Chronicle of Higher Education

Chronicle of Higher Education offers shallow view of Christian colleges and student marriages

Chronicle of Higher Education offers shallow view of Christian colleges and student marriages

Before you get too far along, you might want to click on the video above and watch this introductory video from Cedarville University in Ohio.

Yes, it's a promotional thing, but it also captures the gestalt of this rather theologically conservative evangelical school.

I believe such understanding will help as you evaluate a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education that gives somewhat short shrift to the notion that one happy byproduct of Christian education is a crop of Christian marriages. That implied negativity, among other issues, is one of the journalistic problems I found in the article, headlined, "‘Ring by Spring’: How Christian Colleges Fuel Students’ Rush to Get Engaged."

Let's start with a slightly longish excerpt:

It was "surreal" for Nikki Garns when Cedric Martin got on one knee in Pennsylvania’s Caledonia State Park, framed by a beautiful waterfall and mountains, to ask her if she would marry him. When she exclaimed, "Yes!," Ms. Garns was only a sophomore.
Mr. Martin’s proposal, although it felt surreal, wasn’t a surprise. For about a month before the engagement, both Ms. Garns and Mr. Martin had talked with her parents, assuring them that they were mature enough to be engaged. Initially, her parents said they thought she was too young. After talking with their daughter one-on-one, however, Ms. Garns’s parents gave Mr. Martin their approval.
Ms. Garns isn’t the only student at Houghton College, a Christian college in western New York, who’s engaged. Like many Christian institutions, Houghton is gripped by a trend known as "ring by spring," which refers to the aspiration among many students to be engaged by the spring semester of their senior year.
And, like other colleges, Houghton acknowledges the trend, and even advances it. The college’s counseling center offers a couples retreat for seriously dating or engaged couples, which brings 12 to 15 couples to a local camp to listen to a renowned speaker discuss the Biblical fundamentals of marriage. Six weeks after the retreat, the couples meet up again for a "Great Date Night."

I realize the Chronicle is a secular newspaper and I have no idea of the faith background, if any, of the reporter and editors involved with this story. But think about this: students at Christian colleges find themselves "gripped by a tend" in which these young adults want to get engaged and be married. Shocking, isn't it?

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Religious questions play no role in this boring Chronicle of Higher Education look at polyamory

Religious questions play no role in this boring Chronicle of Higher Education look at polyamory

One of the questions that your GetReligionistas hear from readers all the time is this: "What is the mainstream press?"

That isn't the precise wording, of course, since readers are usually asking about specific publications. They want to know if The Daily Beast is "mainstream," which is a question that we've been asking for years. They want to know if MSNBC and Fox News are "mainstream." The answer is "yes," but you have to know the difference between news shows and opinion shows.

It also helps to remember that these are strange times. These days, one is just as likely to see a hard-news story from Baptist Press (or the Catholic News Agency) that quotes several qualified, on-the-record sources on both sides of a debate about a hot-button social issue as you are to see that happen in, well, the New York Times. On most religious and social issues, the Times is mainstream -- but with a doctrinal point of view. Sort of like Baptist Press?

This brings me to an interesting feature that ran in a very, very establishment, mainstream publication -- The Chronicle of Higher Education. The doubledecker headline proclaims: " ‘I Have Multiple Loves’ -- Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory."

Now, this long piece is called a "review," since it sort of focuses on this scholar's book "What Love Is: And What It Could Be." Yet anyone who has lived and worked in the world of higher education knows that, in the format of the Chronicle, this is actually a first-person, reported feature story about an important news topic. What is the topic, in this case? Which word is more important, "philosophical" or "polyamory"? Here is the overture:

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins and I have plans to meet her boyfriend for lunch. But first we have to go home to walk the dog. Her husband, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, is out of town at a conference for the weekend, and earlier that morning Mezzo, their labradoodle mix, got skunked; Jenkins says Mezzo is still feeling shaky. Before I traveled to meet her in Vancouver last June, she told me on the phone that most "mono" people misunderstand the challenges of polyamory -- the practice of being openly involved romantically with more than one person at a time.
"People ask, ‘Tell me about the downsides,’ " Jenkins says. "They expect the answer to be that it’s so hard jealousy-wise. But the most common answer is timing and scheduling. I’m a fairly organized person, so I don’t find it super challenging."

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Seventh-day Adventist college fracas proves that local coverage is often better

Seventh-day Adventist college fracas proves that local coverage is often better

Every week, yet another Christian college is in an uproar over clashes between doctrine and 21st century culture.

