“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”― C.S. Lewis
Breaking News: This statement was just released from the Office of the President at Cedarville University along with a video.
Here is a link to the video.
Prior to the Moore story breaking in the news the past week, this document was compiled by the Justice Collective over the course of the last year. This document was drawn up initially to file as a complaint with the Higher Learning Commission against Cedarville University. Because the Justice Collective is composed of present CU employees in addition to alumni and former employees, they decided not to file it because the HLC doesn’t accept anonymous complaints–and offers no whistle-blower protection for any present employee (a major weakness of the HLC complaint system). Present employees cannot risk exposure, for fear of reprisal. This information was corroborated with multiple sources and includes the disturbing context in which Dr. Melissa Faulkner’s heart-breaking story falls (featured on this blog on Friday). To understand this document, one must understand the “Biblically Consistent Curriculum” policy put in place in 2017 at CU over strong faculty objections; thus, it is also presented here. (This document is posted at the end of the Cedarville University’s Violations of Higher Learning Commission Mandates
Cedarville University’s Violation of Higher Learning Commission Mandates
A culture at Cedarville University (CU) has developed over the last several years that greatly restricts academic freedom, thereby violating Higher Learning Commission (HLC) mandates.
In particular, in the spring of 2017—the same year CU hired sexual assailant Anthony Moore—the CU administration implemented a policy they now call “The Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy” (BCC), over strong faculty objections (see BCC document). In fact, there was, and is, no “shared governance” regarding the implementation or enforcement of this policy. Several long-time faculty leaders warned against it when the Vice President of Academics at the time (Loren Reno) asked them about it, but the administration continued the process anyway.
VPA Reno then held faculty forums about the policy (forums that gave the appearance of listening to faculty input but really were just a ruse). Many faculty opposed the policy because it suggested the administration did not trust faculty to design their own curricula and administer appropriate assignments. (And indeed, to this day, faculty do not feel as though the administration trusts them; in turn, they do not trust the administration.) Many faculty likewise opposed the policy because they knew it would restrict their academic freedom. Some faculty even quoted John Milton’s treatise against censorship, Areopagitica, in the forums. Others argued the policy really wasn’t biblical at all. In particular, two long-time, tenured Bible professors, hired under Dr. Paul Dixon, condemned the policy for taking Philippians 4:8 out of context and misapplying it. In short, faculty across campus—in professional programs, the sciences, and the liberal arts—voiced opposition to the policy. That opposition was ignored.
Some other faculty either skipped the forums or stayed silent during them for fear of reprisal. Leading up to this policy, the new administration had already forced many Bible professors out of the Bible department because they deemed them “not conservative enough” to teach at Cedarville any more. (The “conservative resurgence” wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, made in the image of Paige Patterson, had gained control of the university and was enacting its infamous “purges” in that department. See more information here: fiatlux125.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/whats-happened-at-cedarville-villefeedbackforum/). Faculty feared then and fear now that if they question the administration, they will lose their jobs or be demoted.
Administration did not allow faculty to vote on whether to adopt the policy—no vote was taken. The last forum was held on a Thursday; the next day, a Friday, the policy was put immediately into place and enforced retroactively, to boot. Thus, in the end the administration implemented the policy, in its original form, though they changed the title of it from “The Philippians 4:8 Policy” to the BCC.
The entire situation was so controversial, it garnered media coverage, such as this article in Christianity Today: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/april/cedarville-university-apply-philippians-4-8-curriculum.html (One note about this article, however: The part that quotes Bible professor Dan DeWitt as saying his department had no problem with the policy is completely erroneous. As mentioned above, two veteran Bible professors objected strongly to the policy in the public forums.)
After the article appeared, faculty and staff were chastised for airing the situation in the press and told that they should never do such a thing. They were likewise told never to do that again in the future, that all discussions of controversies should be kept “in the family.” Veiled threats in meetings are common. Behind closed doors, threats are far more direct: Talk and you’ll be fired.
