Blacklisting a Christian University

Ashley Thorne

According to the Langley Advance, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the Canadian version of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), has issued a report stating that Christian universities fail to provide faculty members with academic freedom. Specifically the report places Trinity Western University in British Columbia on its list of universities and colleges that have a faith or ideological test as a condition of employment. This list is mysteriously unavailable online; perhaps it is still being created. We do know that Crandall University is also at risk of being listed. 

The report on Trinity Western University begins: 

In 2006, the Canadian Association of University Teachers [CAUT] adopted “Procedures in Academic Freedom Cases Involving Allegations of Requirement of an Ideological or Faith Test as a Condition of Employment” [Appendix A]. The CAUT considered that academic freedom is violated at universities in Canada that seek to ensure an ideologically or religiously homogeneous academic staff. 

Indeed, Trinity’s statement of faith says that the university “openly espouses a unifying philosophical framework to which all faculty and staff are committed without reservation.” The statement declares that university employees believe in a triune God who created the world and offers salvation through the death of Jesus Christ. CAUT officials say such a statement of faith is equivalent to an ideological litmus test that deprives faculty members of academic freedom. The Advance quotes James Turk, executive director of CAUT, saying, “A university is meant as a place to explore ideas, not to create disciples of Christ.”  

Actually, Mr. Turk, the university was originally a place to create disciples of Christ. Queen’s University, the first degree-granting institution in Canada, was established by the Church of Scotland and affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Canada. It was founded mainly for the education of local ministers. Another early institution, the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, has been robustly Catholic since its 1818 founding as a school for boys. 

It is strange that the CAUT would take such a strong stance against religious schools when its American counterpart the AAUP has clearly acknowledged the academic freedom of such schools in its 1915 Declaration of Principles:  

If a church or religious denomination establishes a college to be governed by a board of trustees, with the express understanding that the college will be used as an instrument of propaganda in the interests of the religious faith professed by the church or denomination creating it, the trustees have a right to demand that everything be subordinated to that end. 

Again, in its 1940 Statement of Principles, the AAUP declared: 

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment. 

Trinity has made its mission unambiguous, and the statement of faith is clearly a criterion for employment. Many schools make “demonstrated commitment to diversity” a must for job candidates, and leaders of the campus sustainability movement are currently urging colleges to “insist that the selection process for new campus leaders include a climate action ‘litmus test.’” Requiring commitments to ideologies such as diversity and climate action is not protected by the AAUP provisions for religious aims, yet neither the AAUP nor the CAUT believe it poses a threat to academic freedom.   

Many colleges and universities profess a commitment to academic freedom but at the same time espouse social and political doctrines that subvert it. Trinity Western U takes a stand for academic freedom in a thoughtful statement that rightly places truth-seeking as the goal of academic freedom. The CAUT report reproduces it in its entirety, and so do I:   

Trinity Western University recognizes that academic freedom, though varyingly defined, is an essential ingredient in an effective university program. Jesus Christ himself taught the importance of a high regard for integrity, truth, and freedom. Indeed, he saw his role as in part setting people free from bondage to ignorance, fear, evil, and material things while providing the ultimate definition of truth. 

Accordingly, Trinity Western University maintains that arbitrary indoctrination and simplistic, prefabricated answers to questions are incompatible with a Christian respect for truth, a Christian understanding of human dignity and freedom, and quality Christian educational techniques and objectives.  

On the other hand, Trinity Western University rejects as incompatible with human nature and revelational theism a definition of academic freedom which arbitrarily and exclusively requires pluralism without commitment, denies the existence of any fixed points of reference, maximizes the quest for truth to the extent of assuming it is never knowable, and implies an absolute freedom from moral and religious responsibility to its community. 

Rather, for itself, Trinity Western University is committed to academic freedom in teaching and investigation from a stated perspective, i.e., within parameters consistent with the confessional basis of the constituency to which the University is responsible, but practiced in an environment of free inquiry and discussion and of encouragement to integrity in research. Students also have freedom to inquire, right of access to the broad spectrum of representative information in each discipline, and assurance of a reasonable attempt at a fair and balanced presentation and evaluation of all material by their instructors. Truth does not fear honest investigation.

The authors of the report remark that “Although there are in Canada religiously affiliated universities, many with a mission tied in some manner to their religious affiliation, most do not require a commitment to the faith of the affiliate(s) nor do they place academic freedom within the limits of their ‘stated perspective.’” 

The Advance quotes TWU President Jonathan Raymond, who says that the attack is a cheap attempt to discredit the academically serious Christian university. He said, “There is no topic under the sun that can't be raised. We assume faculty will have their thinking informed by their Christian faith, but we don't influence it. They can raise all perspectives but we expect they'll also raise the Christian perspective.” President Raymond also wrote a letter officially responding to the CAUT report welcoming “normal academic dialogue” and noting that Canada’s highest laws, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code, “has already determined that TWU has a legitimate place in the academic landscape of Canada.”  

Christian colleges in general are worried by the clash between CAUT and TWU. Al Hiebert, executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada, an umbrella group for Christian universities and colleges, calls the investigative report “sinister” and a form of harassment. “It's putting the education of those schools and the research of their faculty under the heading of, ‘We don't need to take them seriously.’” 

Will the Christian universities in Canada that espouse a statement of faith find a way to overturn CAUT’s efforts to blacklist them? Or will the Association’s list idea spread to the United States and other countries? 

We at NAS are considering an investigation to see whether we should put the CAUT on our list of organizations that misappropriate the notion of academic freedom and endanger true freedom of inquiry.

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