Christian Colleges and Universities and "The Missing Factor in Higher Education"

The cover story of Christianity Today's March 2012 is an article by Perry L. Glanzer entitled: "The Missing Factor in Higher Education: How Christian Universities are Unique, and How They Can Stay That Way." Glanzer makes an excellent case for the Christian university and it is a reminder for those of us working in Christian higher education about what makes us different and why what we do is valuable.

Glanzer argues that teaching morals, wisdom, and character development are often what is missing at secular or research universities. The focus in larger, research universities is on the transfer of knowledge or the content of subjects. The smaller, Christian liberal arts universities have placed emphasis on the pursuit of truth and wisdom, along with the development of the entire individual rather than on purely emphasizing expertise in a specific subject area

He warns that Christian universities could lose this strength by focusing on expertise versus on pursuing wisdom and character development. Glanzer states: "But [Christian colleges and universities] must also ask how they can continue to avoid the flight from wisdom to expertise taken by secular universities. The temptations are many: Financial and peer pressure to attract a greater variety of students, particularly through barebones online degree programs, entice Christian universities to abandon their theological and moral distinctives or to gear curricula toward building professional qualifications." I think this point gets right at the issues facing Christian institutions of higher learning. The danger as Glanzer suggests is that Christian colleges and universities lose what makes them distinct by trying to draw in larger number of students in satellite campuses and online offerings.

Toward the end of the article, Glanzer offers four suggestions for maintaining the distinctive aspects of Christian colleges and universities. He goes into more detail, but the main points are as follows. "First, Christian higher education must always recognize that wisdom, like salvation, comes from the triune God as a gift of grace." "Second, university faculty can mentor students and help them understand what loving God looks like when engaged in a particular discipline." Third, "Christian professors and student life professionals should" introduce "students to complex theological, ethical, and academic discussions about what it means to be fully human." "Finally, professors should articulate what it means to place Christ and their Christian identity first in life."

What is striking to me is that none of these suggestions has anything to do with what is often associated with university education today. Too many students, parents, administrators, and faculty take the view that university education is about receiving information that then translates into a job. It is a completely utilitarian approach to education. The classic liberal arts model of education focuses on learning for the joy of learning, learning because you have the leisure to do so. Learning is about becoming a holistic individual who can think, articulate, communicate, analyze problems and formulate answers. Glanzer's suggestions point to the way in which faculty serve significantly in this non-utilitarian approach by facilitating discussions and being examples of these larger questions about life and what it means to be human, created by God, living in a fallen yet to be redeemed world. 

To me this is what university is about--asking these larger questions of life. Pursuing wisdom. Developing character. To this end I teach. To this end I continue learning.

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