The following disturbing situations also transpired around that policy:
- First, CU’s administration waited to put this policy in place until after the HLC granted CU its accreditation renewal in the fall of 2016. CU’s President Thomas White wrote this blog entitled, “Biblical Wisdom and Intentionality for all 1,000 Days,” in the fall of 2016, serving as a precursor to the policy:
It is clear the administration wanted to move in this direction but waited until after the 10-year accreditation was renewed in December. As a side note, too: Faculty did not participate in the HLC visit that fall if they didn’t have to. Everyone suffering under the administration was afraid to speak out against it, and many who worked on accreditation did so under duress. Again, the HLC provides no whistle-blower protections. Yet, obviously, it was to everyone’s benefit if the university regained its accreditation, too, so they were caught in a Catch-22 situation.
After the CT article ran, Pres. White wrote another blog in August of 2017, in which he defended the policy and responded to the CT article (White has demonstrated a pattern of self-defense via his blog articles):
This is all notable only because the timing of the whole process seems suspicious, as though the CU administration knew they might have problems with the accreditation process if they put the policy in place right before, or at the same time as, the HLC visit in the fall of 2016.
- Since the policy was passed, the administration has censored faculty curricula and student writing. For instance, some majors in the liberal arts have faced censorship for papers using various literary theories the administration objects to. Likewise, then VPA Reno censored student writing in The Cedarville Review, the student-run literary journal, pulling pieces, including writing and art, from publication because he didn’t like a philosophy behind a drawing, a curse word or two (hell), and the way a character, a grandmother, behaved in a story (all non-sexual and thus, non-BCC regulated). The present VPA, Thomas Mach, still has the authority to censor the journal at will (as well as the student newspaper, Cedars, which has had a long history of censorship).
- Quite a few liberal-arts faculty have been called into the VPA’s office, or worse, Pres. White’s office, and condemned for teaching certain readings and curricula.
- To date, books and stories have been banned, some of which don’t even fall under the BCC policy. Some things are banned for political reasons. For instance, all of Christian author Shane Claiborne’s books have been banned because they contain political viewpoints the administration deems unbiblical (i.e., non-Republican). Claiborne’s books are in no way “pornographic,” “erotic,” “obscene,” or “graphic,” the four characteristics the policy forbids in materials. Likewise, other readings have been banned, including Native American “trickster” myths, various graphic novels (such as Persepolis), the memoir of the Latina writer (see Melissa’s post on Friday here), etc.
- What’s worse is that during the fall semester of faculty/staff sessions in August of 2017, the President defended the policy by publicly shaming the English department in particular. He pulled out of context certain passages of some of literature that he has since banned, including the memoir by the Latina author, put quotations on PowerPoint slides, and explained that the policy exists to eliminate such “dirty” literature from the classroom. (Again, see Melissa’s story corroborating this.) He never explained the professors’ perspectives or pedagogical reasons for teaching the readings. Faculty and staff across campus were shocked. To this day, many faculty view that behavior not only as a public shaming but also as a violation of the community covenant all CU employees are required to sign (i.e., the President himself violated the covenant).
- Most faculty and staff felt threatened that day, believing if they, too, “crossed over the line,” they may face similar public humiliation. That’s the whole point of a public shaming, after all: Control.
- Equally important, Pres. White publically shamed the Latina author herself, a victim of sexual abuse, thereby sending the message to all members of the faculty and staff that if they, too, are victims of such abuse (and some are), they can never discuss it in detail in their own stories. The CU President and the VPA now have a regular modus operandi they follow: When a student or parent complains about something being taught in a class, whether online or on campus, they take a look at it. If they find it objectionable, the faculty member is brought in and condemned. Since high schoolers take dual enrollment classes at CU, it’s not uncommon for this scenario to transpire with such students who are simply too unprepared or immature for college-level materials (likewise with sheltered, infantilized freshmen). This policy, therefore, has invited a culture in which parents and students are welcome to complain about faculty. Thus, professors never know who in their classes will complain, and so, they teach under constant fear and anxiety since the administration often undermines them.
- VPA Thomas Mach claims he uses the policy to defend faculty to parents who call to complain. But one must ask: Why does a VPA need to rationalize his support of his own faculty with such a policy in the first place? Shouldn’t an HLC-accredited institution have administrations who are already adept at communicating the significance of academic freedom as well as the rationale behind a university education? His defense is a ruse. For the most part, he uses the policy as a hammer.
