide—not just the cost.  A good way to do this is to focus on outcomes.”

Brian Busteed says that the fundamental question we ought to be wrestling with is this one: “What should be the ultimate outcome of a college education?”

The popular discussion has seized on a truncated answer this question.

Question: What is a bachelor’s degree worth?

Answer: More money.

This just doesn’t get us very far.  Even our most price-conscious students don’t make college decisions solely on the basis of monetary considerations.  The students I know are looking for something more.

Busteed asked college presidents and trustees what the ultimate outcome of a college education should be.  They all gave some version of the same answer.  College should “improve one’s lot in life,” or “prepare people for long-term success in life.”

For 70 years Gallup has surveyed a representative sample of Americans and people worldwide every night “asking them to rate their lives and whether they are happy with them.”  From this research Gallup has developed strong theories about wellbeing. 

According to Busteed their research “reinforces the fact that the ultimate outcome of an education is fundamentally about well-being.”

Career wellbeing “is not just about a higher salary.  It is not about the company you work for, the money you make, and the benefits you receive.  It is about liking what you do, doing what you are best at every day, and having a good manager.”grad

Busteed concludes, “Success as defined by wellbeing is . . . about figuring out what [you] like to do and what [you do] best.”

What if we achieved crystal clarity that the worth of our college degrees lies in their ability to prepare students to know who God has called them to be, what God has called them to do, and how to prepare for and enter that calling?

What if we could show that this is precisely what happens to our students as they go through their careers with us?

What if we could show exactly how everything they do with us, everything they pay for, is designed, directly or indirectly, to build this value into their life’s experience?

What if we made the decision not to spend a dime of their money on anything that didn’t build these values into their lives?

I wonder how the discipline of starting here might shape our decisions about cost and price.  I wonder how starting here might bring clarity to the question of value.

Why Does College Cost So Much?

moneyConversations about the cost of college inevitably turn to the most obvious question, “Why does college cost so much?”

This question has been analyzed and debated in a slew of books, articles, and blogs.  The tone of the debate is by turns puzzled, angry, defensive, and desperate.

We find ourselves long on finger-pointing and short on solutions.

The simple answer is that there is no simple answer.  Many factors have driven up college costs over the years.

College Costs and College Wages

7058One factor on people’s minds is personnel costs.  “College must cost so much,” people say, “because the people who work there are highly paid and not very productive.”  (Especially those pesky, overpriced administrators.)

Education has always been a labor-intensive activity.  In fact, for years, colleges have touted themselves, and placed highly in rankings of quality, precisely by advertising low student to faculty ratios.  This raises labor costs.

Further, much of the college labor force is made up of highly qualified professionals – faculty with graduate degrees and a record of scholarship, as well as skilled professionals in other related disciplines.

Over the past 60 or so years, college administrative infrastructures have grown faster than any other part of their labor force.  This growth has been driven by factors such as government and accreditation regulations, student demand for increased extra-curricular programming, lack of internal discipline, increasingly sophisticated information technology infrastructures, as well as by the general societal trend toward increasing professional specialization.

In other words, for years colleges have pursued an institutional model that is inherently labor intensive and costly.  During the period of time when other industries have contained their costs by slashing labor costs, colleges have done exactly the opposite.

Much of higher education’s hopes to manage this trend are pinned these days on the ability of new instructional technologies and models (like MOOCs) to simultaneously reduce labor costs and increase revenue – the holy grail of any industry under price pressure.

This, of course, comes as decidedly mixed news to those whose profession and calling is the education of the rising generations.

Nevertheless, it is helpful to see just how this question of personnel costs plays out in an actual institution like IWU.

Personnel Costs at IWU Residential Campus

employeesHere’s the first thing to remember.  Universities operate on the tuition that their students pay.  This is certainly true for private universities with small endowments, but in this time of limited funding it is increasingly true for all universities.

Let me show how this works out for our residential campus.  The following information paints with a broad brush.  These numbers could be fine-tuned, but they paint an accurate overall picture.

Our residential campus serves about 3000 students.  This year’s operating budget for the residential campus is $91.3 million.  This budget includes an expected employee headcount of 602.

