Denyse O'Leary: Baylor's Crisis, Beckwith's Brilliance -- What's Really Behind Denial of Tenure?
Exclusive: What’s Really Behind Denial of Tenure?
Baylor’s Problem With Beckwith
By Denyse O’Leary
March 28, 2006 -- So the brilliant Francis Beckwith, Church-State Studies professor, has been denied tenure at Baylor University. That news has rapidly jumped the log-jammed terminals of the blogosphere, and soon the dead trees will lumber up alongside us.
On the main issue of Baylor’s failed attempt to be both Christian and cool, I can’t do better than to recommend Joseph Bottum at First Things. As a Canadian journalist based in Toronto, I will confine myself to what I, as a non-academic, see.
First, many believe that Beckwith was denied tenure because he is conservative. Somehow I doubt that. If a school like Baylor gets a reputation for discriminating against conservatives, bequests from the little old widows of wealthy conservatives will dry up. The university may deny the widows’ lifelong convictions; it can hardly deny their money.
No, Beckwith’s problem is not that he is conservative but that he is brilliant! Read his abnormally lucid comments on how to respond to abortion activists, and you will see what I mean.
You must be wanting to ask me how brilliance can be a problem. Surely every university wants brilliant profs! Well, no, actually not. At least, not necessarily. Not when their success creates an embarrassment.
Baylor, you see, aspires to be a Protestant Notre Dame. Unfortunately, it wants that at precisely the point in American history when dozens of social-climbing Christian universities have been selling out their tradition for decades, and intellectual freedom is becoming a joke.Now, here is the difficulty: Baylor cannot both launch itself up there with the really big guys and institutionally maintain, with Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). For one thing, that declaration pretty much makes the case that intelligent design is right and abortion is wrong. Baylor abruptly backed away from the first in 2000 and will probably back away from the second soon too. Its distinguished faculty members do not need the embarrassment of being thought to be pro-life, as Beckwith is.
When quietly and decently selling out a Christian heritage, a university must explicitly avoid encouraging people who effectively challenge the materialism that dominates the academy because -- to be blunt -- such people hinder achieving that goal. For example, suppose Beckwith’s arguments prevail and Roe v. Wade is reversed? Is that going to make him and Baylor the toast of faculty parties? The current self-destructiveness of the American intellectual elite is legendary, and those folks are far more likely to toast Osama bin Laden and the director of the local abortion clinic out of the same glass.
Very well then, what to do? Lots of decidedly unbrilliant Christians are conservative. Most are well-behaved, and some are also charming, thus good at chatting up sweet old ladies with bequests to offer. Aha! A strategy now appears where before all was darkness and confusion!
Hire and promote Christians who are pleasant and make neither scandal nor waves. Ideally, they will be people who can recite “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible,” and at the very same time deprecate anyone who suggests that the universe shows evidence of intelligent design -- because, faith, you see, belongs to a different realm from science. Et cetera.
And as for abortion, well, “my spouse and I have strongly held convictions, but we don't like to talk about it, because some women in our community have had abortions.” (Not that that sort of consideration ever stops these kinds of people from sounding off freely on any subject they truly do care about.) Meantime, people like Beckwith have got to go.
You think this assessment is harsh? Unfair? Aw, you haven’t heard the half of it yet. You can hear a lot worse from students and professors. Identified Christian universities are no different from the others unless they make up their minds to be.
Thoroughgoing materialism, such as we see today, cannot sustain academic freedom, because it does not accept that the mind is real. Why make sacrifices for an unreal concept?
A Christian university should not seek acceptance by institutions committed to materialism. What Baylor should want is to be hated and feared, but for the right reason -- for being nonmaterialist and effective, like Beckwith. What it really wants, if denying Beckwith tenure is anything to go by, is the long, slow, sweet kiss of death.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist based in Toronto (see her blog at Post-Darwinist). She is author of the multiple-award-winning By Design or Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy (www.designorchance.com). She was named Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).