February 3, 2011 Volume CXXIX Issue 2

This article has no headline

By PERRY DIXON
The Boy Who Lived

In the name of everything pernicious, the Back Page typically is intended (and taken) to be snidely critical by virtue of this Editor’s familiarity with sarcasm and clever invectives. Perhaps the “clever” claim is more in the eye of the reader, but, at the very least, entertainment of some sort is relatively consistent. Oddly enough, the purpose of this article is to seriously consider a definite problem identifiable by any individual familiar with the recent history of the college. The problem is one which concerns, broadly, the college’s identity and more specifically the college’s Christian identity. First, to clear up any misconceptions, the college is no longer tied to the Baptist money some students still assume the college receives. By stepping away from the KBC, Georgetown achieved the ability to operate without need of the KBC’s approval; essentially, the step was taken in an effort to preserve the Board of Trustees’ autonomy and the college’s academic interests. As far as the rest of Georgetown’s Christian identity is concerned, it really appears as though the college has no idea for what it really stands. Ambiguity abounds. Essentially, the college is now in a time during which it must take steps to form an identity that is of its own making while also clearly and definitely Christian. The claim that the college must maintain and promote a Christian identity is something with which this Editor fully agrees. How the college goes about achieving its Christian identity, however, is a point of contention for many.

Due to the lack of communication between administration and student body, it is likely that a decent number of students, perhaps even this one, are unfamiliar with the details of activity concerning the issue of the religious affiliation of the faculty. As far as this Editor is aware, it has been determined that in order for a faculty member to be able to achieve tenure, he or she must be Christian. To some demanding an immediate resolution for Georgetown’s identity crisis, this move may seem sensible. One would not be wrong to argue that requiring faculty to be Christian would constitute a stronger claim to Christian identity. The issue, however, with requiring tenured faculty to be Christian is that it is unnecessary to maintaining Christian identity and potentially detrimental to academics, a component of Georgetown’s identity equally as important as Christianity.

A legitimate concern for excluding non-Christian faculty is that it could exclude faculty who are more qualified to teach despite their lack of Christian affiliation. It would be a mistake to prevent the best possible faculty from achieving tenure and educating undergraduate students for strictly religious reasons. It is the responsibility of Georgetown College to provide its students with the best education it can while still maintaining its identity. Though Christianity is an important aspect of the college, the goals being reached toward by the new Foundations courses, the attempt towards Phi Beta Kappa, eventual language immersion programs already in development and many other current undertakings indicate academics has a very high place in the minds of those molding Georgetown. It seems odd that the college would actively undermine one aspect of its identity in a misstep towards the achievement of another. The two aspects of Christianity and academics need not necessarily be at odds with one another. If Christian faculty were to be given tenure in place of more qualified non-Christian faculty on grounds of Christianity, Georgetown would be guilty of an unnecessary conflict.

If Georgetown did, in fact, step away from the KBC in part out of an interest for preserving autonomy and academics, requiring entirely Christian faculty would be a step backwards. Additionally, if the college really is interested in a specific, manufactured kind of diversity that follows intentional guidelines, it seems reasonable to hope some sort of diversity might be maintained in the faculty of various departments. For those who are unaware, the University of Notre Dame has been mentioned as a model towards which Georgetown should aspire. The model is one of excellent academics and a strong, clearly-defined Christian identity. That being said, here is an excerpt from the mission statement of Notre Dame, which may be found on their college website:

“The intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students. The Catholic identity of the University depends upon, and is nurtured by, the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals. This ideal has been consistently maintained by the University leadership throughout its history. What the University asks of all its scholars and students, however, is not a particular creedal affiliation, but a respect for the objectives of Notre Dame and a willingness to enter into the conversation that gives it life and character. Therefore, the University insists upon academic freedom that makes open discussion and inquiry possible.”

Even if the college were to do something like require a certain percentage of faculty to be Christian, it would make more sense than requiring the same of each and every one. Just as Christianity is important to the college, so too are academics and diversity, allegedly. Finally, more progress must be made concerning every other aspect of Georgetown’s Christian identity before decisions such as the one concerning the Christianity of faculty can justifiably be made.

disclaimer: the contents of the back page are not necessarily true

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