Since we operate on the tuition paid by our students, the calculus here is really pretty simple.  In order to make our budget of $91.3 million, we will need about 3000 students to pay us $30,000.

Now let’s see how this breaks down between personnel and operations.  Personnel costs take up 46% of the $91.3 million, while a little over 53% is spent on all other operations.

In other words, we will spend about $42 million to employ the 602 people we expect to have working at the Marion residential campus this fiscal year.

Let’s do the math.  This means we will spend an average of $69,767 for each residential campus employee.  This sounds like a handsome average wage.

But hold on a minute.  This number includes both wages and benefits.  Of the $42 million, 42% will be spent on benefits, and 58% will go to wages.

58% of $42 million is about $24.4 million.  This means that the average wage for Marion campus employees works out to be $40,465. For perspective, one “living wage calculator” indicates that $36,000 is required to provide a living wage for a family of four in Grant County, Indiana.

It will cost us $17.6 million, or an average additional $29,302 per employee, to provide health, retirement, and other benefits.

Few Ways to Lower Personnel Costs

graduatesThere are only three basic ways to lower personnel costs as a factor in the rise of tuition.  Either it has to cost us less to employ those 602 people.  Or we have to serve the same number of students with fewer employees.  Or we have to serve more students with the same number of employees.

It should come as no surprise that the constant pressure is exactly in the opposite direction.

The resulting dynamics are complex and inherently conflicted.  Students need to be able to pay less.  Employees need job security and a reasonably good wage and benefit package.  The communities in which we operate would like us to employ more people.  Our programs must be of the highest possible quality.

There is no magic solution to this tension.  We will have to manage our way to a workable compromise that provides students with a highly valuable education at a reasonable price, but that also allows us to care for the people that work at IWU.

Guiding Principles

I’ve been working to see if we could formulate principles to guide this work.  Even the principles aren’t always easy to apply, but at least they state our aspirations.  Here are three of them.

First, we will discipline ourselves to only add costs to the institution that add demonstrable value to our students.

Second, we will find creative, innovative ways to increase the excellence of our services while decreasing our costs to provide those services.

Third, we will find every possible way to pay for our people fairly and care for their wellbeing.

By applying these principles, and identifying others, we intend to make progress toward our goal of making IWU a truly great high-impact, low-debt Christian university.

A High-Impact, Low-Debt Christian University

hsbview
You don’t have to look far these days to find pretty depressing news about student debt.  A recent quote from a Fox Business article captures the heart of the problem:

“College has gotten significantly less affordable, especially over the past decade when tuition growth has continued unabated while income growth has stagnated and the job market has gotten much tougher for new grads.”

The fundamental problems here apply to both traditional residential colleges, and to adult learners in non-traditional, off-campus, and online programs.  But for the purposes of this essay I am focusing on the challenge for residential campuses that serve traditional-aged students.

Steep rises in cost and debt, coupled with a challenging job market, give rise to questions about the legitimacy of the idea that a college education is in fact a good investment in one’s future.

In this context, the findings of Sallie Mae’s sixth annual How America Pays for College are interesting. Here’s a summary.

Families still believe in the value of a college education.  “85% of families strongly agree that college is an investment in their child’s future, the highest in five years.”

Families still believe it should take about four years to earn a degree. “92% of families pursuing a bachelor’s degree believe it will take five years or less to earn a degree.”

iwuvsiuMost families don’t have a plan to pay for college and are paying less toward their students’ education.  “Six out of 10 families do not have a financial plan to pay for all years of college prior to the student enrolling. Parents have reduced the share they contribute toward college expenses to 27% (2013) from 37% (2010).”

Families rely on grants and scholarship more than ever before.  “More families (65%) use grants and scholarships to fund college costs than any other source of funding.”

More families are eliminating schools on the basis of cost and inability to live at home for at least a portion of college.  “Families have adjusted to a new post-recession reality by adopting a new cost consciousness when paying for college—including eliminating schools on the basis of cost and living at home.”

