Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

What Is the Role of Religious Universities in American Education?

             Deseret Magazine has collected a series of essays on the fate of the religious university. The essays are written by presidents and scholars from Baylor University, Brigham Young University, Catholic University, George Fox University, Wheaton College, and Yeshiva University, and others. You can real all the essays here. 

            This post will review an essay written by Clarke G. Gilbert is the commissioner of education for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This educational system includes Brigham Young University (BYU), BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, Ensign College, and BYU-Pathway Worldwide, a global online offering. 

            Most of the Ivy League universities of our day began as religious schools. Harvard was started by Puritans. Yale and Dartmouth have Congregationalist origins. Princeton was Presbyterian. Brown was Baptist, and Columbia was Anglican.

            Gilbert indicated that he often considers the pull between “the temple of faith” and “the hall of reason.” As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gilbert learned as a student at BYU that both faith and reason are essential to find truth. He recognizes that “religious schools across the country enjoy a huge strategic advantage, but only if they dare to continue with and strengthen their religious identity – only if they dare to be different from their peers.”

            Gilbert acknowledged that some people think that BYU should push to follow the path of Harvard. He also acknowledged that “it is not irrational for BYU to consider that path.” BYU “recruits superb students and faculty,” and this is” evidenced by its number of national merit scholars and Fulbright scholars.” As an example, the “incoming freshman GPA averages nearly 3.9 and its admissions yield rate is among the highest in the nation.” In addition, “BYU is also a top five producer of students who go on to earn doctoral degrees.” Even the “National media regularly identify BYU as a leader in quality and value, [and] Forbes named BYU No. 1 in value based on its cost and quality ratio.”

            Gilbert wonders if the world would accept BYU on its secular standing, or even if BYU’s sponsoring religious institution would expand its investment in the university. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already invests more than $500 million in the annual operating funds. Gilbert believes that an attempt to “replicate Harvard or any secular model is not a strategy for long-term success.” His reason: “Religious schools must differentiate on their unique spiritual purposes, even as they strive to tie into the broader academic community.”

            Dan Sarewitz, former editor of Issues in Science and Technology (the journal published by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine), supports Gilbert’s position. He recently told Gilbert: “The academy needs BYU. But we need BYU to be BYU, and not a watered-down version of every other secular university.”

            Gilbert wrote of three broad categories of the distinct strengths found at religious universities: 1) research and scholarly inquiry, 2) character development and 3) innovative institutional design.

For Sarewitz, research and inquiry at religious universities have direct implications for research policy. Without religious engagement, a whole category of distinctive research questions might be excluded or minimized from the academy….

Second, many of my colleagues have articulated the unique ways religious schools teach moral character… Where religion wanes we also see declines in social engagement, philanthropy and family stability. Thus, religious schools play a critical role in preserving civil society.

Third, religious schools often facilitate innovative institutional design. Distinctive religious purpose can provide the identity and confidence needed to transform traditional universities….

            Even with these important contributions for society and academics, there is secular pressure to limit the role of religious universities. According to Gilbert, “Standing by religious identity can risk loss of funding, exclusion from federal contracts or loss of student.” However, “Presidents of religiously affiliated universities who also serve on regional accrediting boards, including Robin Baker (George Fox University) and Kevin Worthen (BYU), repeatedly remind religious schools that their religious missions are not only protected but even encouraged by accreditation.”

Nevertheless, legal and accreditation pressures are not the only problems faced by religious universities. There are also “deeper cultural and social pressures on religious schools.” The following truth deserves to be broadcast: “The more aligned a university is with the mission of its sponsoring religious institution, the greater the justification for ongoing financial support from that supporting institution.”

No comments:

Post a Comment