Thus, it’s no great surprise that one of North America’s 13 Seventh-day Adventist schools should be on stage now. The focus is on Pacific Union College, a Napa Valley institution ranked as America’s most beautiful college in 2012 by the Daily Beast and Newsweek. That is pretty amazing when you consider it was up against the University of California-Santa Barbara and Pepperdine.

However, its psychology department is in much disarray, according to a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that tells of the department’s decision to invite Ryan Bell to speak. GR’s own Bobby Ross has written quite a bit about the publicity-seeking Mr. Bell who has gotten lots of favorable coverage for his recent decision to dump his Christian faith and become an atheist.

Even though Bell is a PUC alum, it’s not hard to imagine how inviting him onto campus would set the collective teeth of college administrators on edge.

 After forcing a psychology professor to disinvite a controversial speaker, Pacific Union College is, for the second time in less than three years, facing turmoil within and departures from its department of psychology and social work, along with renewed questions about its commitment to academic freedom.
The latest uproar at the institution, a small Seventh-day Adventist liberal-arts college in California, began when Aubyn S. Fulton, a professor of psychology, invited Ryan Bell, a former pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church who had become an atheist, to speak at a colloquium.

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Want high-level religion journalism? Then back high-level religion literacy education -- period

Want high-level religion journalism? Then back high-level religion literacy education -- period

If you read GetReligion, chances are great you attach major importance to the need for religious literacy among those who practice journalism. And not just to excel as a designated religion writer.

Given the role religion plays today in global affairs, you probably also feel strongly that a basic competency about religion is necessary in the coverage of just about any journalistic subject -- domestic politics, business, entertainment, and sports, among them.

Additionally, if you've been a university-level religion journalism professor (or an adjunct professor, as in my case), I'll bet you also think that the level of religious literacy exhibited by your students was disappointing, which was my experience.

(If your experience was better, I'd be delighted to hear about it. Might even lift some of my cynicism and lower my blood pressure. Use the comment section below.)

Religious literacy is on my mind this week for a couple of reasons.

One, was the media's confusion in trying to label the faith of San Bernardino terror attack victim Nicholas Thalasinos. This episode made clear the gaps in journalists' understanding of religious terminology -- and probably the public's as well, though that's much harder to gauge because of the public's dependence on what the press tells them. (I'll get back to this below.)

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Will Francis loosen academic reins? Education journal calls for it, but doesn't prove point

Will Francis loosen academic reins? Education journal calls for it, but doesn't prove point

You can just imagine the buzz at the Chronicle of Higher Education: "Hey, Pope Francis is coming! And he's going to speak at Catholic University of America! Let's use that as a story hook!"

So the journal ran a piece on academic freedom at American Catholic colleges. Even though, as the article admits, Francis' Wednesday visit at the school in Washington, D.C., was only to canonize Father Junipero Serra -- and he planned no visits to any other Catholic universities on this tour.

No matter -- off we go with 1,100 words on the tug-of-war between freethinking intellectuals and the church's push to keep "inculcating students in orthodoxy." But the story wanders around, making strong statements, then failing to support them -- and sometimes weakening them.

The main indictment here is that previous popes, especially John Paul II, tightened control over Catholic colleges and universities, thereby stifling the flow of ideas that is basic to good education. Francis, however, is a different kind of pope who warrants hope for change:

As the first Jesuit pontiff, Pope Francis emerged from a free-thinking religious society known to question Vatican directives and church teachings, giving him a much different perspective on the relationship between the Vatican and Catholic colleges than such institutions have operated under for 25 years. In response to a 1990 call by Pope John Paul II for closer ties between the church and Catholic colleges, the nation’s bishops had issued new rules that many such institutions chafed against.
The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, says many academics at the nation’s more than 220 Roman Catholic colleges "felt their academic freedom was constrained" by the last two popes. Under Pope Francis, he says, they now "feel much freer" to openly discuss such matters as birth control or whether women should be allowed to become priests.
Noting that Pope Francis has encouraged bishops to express disagreement with him, Father Reese says that "even though he is not an academic, he is more open to the kind of academic discussions and freedom of debate which is very close to the heart of the academic community."

You’ve heard of a chilling effect? Well, Reese is suggesting a warming effect, in which debates among bishops may encourage freer discussions on college campuses. It's a hard hypothesis to prove, but at least the article gets it from a respected priest-journalist.

For evidence of church bullying, though, the journal reaches back to 1987, when Catholic University banned the Rev. Charles E. Curran from teaching theology there because he questioned church doctrine on matters like contraception: "Pope Francis has encouraged his bishops to express disagreement with him, but Catholic University remains under censure from the American Association of University Professors for its 1987 decision to bar there because he had questioned church doctrine on matters such as contraception."

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