There’s a lot of hand-wringing about the relentless growth in cost of attendance and the attendant growth in student debt.  But it is hard to tell whether, as a whole, those of us who work in higher education understand that this is truly a crisis.

It is a crisis for students.  We are in danger of moving one of life’s greatest investments out of the reach of working class people who are unable to take on the level of debt that once was associated with a first mortgage.

It is a crisis for families.  We are in danger of removing from the reach of the so-called “ordinary” citizens of our counry one of the greatest pathways of family advancement that humanity has ever known.

It is a crisis for our society.  We are in danger of losing hope in the kind of learning that was once thought to be a foundation of the world’s democratic societies.

It is a crisis for our universities.  We are in danger of pricing ourselves out of reach of the very students we exist to serve.

Let’s not mince words.  If we do not act decisively and creatively to provide students with low-debt, or no-debt options for attending IWU, our future will be a difficult one.

We must apply our best creativity and will power to this challenge.

fountainResidential Campus CEO Keith Newman and his Cabinet have taken on the challenge of creating pathways that would allow IWU residential students who truly wish to do so to graduate with no more than about half the current average student debt.

We will not achieve this goal with gimmicks.  We dare not achieve this goal by watering down the quality or the missional nature of the education we offer.

The answer is not simply to increase our student aid.  In order to reduce the average debt of graduates from the residential campus to $10,000, we would need an additional $200,000,000 in scholarship endowments.  Though we are going to work hard to raise our scholarship endowments, we simply cannot grow our endowment fast enough to achieve this target.  More financial aid, by itself, is not the answer.

We must find creative ways to lower our cost of attendance, provide multiple ways for students to earn credit toward their degrees, counsel students earlier in their high school careers toward college credit pathways, provide greater ways to earn financial credit through work study programs, and provide better financial counseling to students and families.

Our ability to reach this goal will rest squarely on our willingness to find innovative solutions to this challenge.  Business as usual will not get us there.

Our vision is for IWU to become a truly great Christian university – great because of our service.  One of the greatest ways we will serve this generation is by ensuring that students can access the high value Christ-centered education we offer at a reasonable cost.  My dream is for IWU to become known as one of the world’s best high-impact, high-value, low-debt Christian universities.

The Wesleyan Imagination in Christian Education

Dune_sunrise

There is a particular imagination that causes many scholars to exclude God from their work. Because it grew to dominance in the modern period of Western history, it is sometimes called the modernist imagination.

Modernism rests on the faith that it is possible for humans to arrive at complete certainty about the facts of all things through the application of a strictly controlled method of inquiry, observation, and analysis.

The imagination of modernism limits itself to a naturalistic view of the world that permits no avenue to truth other than the scientific method. Modernists hold a linear view of history defined by continual progress, envisioning a great future of bounty and peace brought about by human endeavor alone.

A modernist is also a committed individualist: The hero of the modernist imagination is, in the words of N. T. Wright, “the great lonely individual, the all-powerful ‘I’: Descartes’ cogito ergo sum and the proud ‘I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.’” (N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, p. 151).

To some degree all of us working in the academy today embrace elements of the modernist imagination. Its enduring power lies in its appeal to the human hunger for the certainty of knowledge, the unity of understanding, and the authority of truth.

But for many of us, the modernist approach to learning, while valuable, is not enough. It is something like an iceberg, most of whose mass is not visible below the waterline, but without which the visible portion could not exist.

The modernist imagination believes in a great future of bounty and peace brought about by human endeavor. Modernism grants no one and nothing other than the scientific method a privileged position in establishing the truth. God and God’s self-revelation in Scripture and in the person of Christ are specifically eliminated as sources of certainty, unity, and authority.

In the modernist imagination, we stand apart from the world, objective individuals, using our powers of observation and reason to construct a comprehensive and all-inclusive picture of the world.  This picture gives us certainty, makes us sure-footed in our approach, and allows us to speak and to act decisively. Our picture of the world has rational coherence and serves as a comprehensive explanation of reality, holistic, cosmic in scope, and universal in application.

A Faithful Imagination

neb

The modernist imagination itself seems only possible because of deeper truths.  When those deeper truths are ignored or denied, in time the modernist project loses its way. At best, it proves unsatisfying and insufficient for much of what seems most important in life.