- What’s worse, since the VPA has put all pre-existing (and already CRLA-certified) writing center tutors through a re-application process that included questions testing their allegiance to CU. To make clear: He forced veteran student tutors, who’d already gained CRLA (College Reading and Learning Association) certification, to re-apply for jobs in the Writing Center in order to meet with his approval. In short, the administration is now censoring and seeking to control the views of the student tutors in the CU Writing Center, too.
- Likewise, the administration has now mandated that all faculty seeking tenure write their faith-learning integration papers (required for review) in such a way that they completely refute their various disciplines’ theories that the administration doesn’t approve of. Faculty are not allowed to hold nuanced positions, even if they’ve already published scholarly articles on these positions. Instead, they are mandated to reject such theories wholesale, despite even the tenure review committee’s objections. This, too, greatly restricts academic freedom and a faculty member’s freedom of expression in ways that simply defy logic–and the whole point of integration in the first place. CU doesn’t integrate; it indoctrinates. And if offers and education that reinforces the false dilemma in every subject.
- Other public shaming happens often in chapel services, too; this past year, Pres. White publically chastised students in chapel for seeking counseling in the counseling center, admonishing them to “get in” their Bibles. Although Pres. White says otherwise, he holds the psychology profession and certain professors in thay department under suspicion and undermines them however he can. In fact, as soon as he arrived at CU, he appointed the same person to serve as both Dean of Students and the Director of Counseling, causing a serious conflict of interest, as CU is quick to expel students who don’t abide by the rules, despite mental health illnesses and needs.
- Furthermore, Pres. White appointed a new chair for the social work department who is attempting to develop his own accreditation organization (for fundamentalists) so as to leave the one that has accredited CU’s social work program for years. His work has shocked professionals in the field at national conferences, including many Christian scholars, and raised serious questions about way the program at CU is now being run.
- This kind of reasoning led Pres. White to withdraw CU from the Conference on Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) in 2016, telling faculty the CCCU just isn’t conservative enough on the issue of (what else?) homosexuality and his goal is to form his own such organization for fundamentalist schools like the one he’s turned CU back into. He made this decision (and this statement) even though the official stance of the CCCU still views heterosexual monogamy as the biblical model. Yet, within the year, as you have established, White hired a professor guilty of same-sex sexual assault, Anthony Moore.
- Public chastisement also hurts staff and faculty, many of whom are presently working with therapists as they endure workplace abuse and some of whom have even suffered serious physical illnesses as a result of the hostility and unbearable stress. Such faculty can be found in departments such as social work, psychology, pharmacy, communications, theatre, art, graphic design, English, and foreign languages. If the HLC could see how many faculty have left in the last 8 years from those departments, that would be proof enough of the ongoing hostility. In short, those faculty and staff who want to leave and can get out, do. Human Resources has plenty of documentation on this trend from their exit interviews with such faculty, but nothing changes.
Although as a private, religious institution CU has great freedom to enact policies that public schools could never enact, and it has the religious freedom to require agreement to its community life standards, it now has violated HLC accreditation mandates in many ways. These violations are completely unethical; they have likewise proved to be emotionally and verbally abusive towards faculty. In short, these violations are as unprofessional as they are unChristian.
The academic freedom statement formulated by the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges clearly states the following:
College or university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As persons of learning and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and institution by their utterances. Hence, they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are notinstitutional spokespersons.
Moreover, the HLC clearly states all HLC institutions should be “committed to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.”
This document, therefore, should be understood not as an attack on Christian higher education, for that has every right to exist and should continue to exist. It is an expression arguing that the “special obligations” the AAUC and AAC have stipulated are vital to higher education. Therefore, this complaint should be viewed for what it is: a desperate plea for help from faculty who are not “free from institutional censorship or discipline.” CU does not fulfill the HLC mandate either with its present curriculum policy, which does constitute censorship. Professors across the board—in social work and psychology, communications and theatre, art and literature, education and sociology—are all required to teach only the literature, media, art, drama, pedagogies, theories, etc. that aren’t offensive to the administration’s political views (it’s the Republican viewpoint or bust) or their reductionist moral views (i.e., they reduce art and literature to evaluating them based upon curse words, sex scenes, etc).
