Larry Hurtado’s post in which he laments examples of academic injustice and shameful cowardice has attracted a host of interesting comments and pushbacks.
Cristian Rata (evedyahu) remarks that in many cases “dismissed professors knew that they were stepping outside the confessional statements they signed (or assented to) when they got hired.” When this happens, it is the duty of the institution’s administrators to protect the institution’s commitment to a particular confession and affiliated religious polities. Hurtado replies to Scot McKnight’s defense of the idea of a Christian college/university by agreeing that “Christian institutions have the right to maintain their religious integrity, including core faith-and-ethical commitments. But there are cases I know where issues not a part of the terms of employment, not clearly a feature of any faith-statement, have led to the summary dismissal of academic staff.” That is a key distinction. John Stackhouse notes that faculty at a state university do not always appreciate the contribution of avowedly evangelical or Christian faculty to public and academic debate. Stackhouse himself came close to being drummed out of the corps for the crime of being an evangelical Christian.
Deane (Galbraith, whom many know from his blogging as NT Wrong, at Equinox, and at the Dunedin School) suggests that “True intellectual debate can never have limitations agreed in advance, whether the ‘secular’ or ‘Christian’ limitations you [Hurtado] mention. Conversely, to the extent that there are any such limitations, these institutions fail to be academic, and indeed compromise the entire endeavour. Some institutions fail in this regard to a greater extent than others, of course – such as those institutions which require faculty members to limit themselves to intellectual positions which are rightly considered absurd (e.g. esp. the profession of biblical inerrancy).”
I profess to what Galbraith considers absurd, and am proud of it. Still, I agree with him that true intellectual debate requires a forum in which a wide spectrum of views is accorded a hearing. But the fact of the matter is that at most universities a wide spectrum of views on given topics does not find expression. Some views are heavily promoted, others squelched or caricatured. With exceptions, state and private universities alike tend to be good at protecting the freedom of expression of some faculty but not others, and to look kindly on some points of view, academic, political, religious, gender theory wise, and not others.
The litmus test in my view is not whether a given institution contains within itself the widest possible spectrum of viewpoints on any given topic (though some universities model this ideal, to at least some extent). The litmus test revolves around the capacity of an academic interlocutor (individual or collective) to interact with positions she or he rejects with fairness and perspicacity.
I have no reason to doubt that Hurtado is reacting to actual examples of academic injustice and shameful cowardice, even if he does not offer actual examples. But it would be more useful to discuss examples on the public record, both at state and private universities.