The Wesleyan spiritual heritage that shapes our work at Indiana Wesleyan University does not oppose the modernist imagination. But it offers a rich heritage that offers resources for critical and constructive dialog and inquiry.

Christianity in the Wesleyan tradition is relational.  At the core of the Wesleyan imagination lies an assumption that what matters most about us is our relationship with God, and flowing from that relationship, our relationship with other people and with all of creation.

Christianity in the Wesleyan tradition is immersed in the experience of living God’s revelation.  Our questions tend to revolve around the practice of the truth revealed to us in Scripture and in the person of Jesus.  John Wesley called us to write our statements about the truth with our lives.

Christianity in the Wesleyan tradition is, at its best, open and irenic.  It tends to seek relationships with others on the basis of a shared relationship with God in Christ.  Where that is not possible, it seeks relationships on the basis of the common grace with which we believe God fills the world.

Thus, it is no surprise that a Wesleyan would step back from the assumptions of the modernist imagination and seek to immerse this imagination in living communities who stand in mutual relationship with God.

Our heritage is gripped by the need to be faithful to the moment in which we find ourselves.  N. T. Wright has summed it up well.

“We live at a time of cultural crisis.  At the moment I don’t hear anyone out there pointing a way forward out of the postmodern morass; some people are still trying to put up the shutters and live in a premodern world, many are clinging to modernism for all they’re worth, and many are deciding that living off the pickings of the garbage heap of postmodernity is the best option on offer.  But we can do better than that.

It isn’t simply that the gospel of Jesus offers us a religious option that can outdo other religious options, that can fill more effectively the slot labeled ‘religion’ on the cultural and social smorgasbord.  The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even, heaven help us, biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the post-postmodern world with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom.” (Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, p. 196)

QuadrilateralWe seek to prepare ourselves, and our students, to truly live in this world, to embrace it, to engage it, to find the truth as we learn it from our common struggle to hear and walk in harmony with Scripture and Lord, and to tell the truth with humility, gentleness, good judgment, and good humor.

Often the truth seems to catch us unawares.  When we engage in conversations with friends who live in worlds different from our own, the truth steals into our consciousness almost unnoticed.  Upon later reflection we find a light shining in our minds and we ask ourselves, “When did you come into the room?”

As she so often did, Emily Dickinson caught this experience.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
. . . The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

And so we enter the possible conversations our Lord opens to us in this world, with imaginations shaped by a living relationship with Jesus, and minds open to find God and God’s truth everywhere.

(This essay is based on a presentation I gave at Calvin College in 2010 entitled, “Possible Conversations: Worldview as an Aid to Cross-Border Ecumenism”)

The Line That Defines Us

Darwin-chart

“Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory,” President Jo Ann Gora said. “Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.”

With this announcement, Ball State President Jo Ann Gora last week brought closure to the university’s investigation of Eric Hedin, assistant professor of physics and astronomy.  Professor Hedin had been accused of “crossing the line from teaching science to teaching Christianity.”  The charge was brought not by Professor Hedin’s colleagues but by an external interested party, the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation said it did not object to the nature of the course but to the way it was being taught, “based on reports that Hedin was sharing his personal beliefs and endorsing a Christian viewpoint over others presented.”

The course bibliography included readings about intelligent design – the idea that at least some of the evidence amassed by scientific inquiry suggests the presence of an intelligent designer.

shaferIn their ruling on the matter, Ball State University leaders praised Professor Hedin’s credentials and affirmed his place on their faculty. But they made it clear that neither Professor Hedin nor any other Ball State University faculty member may teach intelligent design “as a scientific theory,” or teach about intelligent design in a science course.  Faculty may teach about intelligent design in humanities or social science courses, but even then, not in a way that advances any one “worldview” over another.

My purpose here isn’t to find fault with President Gora, Provost Terry King, or the faculty panel who investigated Professor Hedin.  From all appearances President Gora and Provost King have handled this case in a measured, thoughtful, and dignified way.  The outcome they reached is not surprising and is consistent with the broad educational approach that undergirds secular universities.

