My stance on the controversy at Cedarville University

In 2011, I graduated from Cedarville University, one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the United States. By the time I graduated, I’d left the church and the Republican party and embarked on a life outside the Evangelical subculture. The space between this intentional exile and the fundamentalism of my younger days is occupied by doctrinal witch hunts, religious abuse and the censorship of alternative perspectives. Cedarville’s dedication to the politicization of Christianity is responsible for shutting down our student newspaper: trustees complained that its content was too liberal and therefore did not reflect the ‘Cedarville view.’ Our chapter of College Democrats is now mysteriously unable to find a faculty sponsor. During my years at Cedarville, I served as an officer in College Democrats and although we were able to locate a sponsor at that time, we were forced to justify every event we held and received funds from student government later than any other organization on campus.

As an individual, I was interrogated by staff about my desire to intern with a progressive organization. My social media accounts were constantly monitored. I received hate mail from classmates and got told by a professor that it would better for me to shut up during his class. I got called a feminazi by male students. I was accused of apostasy, and of corrupting my fellow classmates with my political views. The humiliation culminated in 2010, when I survived an attempted rape at the hands of the son of a high ranking member of staff. I didn’t report the assault for many reasons. Fear, yes. But I also knew I couldn’t face my classmates’ reactions. I’d been through enough and I’d reached the limits of what I could psychologically tolerate.

Throughout these experiences, I relied on the grace and compassion exhibited by several members of faculty and staff. They saw my anger and pain and treated me with kindness. They did not judge me for my doubts, or for my eventual rejection of Christianity. And they dared to teach alternative views. They respected their students enough to introduce them to the great ideas and the associated movements that shaped the development of human history. They taught students about white privilege, feminism and critiques of capitalism. And this may seem rather unremarkable to anyone located outside Evangelical discourse, but I assure you that for those of us who grew up speaking it as a mother tongue that these are radical acts. These members of faculty developed my mind and protected my spirit.

Now they too have become targets of Cedarville’s determination to rid itself of moderate voices. Over the past several months, the administration of Cedarville University has fired Dr. Michael Pahl for ideological reasons and dissolved its philosophy department not long after its faculty publicly announced their refusal to vote for the Republican presidential ticket. It also announced the sudden resignation of its Vice President for Student Life, Dr. Carl Ruby. Dr. Ruby attended Cedarville and has worked at the university for 25 years. Students were informed of his resignation via email and Ruby’s last day at the university is tomorrow (Jan. 16th). The resignation follows a Christianity Today article about Cedarville’s unofficial GLBT/allied support group, Cedarville Out, which quotes Ruby speaking positively of his friendship with the group’s founder.

Because of these recent events, previous controversies and my own experiences as a Cedarville student, I believe that the administration of Cedarville University intends to rid itself of moderate influences and establish itself as an exclusively conservative institution. Faculty, staff and students have become mere collateral damage. So I would like to use my tiny media platform to bring attention to this attack on academic freedom. My defence of Cedarville’s philosophy department is one of 86 entries from concerned students, alumni and academics. We’re organizing protests to demand transparency from the university. And we’re not alone. Cedarville University joins several Christian colleges and seminaries engaged in campaigns against members of faculty and staff perceived to hold liberal political and theological views.

If you’re concerned about academic freedom, religious fundamentalism, or the culture of abuse enabled by a lack of transparency at Christian colleges and universities, please call attention to the crisis at Cedarville. Share this blog post or link to the Our CU Protest web page. If you’re a Cedarville student or alumnus, email the trustees. Ask questions and demand answers. Sign our petition. Fight for the university you deserve.

It’s too late for me to benefit from a healthy campus culture that promotes transparency, respects ideological differences and values intellectual enquiry. I will, however, do whatever I can to ensure that such a culture is born and thrives on Cedarville’s campus, and I urge you to join your voice with mine.

