Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mike Adams and Evangelical Faith in Higher Education

In August, I wrote an entry about Andrew Paquin, an assistant professor of global studies at Colorado Christian University whose use of “progressive” texts in the classroom led to his dubious dismissal. The Chronicle of Higher Education now reports on a different and somewhat inverted scenario: Mike Adams, an associate professor of criminology at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, was recently denied a full professorship even after what he felt was a solid teaching and scholarship background. The rub? As Thomas Bartlett writes, Adams is arguing that his Christian faith is what led to the university’s decision. Additionally, his lawsuit against the university also claims political bias as a factor in the university’s decision:

“About the same time Mr. Adams became a Christian, the former liberal also became a conservative. He joined the Republican Party in 1999. He later started writing columns for, a right-wing Web site. He has been a guest on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, among others.

“The examples of discrimination mentioned in his lawsuit tend to be about his political views rather than his faith. He claims, for instance, that a former department head asked him to tone down his columns, to make them less caustic.”

Bartlett’s article is therefore an attempt to answer the question of whether conservatively-oriented evangelicals like Adams actually encounter hostility (or even discrimination) within academe because of their beliefs. It’s a thorny issue, and Bartlett has done his homework: Randall Balmer and George Marsden in particular are both top-rate scholars, and as evangelicals, neither of them has been shy about sharing opinions regarding their personal faith. Marsden’s response is especially striking. While I haven’t read The Soul of the American University (though I would like to), I’m aware that the book is an attempt to argue in favor of the days when judging religious values was a central component of higher education.* For him to place the onus on how a professor presents his or her beliefs is perhaps telling with regard to this particular case, where Adams has clearly forwarded some quite aggressive opinions in his body of work.

The story becomes even more interesting when we consider Andy Guess of Inside Higher Ed’s account from April:

“…colorful details, as well as plenty of documentation, add weight to an otherwise routine accusation. Take a department chair’s alleged comment that her ‘image of a perfect job candidate is a lesbian with spiked hair and a dog collar.’ Or the professor’s shock tactics on [conservative web community], where a recent political column, musing on a university’s alleged tolerance for terrorists versus homophobes, was titled “How to bomb a gay bath house.”

*See Stephen Prothero’s excellent book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t, page 140.

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