What I found interesting is the way this case illustrates three surprising ways that our universities are alike, and one hugely important way we are very different.

We each have interested constituents who will go to great lengths to shape what we teach and how we teach it.

If I had $100 for every time a constituent of one of the Christian universities I have served took us to task about what we were teaching or the way we were teaching it, I’d have a tidy scholarship fund to offer our students.  Some challenge us because they believe our faculty teach ideas that do not accord with the doctrines of the Christian faith.  But the popular perception is that only Christian universities constrain what the faculty may teach.  Professor Hedin’s case illustrates the fact that even secular universities are willing to define what and how their faculty may teach, apparently regardless of what their individual faculty members may believe to be true (or at least plausible) about those ideas.

We each are expected to provide watchful care over the learning of our students who rely on the validity of our teaching.

Creation_of_Light_Detail_2There is a noble and endearing conviction underlying the work that Ball State faculty and administrators have done in this case.  It is the conviction that some ideas are true and others are not.

If everyone concerned with this case truly believed that naturalistic evolution, theistic evolution (the idea that God used evolution as a means of creation), intelligent design, and creation science are all equally valid representations of the truth about this world, there would have been no case.  There is an unspoken assumption here that those of us who work in universities have an obligation to our students.  We are obligated not to allow untruth to be put forward in the name of truth.

This is a conviction that we share in common, even when we hold different convictions about the truth.

We each attempt to maintain the university as a civil intellectual commons in which ideas may be examined and offered for public embrace.

I applaud President Gora and Provost King for the even-handed way in which they have affirmed Professor Hedin and attempted to mark out the proper way in which teaching about intelligent design may occur at their university.  They are doing what responsible university faculty and administrators must do.  They are caring for one of the most precious assets of a democratic society – a civil intellectual commons in which ideas may safely be examined and offered to the public as our best approximations of the truth.  For that I applaud them.

But this event also gives me reason to be thankful that, in its wisdom, American society has provided the freedom for my Christian university to shape a civil intellectual commons in which the rich framework provided by our Christian heritage and our Biblical convictions may be brought to bear on our examination of the world’s important questions.

We each have an interpretive framework that we use to establish the legitimacy of what we teach and how we teach it.

bluemarbleIn her statement President Gora offered important rationale for Ball State’s decision.  Here is an example: “The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science.”

I find it helpful to note that there is an interpretive framework in play here providing legitimacy for some ideas (this qualifies as science), and marking other ideas as illegitimate (this does not qualify as science).  My point here is not to quarrel with the fact that a legitimizing framework is in play.  This is simply the way that human knowledge is discovered, advanced, and codified.

My point is to notice that Ball State University does have an interpretive framework, and that it is willing to apply that framework to constrain the teaching of its faculty.  We seldom get to see this done so clearly and overtly at a secular university.

The Line That Defines Us

This brings me to the most telling point in this case.  Both Ball State and Indiana Wesleyan have “a line” that defines the education we offer to our students.

At Ball State, science faculty may not teach intelligent design as a scientific theory, nor may they teach their students that at least some serious observers of the scientific evidence come to the conclusion that there is an intelligent design at work in creation.

This begs some questions.

Where are students to go who wish to explore these questions?

What must a scientist do who, for reasons that remain opaque to the majority of the secular science establishment, is convinced that there is a creator God and that science is the human exploration of God’s creation?

crossWhat is a scientist to do who wishes to place the evidence produced by her inquiry within a larger context of meaning and purpose?

This is where a secular university like Ball State, and a Christian university like Indiana Wesleyan University differ markedly.

At IWU we expect our science faculty to teach the sciences with rigor and honesty.  We expect them to provide students with the intellectual framework and resources they need to place this important discipline and the great questions it asks within the context of our collective conviction that our universe is God’s creation.

The line that defines us is the one we use either to include or exclude God from our most serious and important inquiries.

I am grateful that there is room in our American system of higher education for us to pursue truth in the way that seems best to us.  We will do so with respect for those who hold different convictions.  In the end, we seek the same noble end – to know the truth and thus to be set free.