Monday, May 07, 2007

Is There Disdain For Evangelicals In the Classroom? -

Is There Disdain For Evangelicals In the Classroom? -
"Frank G. Kauffman was teaching a course in social work at Missouri State University in 2005 when he gave an assignment that sparked a lawsuit and nearly destroyed his academic career.

He asked his students to write letters urging state legislators to support adoptions by same-sex couples. Emily Brooker, then a junior majoring in social work, objected that the assignment violated her Christian beliefs. When she refused to sign her letter, she was hauled before a faculty panel on a charge of discriminating against gays."
To Missouri State University's credit, they quickly quashed the discrimination charge, removing it from Brooker's record, and, in an out-of-court settlement, offered to pay for her graduate schooling.

This article cites two studies, one from collaborators from Harvard University and George Mason University, and one from the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Both studies found that overall, university professors are less religious than the public at large, but that atheists and agnostics nonetheless represent a minority.

The Institute for Jewish and Community Research measured attitudes toward various religious groups with an eye toward determining how much anti-semitism there was at education institutions. While most religious groups, including Jews, were generally viewed positively, two groups in particular elicited "highly negative" responses: Evangelical Christians and Mormons.

From the Major Findings section of the IJCR report (reformatted for clarity):
  1. Faculty Feel Warmly about Most Religious Groups, but Feel Coldly about Evangelicals and Mormons -- Faculty have positive feelings toward Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, and Atheists.
  2. Faculty Feel Most Unfavorably about Evangelical Christians -- This is the only religious group about which a majority of non-Evangelical faculty have negative feelings.
  3. Faculty Are Almost Unanimous in Their Belief That Evangelical Christians (Fundamentalists) Should Keep Their Religious Beliefs Out of American Politics -- Faculty who are secular/liberal are more likely to favor separation of religion and government, and those who are religious and conservative are more likely to advocate a closer connection between religion and government.
  4. Although Faculty Generally Oppose Religion in the Public Sphere, Many Endorse the Idea That Muslims Should Express Their Religious Beliefs in American Politics -- Faculty are far less likely to endorse Evangelical Christians expressing their beliefs in American politics.
Note that this report seems to conflate the terms "Evangelical" and "Fundamentalist", which is an error all too often made in this debate.

The Washington Post article mentioned that not all in the education field feel this is a problem, which is no surprise, but one comment from an administrator should be noted. William B. Harvey, vice president for diversity and equity at the University of Virginia, while conceding that the findings may in fact be true, said it was a leap to assume that this translates to discrimination in the classroom. I would have to agree -- I have encountered professors whose opinions are well-known, but who are nevertheless fair in the classroom. I have also encountered professors who are not, but in far fewer numbers.

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