Patrick Henry College Revolt

Few have heard of tiny Patrick Henry College, but it has become quite prominent among the religious right. Despite its size, it seems to be a feeder system to a wide range of internships and jobs in DC, at the White House, on Capitol Hill and in thinktanks. Think of it as a politically connected Bob Jones University. But now it seems that they've got a bit of controversy going on within the faculty. 5 of the college's 16 professors have left, one fired and the other four quitting in protest.

The controversy began last fall after M. Todd Bates, a professor of rhetoric, delivered a lecture about St. Augustine's search for truth that Farris faulted for not mentioning the Bible or the college's Christian mission. Patrick Henry does not offer its professors tenure, and after Bates was criticized, he and eight other professors made a pact that if one of them was dismissed, the rest would leave in protest, Noe said.

The pact took effect this spring after Farris told government professor Erik Root he would not be rehired next year unless Root explained why he told a student, in the presence of one of her parents, that responding to a question by quoting Scripture was "simplistic."

Noe and another professor wrote an article in the college magazine March 8 urging open discussions and saying Christians should not "hesitate to learn from a pagan."

"There is much wisdom to be gained from Parmenides and Plato, as well Machiavelli and Marx," the professors wrote. "When we examine the writings of any author, professed Christian or otherwise, the proper question is not, 'Was this man a Christian?' but 'Is this true?' "

Farris wrote a critique in the student paper that the professors believed called their faith into question. They announced their resignations the next day.

I guess the president of Patrick Henry College, like many ignorant folks, ain't never had no need for book learnin'. As a result of the shakeup, however, there are big changes afoot at PHC. Christianity Today reports that Farris has been replaced as school president and there are more shakeups in store:

A contentious debate at Patrick Henry College that began over theological differences, the interpretation of Scripture, and academic freedom has prompted 5 of the school's 16 full-time faculty members to announce they will not be returning to the conservative, Christian college next year. The announcements bring the total number of departing professors to nine in the past year, not including two adjuncts, as well as four senior executives who left in the past 18 months, departing professors say.

In the wake of the departures, the school announced significant changes to the school's executive staff. Effective July 1, Graham Walker, previously vice president for academic affairs and dean of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, will replace Farris as president, while Farris will assume the college's chancellor position. Gene Edward Veith, currently the cultural editor of World Magazine and a former English professor, will also begin that day as the college's new academic dean.

And what do the departing professors have to say about the college that was founded to become the "evangelical Ivy league"?

"We were brought here on false pretenses," said David Noe, assistant professor of classics who has taught at Patrick Henry since its founding. "We are leaving due to a long train of abuses by Farris in violating both academic freedom and due process, as well as many other issues relating to Farris's running of the college."

The Christianity Today article includes a lot of examples from the departing teachers of things that went on that prompted their leaving. The bottom line is that the administration objected to them actually challenging students to think rather than just regurgitate scripture. The university's mission is squarely anti-intellectual, as the above example of a professor mentioning that you can learn something from Parmenides and others getting reprimanded for it shows.

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"When we examine the writings of any author, professed Christian or otherwise, the proper question is not, 'Was this man a Christian?' but 'Is this true?' "

Whoa! Truth. Well there is a novel idea.

The conservative side of the aisle has been suppressing "truth" for years and now they're shocked, suprised, and resigning? I guess if it doesn't hit you personally you really can't see it no matter how educated you are.

By dogmeatIB (not verified) on 16 May 2006 #permalink

This is just ridiculous, a intitution of "higher" learning trying to raise students up ignorant. God forbid they should be taught to sound like anything but a bobble head when they engage in tough discussions about their faith.

Great -- a Christian madrassa. I was wondering where all those Taliban people got off to after we invaded their country. Now we know.

Of course Farris' actions are morally reprehensible, but he's right in another, one might call it tactical, sense: if students are encouraged to think for themselves and especially are exposed to other worldviews, the fundies will lose.