The community of Cedarville University faces controversy in the wake of several prominent resignations and possible cessation of its philosophy major. The Ohio-based Baptist school with a fundamentalist heritage is well-known in evangelical circles as a popular choice for undergraduate education from a Christian perspective. Now some developments have some students wondering if there is a covert cleansing of the ideological temple.
Earlier last year, theology professor Michael Pahl was relieved of his post for doubting a literal Adam and Eve. While the college’s stringent doctrinal statement seemed to affirm a literal account of Genesis, Pahl was able to sign off the document in good faith until the advent of the trustees’ theological white papers. Oddly, only a half-hour after the Christianity Today announcement on the matter was published, Cedarville president Dr. William Brown announced his resignation effective June 30, 2013.
On January 10th, the Cedarville community experienced another shock. The office of the Provost John Gredy sent out a memo announcing that Vice President of Student Life Dr. Carl Ruby would also step down from office on June 30th. However, the press release did not mention that Ruby’s last day on campus was in fact January 15th (yesterday). Near the end of his nearly 30 years of service at the school, the student life officer had led the Critical Concerns Series, which discussed immigration in 2011 and the American Dream (focusing on economics) in 2012. These events raised some eyebrows since they brought prominent figures of the Evangelical Left to speak on campus, including such notables as Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, Ron Sider, and Lisa Sharon Harper. Mark D. Weinstein, Executive Director of Public Relations, told IRD, “The majority of people on campus are sad [Dr. Ruby is] leaving…I don’t know what prompted his resignation, but I know that he resigned…, and I know that he and the administration came to a mutual understanding to keep it private.”
Student body president Zak Weston reported that rumor and suspicion now plague the campus. The suddenness of the announcement, the vagueness of reasoning, and the restrained communication agreement shocked students. They doubt that Ruby’s resignation was voluntary. Some students and alumni suspect Ruby’s more moderate approach to politics and interaction with society may have fallen afoul of more fundamentalist-leaning parents, donors, or trustees.
Aggravating the entire situation is the proposed axing of Cedarville’s philosophy program. There has been a recommendation to the board of trustees requesting the removal of the program and perhaps its professors. This decision quickly sparked protest. The two philosophy faculty members are also known for their more moderate views. For example, they wrote up an article for the student newspaper critiquing Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The editorial did not endorse Barack Obama, and another professor wrote an article supporting Romney in the same newspaper.
Weinstein revealed that this situation was actually the result of unfortunate timing. He clarified that every program goes up for review every five years. This year, it just so happens that enrollment, interest, and other factors call for significant alternations to the philosophy program as well as the cessation of the bachelor of arts in physics (a different department altogether). “This is more of a decision based on a decline in philosophy and decline in physics,” Weinstein urged. Weston recounted the same, mentioning that the major would be cut from the catalog while philosophy classes and minors would probably endure. However, one or both of the professors may be released, depending on the board’s decision to have either full-time faculty or a collection of adjuncts.
The student body president stated that, as liaison between students and the University’s leadership, he was appreciative of Dr. Ruby, Dr. Gredy, and the members of the board. Echoing the sentiments of many fellow classmates and alumni, Weston declared, “I for one hope answers will come to light for the student body…It’s fair to ask questions and have concerns, as long as they’re presented in positive manner.”
As always, Cedarville University will have to navigate the academic waters between the Scylla of fearful fundamentalism and the Charybdis of noxious liberalism in its pursuit of learned orthodoxy. No doubt the Christian academic community wishes and prays for the best of outcomes.
Bart Gingerich is a research assistant with the Institute on Religion and Democracy. You can follow him on Twitter at @bjgingerich.