Politics & Policy

Unholy Academy

Profs show hostility toward evangelicals.

Fifty-three percent of “non-evangelical university faculty say they hold cool or unfavorable views of Evangelical Christians,” according to a two-year study released today by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research. According to the study, one-third of all faculty surveyed also admitted to holding unfavorable views of Mormons.

Seventy one percent of the faculty who answered an online survey of 1,269 faculty members at over 700 four-year colleges and universities agreed with the statement: “This country would be better off if Christian fundamentalists kept their religious beliefs out of politics.”

Interestingly, “only 38% of faculty disagreed that the country would be better off if Muslims became more politically organized.”

Gary Tobin, president of the IJCR, spoke to NRO editor Kathryn Lopez Monday night about the study, “The Religious Identity and Behavior of College Faculty.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Shouldn’t professors love evangelicals? I once read in the Washington Post that they are “easy to command”?

Gary Tobin: Interesting notion — you’d think professors would like evangelicals because they’re racially and ethnically diverse; the rise of evangelicals among African-American and Hispanics is a very underreported story. Most academics are probably unaware of this trend.

Lopez: Isn’t liberal academia supposed to be more tolerant than this?

Tobin: Absolutely. Campuses are very focused on the idea of tolerance — you’ve got anti hate-speech codes, minority recognition celebrations, and special academic departments devoted to the study of ethnic groups. But tolerance is very much a selective affair — I suppose Republican-leaning students have known this for years; but this isn’t a question of ideological or political tolerance. It’s a question of religious tolerance. How many academics actually know evangelicals — personally and socially? Yet they hold a special distaste for them — it is odd.

Lopez: Any sense of how this hostility works out in practice? Are evangelical and Mormon students being punished?

Tobin: It’s likely to be subtle. It is important for higher education to look inward and examine how these stereotypes and prejudices influence professor-student interactions, the treatment of evangelical groups by the administration and possible social or intellectual intimidation.

On a different level, what if evangelical professors seeking tenure have to hide their religious leanings to avoid getting beaten up by faculty review committees?

I think in the same way that Brandeis was set up to get around faculty quotas on Jewish professors, the rise of Christian universities may be part of the same trend — letting good academics do their work where they are welcomed.

Lopez: What’s your advice? Unleash Mormon missionaries on campus?

Tobin: Well, that’s a solution to a different problem! The advice is pretty straightforward — first of all, universities should condemn all forms of bigotry and prejudice. I think the social acceptability of anti-evangelicalism on campus would start to unravel if professors knew that such prejudice is unacceptable on any level, kind of like racism. But there are more substantive things — make sure the subject matter of modern American Christian movements is studied actively and with respect to the subject matter. They probably need to look at their hiring and tenure practices too — universities might not be proud of what they find. Ultimately, if universities don’t treat this as a serious issue, the very heart and soul of the academy is threatened. You can’t be preaching diversity and open-mindedness and have over half your faculty expressing dislike for tens of millions of evangelicals.

Lopez: You set out to gauge anti-semitism — You’re not telling us there’s no hatred of Jews alive and well in the academy, are you?

Tobin: I’m sure there are a few Jew-haters out there, but they are pretty few. By contrast, there are a lot of Israel-haters — including quite a few Jews, and they often use anti-Semitic language. That’s the subject of my next survey.

Lopez: There’s much talk among the chatterers as you know that evangelicals will not support Mitt Romney for president. Will your survey bring them closer together?

Tobin: Perhaps! I’m not a political analyst, but there’s been a long-term trend of religious traditionals — Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews — finding a lot of common ground, in spite of major theological differences. I’ll bet that many of them commiserate about the environment on the typical liberal-arts campus.

Lopez: Anything positive to report?

Tobin: Oh sure — professors aren’t godless or even hostile to religion in general. They raise their children to believe in concepts rooted heavily in religious teaching. They aren’t as likely to attend houses of worship as the general population, but they go more than you’d think — and more than perhaps they’re willing to admit with each other. And while I was dismayed by the level of prejudice and bigotry focused on Evangelicals and Mormons, I was happy to see that most other religious groups are viewed in an overwhelmingly positive light. That’s a good sign — remember, it wasn’t long ago that Catholics, Jews, and most Asian religions were viewed with great suspicion on American campuses. So, that’s progress.


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