Our university is currently going through the very last stages of renewing its accreditation as an institution of higher learning. It happens every ten years and is a big deal. We have to show the accrediting body that we are meeting our mission of providing a quality education to our students and have the resources to do so, so that our degrees actually mean something. The process requires a lot of work for the university because we have to collect all the evidence to support our case.
Eric C. Miller has an interesting article about whether religious colleges that require an affirmation of faith from their faculty and students are deserving of accreditation, using the case of Dayspring Bible College and Seminary in the state of Illinois, a state whose Board of Higher Education permits Bible schools to only issue certificates and diplomas but not degrees. The school is challenging that restriction.
Interestingly, Dayspring’s position offers a counterpart of sorts to that of University of Pennsylvania English professor Peter Conn, who wrote in an editorial for the Chronicle of Higher Education that the accreditation of religious institutions amounts to a “farce,” and that the imposition of doctrinal fidelity through signed faith statements necessarily undercuts the academic freedom of faculty at such institutions.
While Dayspring argues that Christian schools should not have to be accredited, Conn argues that they should not be accredited at all.
“Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research,” Conn wrote. “However, such inquiry cannot flourish — in many cases, cannot even survive — inside institutions that erect religious tests for truth. The contradiction is obvious.”
Conn used Wheaton College in Illinois — the nation’s preeminent evangelical institution, which is widely regarded as “the Harvard of evangelical schools” — as his test case. Even the accreditation of this flagship Christian college, he argued, is nothing short of a “fiasco.”
The pursuit of knowledge, which is the goal of education, should allow one to intellectually go anywhere freely, with no signs forbidding entrance to any avenue of investigation. The problem with religious institutions that require faith affirmations is that while some may allow rigorous investigations in many areas, the fact that they explicitly close some doors to their students and faculty and say that some areas of exploration are out of bounds is highly problematic.
Some institutions may close a lot of doors, requiring acceptance of dogmas in contradiction to accepted knowledge in major areas of science. Others may say that they ‘only’ require belief in a god in order to be a member in good standing of the institution. But even a minimal belief is a supernatural agency carries with it consequences that prevent complete freedom of investigation.