Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Louisiana College Law School Controversy

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Louisiana College Law School Controversy

The recent announcement by Louisiana College to name its planned law school after a conservative SBC leader has sparked some concern. Wilmer Fields, a Louisiana College graduate and former director of Baptist Press, is quoted to have told EthicsDaily.com that this announcement of the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law has caused him to question the school's "sanity."

From EthicsDaily.com:

"Along with Paige Patterson, today president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Pressler is generally credited as a co-founder of the "resurgence" movement that transformed the nation's largest Protestant denomination into one of the most conservative."

The article goes on to say that,
"The symbolic naming of the law school after Pressler is the latest in a series of moves that have alienated many alumni and friends of Louisiana College, once known for its tradition of academic freedom and open inquiry."

The focus of my attention for the remainder of this post is a commentary on the seemingly fallacious ideology that a moderate or liberal institution is the only means to "academic freedom and open inquiry." I am not aware of all the details in the Louisiana College situation so I can't properly agree or disagree with that specific situation, but on the whole there seems to be an attitude among moderates and liberals that true and valued education only stems from a foundation laid by moderates or liberals. My suspicion with the reaction against Pressler is his strong conservative beliefs that led to the "resurgence", a movement from which the aftershocks are still being endured.

I am deeply thankful for the education I received from Belmont University, my undergraduate Alma Mater. Belmont was and is a school that would probably best be labeled as "moderate" in their philosophy, at least that was my experience, especially in the school of religion. During my time during and after Belmont, I have remained somewhat to the right of my moderate brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, I received a grand education and still believe that Belmont is a fine institution for higher learning. I would recommend the school. Having said that, Belmont is kidding itself if they think that because of its moderate roots they are somehow more "open" in the educational process. They bring with their philosophies and practices the same kinds of boundaries that an extremely liberal or conservative institution will bring. For example, if I walked into the dean of religion's office with a resume boasting of my M.div, M.Th, PH.D, all of which I was summa cum laude, a long list of teaching experience, references that praise my work and teaching, and other qualifications that are well suited to such a position, one would think I would be a prime candidate. Until they ask me what I think about women being pastors, my position on inerrancy vs. infallibility, and my position on homosexuality in the church. Then, regardless of my other qualifications, I would more than likely not make it to the next level of their consideration. Is that bad? I would argue no, they are desiring to hire teachers who fit in nicely with their structure of thought and are confident of the kinds of things they will be teaching in the classroom. Does that make Belmont guilty of violating "academic freedom?" No.

But the same rule must consistently be followed with conservative or more liberal institutions. It is one thing to recognize that a particular school is not the right choice for you. It is quite another to accuse it of being "closed" and losing "open inquiry." Professors and others with positions of authority and respect, to whom students will listen, need to think twice before not recommending a school. More often than not, they will discredit the school for reasons tied to their own convictions about the program and not so much about the excellence of teaching and education that such a school might possess.

As a famous band once said, "don't believe the hype." Their are schools who are conservative, moderate, and liberal who all offer educational freedom and open inquiry.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mike Ruffin said...

Philip,

You are on target here. The truth is that people like Mr. Fields and me and others have difficulty separating our opinion about the nature of some educational institutions from our grief and even anger over the changes that were, in our opinion, inappropriately and in some cases unethically brought about in those institutions. The seminary you attend is one of those institutions.

Now, is that to say that SBTS does not offer a fine education in which academic freedom exists? No. It's just that the academic freedom that is there now would have to be exercised within different boundaries than it was 30 years ago. Is that good or bad? It depends on which side of the fence you're on.

Speaking of that fence: it's high time that we Christians and we Baptists and maybe especially we Baptist Christian ministers come to understand that our battle is not with each other but is rather with the devil and the world and start linking arms and hearts and spirits in that effort.

While you focused your post on academic freedom in conservative as well as moderate/liberal institutions, I really must say that I think the idea of naming a school of law at a Baptist institution after Judge Pressler is really, really silly. The record shows that, while he may have felt justified in what he did, he and his cohorts used really unfortunate methods to get their way and early on denied doing some of the things that they later admitted. In Christian life and I hope in the Christian teaching of the law, ethics matter.

After all, the folks in Texas didn't rename the Alamo the Santa Anna Visitor's Center.

Blessings to you and have a great semester!

August 22, 2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...

Mike,

Thanks for the comments, and I am happy to let the Beast's Lair readers know that your example at Belmont remains a standard for me in terms of properly balancing my positions with the views of others.

I appreciate your word concerning battles against one another.

Finally, I really do not know enough about the Pressler situation to form an opinion. I just used the Louisiana College scenario as a springboard. From what you have mentioned, it does indeed seem "off."

Blessing to you brother.

August 22, 2007 6:02 PM  
Anonymous rexwilder said...

As to the issue of "academic freedom" and "openness", I agree that "liberal" institutions (as well as organizations like the ACLU) sometimes forget that academic freedom (or general civil liberties) should include things that are not what they agree with. However, on the other side, don't lose track of a general difference between a liberal and a conservative academic position (I hate using this kind of labels, but I think we all know what we're talking about). A conservative position is usually that some specific item is the way it must be and is sometimes "intolerant" of other positions (i.e. no purple people may stand on one leg) versus the liberal academic position that is sometimes "intolerant" of intolerance (i.e. purple people may or may not stand on one leg (and it is okay if your think they can't), but you can't teach one position to the exclusion of the other). In an academic setting, that distinction is actually relevant. Too complicated for a blog comment, but an interesting issue.

August 22, 2007 11:20 PM  
Blogger Bennett Willis said...

I think that I remember hearing an interview of Judge Pressler by Larry King way back when Larry was on late night radio--this may have been over 25 years ago but the CR was moving successfully and that effort was the general topic of discussion. If that interview is archived somewhere, it would be interesting to find it and post it as an audio file.

Larry did a good interview and asked good questions--as I recall. But it was really late.

Bennett Willis

August 24, 2007 11:24 PM  
Blogger m_write_blog said...

With regard to Louisiana College specifically, I must disagree with you.

A "liberal" institution will often shut out conservative viewpoints, which is not necessarily healthy. However, a "conservative" Christian institution will often shut out learning altogether in some fields.

I received my undergraduate degree in Biology at Louisiana College, and I believe that my education was adequate and that the faculty was wonderful. Had the administration had its way, however, my Biology degree may well have been a degree in Creation Science. This is perfectly acceptable in a Baptist church, but not in academic circles.

Lest you think I am simply ranting: During my study at LC, the college's president unilaterally, on the repeated complaint of a single student, removed from the syllabus of a "philosophy" class and from the shelves of the bookstore two acclaimed books-- one due to a "love scene" the student found offensive, the other for an instance of the phrase "G-- damn." Given that this "philosophy" class was a required course taught jointly by an English professor and a Religion professor, neither of whom found the books objectionable, the administration clearly had no respect for academic freedom.

As a recent law school graduate, I fear the LC law school is doomed to sink. I simply do not think the administration will allow the type of discussion necessary for students to learn constitutional law, family law, criminal law, or any course that would require reading cases containing depictions of "immoral" behavior.

September 15, 2008 2:50 PM  

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