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'The Angry Tribe of Opinionated Professors'

Jim Tonkowich | Institute of Religion and Democracy | Friday, August 22, 2008

'The Angry Tribe of Opinionated Professors'

August 22, 2008

“In 1951,” reads the Amazon.com product review, “a twenty-five-year old Yale graduate published his first book, which exposed the extraordinarily irresponsible educational attitude that prevailed at his alma mater. This book rocked the academic world and catapulted its young author, William F. Buckley Jr., into the public spotlight.”

The book, God & Man at Yale, is a critique of Buckley’s alma mater.  Fifty-seven years later it is as pertinent as it was when first published.

Buckley commented about his experience with religion at Yale:

And there is surely not a department at Yale that is uncontaminated with the absolute that there are no absolutes, no intrinsic rights, no ultimate paths.  The acceptance of these notions, which emerge in courses in history and economics, in sociology and political science, in psychology and literature, make impossible any intelligible conception of an omnipotent, purposeful, and benign Supreme Being who has laid down immutable laws, endowed his creatures with inalienable rights, and posited unchangeable rules for human conduct. 

Regarding economics, Yale at mid-century says Buckley was engaged in a Marxist revolution.  Not a revolution of the violent sort, but rather “one that advocates a slow but relentless transfer of power from the individual to the state, that has roots in the Department of Economics at Yale, and unquestionably in similar departments in many colleges throughout the country.”  It was an atmosphere where “redistribution of income becomes a major goal of the economist.”  Collectivism, he observed, was central to the program; “Individualism is dying at Yale, and without a fight.”

The alumni alone, from Buckley’s point of view, could save the university from its “intellectual drive toward agnosticism and collectivism.”  But he laments “if the present generation of Yale graduates does not check the University’s ideological drive, the next generation most probably will not want to….”

Finally Buckley discussed academic freedom and concluded (while not using the phrase) that political correctness was already alive and well on campus.

In short, I maintain that sonorous pretensions notwithstanding, Yale (and my guess is most other colleges and universities) does subscribe to an orthodoxy; there are limits within which its faculty members must keep their opinions if they wish to be “tolerated.”

Given the state of American colleges and universities today, God & Man at Yale deserves to be read anew.  On campuses today religion is mocked or at best treated as a purely private diversion.  It is not without reason even at a prominent evangelical college students refer to the Department of Sociology as the “Department of Socialism.”  And “toleration” is a code word for its polar opposite.

And yet Christian young people will continue to matriculate at colleges and universities—religious and secular.  Young friends of mine are leaving for school next week.  Their faith will be challenged everywhere—at times by people intent on destroying that faith.

For years, Professor M.E. Theophilus, holder of the Pre-Modern Studies Chair in the School of Antinomianism at Post Everything University (who may or may not actually be Dr. J. Budziszewski, Professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin) has encouraged students in their faith and life on the pages of Boundless.org and at TrueU.org

Now, in time for fall classes, Professor Theophilus has released a second book of lively dialogues with students about life at college.  The book, Ask Me Anything 2: More Provocative Answers for College Students, is written in the style of a Socratic dialogue with verbal give and take between students and the professor.  Theophilus addresses learning to think, relationships, and God—fleeing from him and fleeing toward him.

How does a Christian student, for example, deal with “The Angry Tribe of Opinionated Professors”?  People like Muito Egregious who “never misses an opportunity to be insulting or obscene—if possible both at once”?  Or Peccata Mundi, a Modern European teacher who blames all the evils of the world on Christianity?  Or Prentice Schlange who baits students into admitting they’re pro-life just to tear them down publically? 

Then there is what the students call the “persistent left-wing, antireligious bias in most of our classes”—the bias Buckley noted nearly sixty years ago.

As the college students in your life leave home, they will confront Muito Egregious, Peccata Mundi, and Prentice Schlange along with obnoxious dorm mates, “true love” and painful breakups, doubts about their faith and worldview, and the presence (or apparent absence) of God in the middle of it all.  They need all the prayers and help we can give them.

Six years ago when my son left for college, I sent him the first Ask Me Anything along with Budziszewski’s How to Stay Christian in College.  While he was well-established in his faith and a Christian worldview and attending a school I knew would encourage that faith and worldview, I nonetheless felt better knowing those volumes were on his bookshelf just in case.

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