Furthermore, CU’s administration does not demonstrate “that the exercise of intellectual inquiry and the acquisition, application, and integration of broad learning and skills are integral to its education programs.” And it has now regularly censored professors’ attempts to have students master “modes of inquiry or creative work.” It can’t be emphasized enough that even students’ writing has been censored. Thus, even in this way, CU does not allow academic freedom. In short, it does not recognize the “human and cultural diversity of the world in which students live and work,” especially when the vast majority of censored writings focus on authors who are people of color.
Faculty have tried to reason with this administration on many occasions, to no avail. There is no real shared governance surrounding the policy, which is regularly used to threaten and condemn faculty. In short, their pedagogy and theory are held hostage by this policy, for they are not only restricted in what they can teach and assign but also restricted by their own legitimate fears of reprisal.
All in all, this policy has created one of the most disturbing climates in higher education in this country, and the CU administration must be held accountable for both the hostile culture they’ve created and the emotional abuse they have heaped upon the faculty who faithfully serve Christ there.
Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy
Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement affirms, “we believe that every believer should walk by the Spirit and engage in practices that stimulate spiritual maturity.” To that end, “Christians are…to flee evil influences and practices, which hinder a Spirit-filled life.” The Community Covenant provides a framework within which spiritual maturity can be pursued by employees and encouraged in our students: “we covenant together to be people of integrity and self-control, truthful in our speech, honest in our conduct, and morally pure in both thought and action.” Further, the Cedarville General Workplace Standards establishes specific principles within which employees should operate, “As a community of born-again believers, we believe that pleasing and glorifying God in all that we do and say is an expression of our gratitude to God’s grace and love in our lives.” As such, all that we do should be designed to bring Him glory as demonstrated in “our commitment to moral purity in thought and action.” These guidelines for work and life are institutional standards based on the belief that Scripture is the foundation upon which we can pursue righteous living.(II Timothy 3:16-17) Scripture is replete with guidelines for Christian living, because God knew how susceptible humans are to temptation. It reminds the Christian “to keep oneself unstained from the world.”(James 1:27) “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”(Psalm 119:9) “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”(Psalm 101:3) Finally, Phil. 4:8 provides a rubric for evaluating what is appropriate in the Christian life:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.(ESV)
The above guidelines not only apply to the individual lives of faculty employed by the university, but also to what is examined and taught in the classroom or through co-curricular activities. The application of these principles to courses or events on campus is not always easy. Students will often be exposed to assumptions, philosophies, and ideologies within various fields that run counter to the truth of God’s Word. To operate effectively within the field in which these students intend to work, they must both know these unbiblical systems and ideas as well as be able to critique them. In some cases, the very study of a particular field involves the examination of images or writing that is conducive to temptation. Cedarville does its students no favors by insulating them from everything that is false, pagan, or immodest in this world. Nonetheless, Cedarville’s faculty must evaluate these demands based upon the standards of Scripture. Paul, in Romans 12:2, exhorts followers of Christ to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The Philippians 4:8 passage articulates the imperative for Cedarville to be distinctive in the education it provides. What is acceptable in most classrooms may not be at Cedarville. The lines of propriety must be drawn with an eye toward what is pure, not simply what is just.
This policy is not designed to restrict the free discussion of ideologies, philosophies, or schools of thought that may or may not run counter to biblical truth. Rather, this policy is focused on images, movies, songs, plays, or writing that may be considered “adult” in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students. While it is true that Cedarville cannot prepare its students for cultural engagement without exposing them to aspects of the culture that are depraved, it is also true that every institution must draw lines that it will not transgress. Cedarville chooses to draw its lines in a fashion that best comports with the clear teaching of Scripture and, where it must err, err on the side of preventing the placement of temptation or unwholesome material in front of students. In cases where Scripture is not clear, Cedarville University has established institutional preferences. While these guidelines do not pretend to be equivalent to Scripture, they are not intended to be legalistic either. Freedom only exists within boundaries. This policy provides clear boundaries for employees as well as context for students and their parents regarding the type of community they are entering when they enroll at Cedarville.
In general, faculty will avoid material that is pornographic (“prurient, twisted, addictive, evil, and exploitive use of nudity to titillate or tempt”) or erotic (“overt sexual connotation”). “Artistic bareness” may be appropriate in courses studying art, for example, as such images are designed to convey “ideal proportion, human philosophy and religious beliefs, and human emotion and vulnerability.” The use of such images should be handled judiciously, recognizing that each person faces different struggles when it comes to the ability to view them without stumbling. The decision should not be based on what some can tolerate or on the world’s standard of what is acceptable, but on what some cannot or should not tolerate. It should be based on the standards of Scripture as outlined in this policy, and each faculty member should be able to articulate how the use of such material is in line with passages like Philippians 4:8. In all cases, faculty should make loving accommodation for those students who do not wish to view the images in such a fashion that allows for the objectives of the course to be met.
Faculty must also be cognizant of what reading and writing assignments they require of students. Passages that are clearly pornographic, erotic, obscene, or graphic must be avoided. While it may be important to expose students to various genres of writing, examples need to be selected to avoid inappropriate material. Sometimes the genre is not as important as the theme or content in determining assignments. In those circumstances, faculty should consider what topics are appropriate for students to engage directly and what topics should be discussed without exposure due to their graphic or erotic nature. Faculty are responsible for what they assign to their students in the same way that they are responsible for what they say to their students.(James 3:1)
Movies need to be carefully selected in curricular and co-curricular settings. Movies shown for a class should be prescreened by faculty for objectionable material. Excerpts can be used that do not include inappropriate material. Required assignments involving movies or movie segments should be made recognizing that students have varying levels of conviction about material and varying struggles with regard to temptation. Faculty should provide accommodations to those students who do not wish to view the material because they deem it objectionable. As a general rule, “R” rated movies will not be shown. PG-13, PG, and unrated movies should be evaluated based on language, sexual content, graphic violence, and nudity. Faculty should consider how the movie selected measures up to the standards of Philippians 4:8. Excerpts could be shown that do not include the objectionable material. Movies that are shown as part of campus events that could include individuals from the public should be reviewed by the Vice Presidents of Academics. The standard for events involving the public may be higher because the movie, in this case, will be a reflection of the standards of the institution.
Similar guidelines apply to plays and productions produced by the institution on campus. Since these productions are closely associated with the university in the minds of public attendees, it is very important that the scripts chosen not leave attenders confused as to the standards of the institution. Scripts with swearing must be avoided or modified. Plays with morals or teachings that run counter to the Scriptural standard should be evaluated for what value they bring to the campus. Given the broader audience and consistent with current practice, all play scripts selected should be approved by the VPA.
In all cases where material is potentially objectionable or problematic, faculty should model biblical critique for their students. Questions such as the following are helpful in working through the value of these materials with students:
- What is valuable in this image, movie, song, play, or writing?
- What is an appropriate biblical critique of the objectionable material?
- What worldview is expressed and how does it compare with a biblical worldview?
- What are the gray areas that Scripture does not speak to directly and how should Christians analyze them?
- How should we be sensitive to that brother or sister who may struggle with this material?
Faculty should take into account that standards for required material may be higher than for optional events. Students who have a conviction about certain material or are struggling with a particular temptation can easily opt out of optional events. Such students are put in a predicament by required assignments that involve problematic material. Faculty should provide and make students aware of accommodations when material involved is potentially problematic. In all cases, faculty are wise to run material and media by their dean or chair prior to presenting it to students if it approaches the category of “unacceptable.” Before God and the administration, faculty are accountable for their choices, and deans and chairs for their oversight of this material.
 Doctrinal Statement, Cedarville University, Section 8, https://www.cedarville.edu/About/Doctrinal-Statement.aspx.
 Faculty and Staff Community Covenant, Cedarville University, https://www.cedarville.edu/Job-Openings/Faculty-Staff-Community-Covenant.aspx.
 General Workplace Standards, Cedarville University, https://www.cedarville.edu/Job-Openings/Workplace-Standards.aspx.
 Quotes taken from “The Teaching of Art and Literature at Cedarville University” and “Statement on Nudity in the Arts and Our Classroom Policy,” Course Documents for Introduction to Humanities, Cedarville University.