11 thoughts on “My stance on the controversy at Cedarville University

  1. I’m sorry that your “Cedarville experience”, as they liked to say on campus (or at least they liked to say this when I was a student there in the ’90s), was so terrible. These sorts of faculty & staff purges happen every 15 years or so at the ‘Ville (they cleaned out the Philosophy dept. along with a few Literature profs a few years after I graduated), so this is only the latest in a string of purification attempts. While I appreciate your rallying cry, I have no interest in saving Cedarville from itself and will not be contacting the Trustees, etc. in an effort to hold anyone accountable for the shenanigans that go on there. While Cedarville tries to occupy some netherworld in between a Bible school and an academically-respectable institution, in the end it is just a glorified version of a Christian secondary school, and its aims are entirely incompatible with academic freedom. Any professor interested in liberal thought (and by liberal I mean liberal in the old school, non-political sense) has no business being there. Trying to make the case that Cedarville acted without integrity and needs reform — especially trying to make such a case from outside the evangelical fold — is an exercise in futility. I’m sure you don’t want, or need, advice (but has that every stopped anyone before?), but from my perspective you should just say your piece and move on. I’ve been trying to shake off the Cedarville experience for nearly two decades there and if I had spent a minute of my post-Cedarville time trying to reform the place, it would have delayed my recovery that much longer. I realize this sounds cynical, and believe me, I’m not cynical. Only sad about the state of things in that particular expression of Christianity.

    That sad, christendom is a wide and varied place, and I hope you encounter people along your journey whose Christian faith is expressed in ways that resonate with you. Thanks so much for this post and for speaking up.

    • Thanks so much for the comment! This is the second purge I’ve witnessed since I entered CU (2006). I didn’t know about earlier attacks on the philosophy department.

      I do understand your stance on the reform of Cedarville. But after the brutality I witnessed (and experienced) as a student I’m uncomfortable with the thought of stepping away. I believe that if I do that, then I have guaranteed that nothing constructive will come from my experiences, and that the mistreatment of faculty and staff who advocated for students like me will go unchallenged. It might be futile. But if I have a chance to direct public attention to Cedarville’s abuse of power, I believe that I have an ethical responsibility to take that chance. I don’t want another student to go through the hell that I did. I want faculty to be able to truly educate their students. This is political, too: Evangelical Christians are a powerful voting bloc. The importance of free-thinking faculty at a Christian college can’t be overstated.

      So that’s why I’ve chosen to be involved. It’s definitely not easy. I have a diagnosis of PTSD thanks to the assault, so I have to manage a significant amount of anxiety in order to participate in this campaign. But I don’t regret it. Yet, at least.

      Anyway, thanks again for the comment!

  2. Hi, as a recent new applicant of Cedarville, I have been following these issues very closely. I happen to be a Christian Democrat, if attending Cedarville during the Fall of 2013, I hope to attempt an immediate restoration of Cedarville’s College Democrats. This will be the second try since its dissolution in 2010 and I believe that we need critical thought at Cedarville and somebody to challenge peoples beliefs. Furthermore, I would like to state to my fellow students that it does not matter what party your part of left or right; they both have Christian principals.

    • Hello Grant, it’s good to hear from you! Cedarville needs more Christian Democrats on campus. According to current students, the obstacle is a faculty sponsor: no one would come forward. If the political climate doesn’t change on campus, I’m afraid that no one will.

      In a way, I hope you do go to Cedarville, because Cedarville needs students like you whether it realizes it or not. But I’m afraid it won’t be easy, and I don’t wish any of my experiences on you. And the professors who would have befriended you and advocated for you are now being forced out.

      All good luck to you in your college search, and thank you for your thoughts. Never let anyone tell you they’re not valuable.

  3. I acknowledge that I will be in a very unfavorable position but people will have to turn to someone in these hard times and if I advertise that I am advocating for critical thought and the students, someone MAY step forward. In other words, like other leaders throughout history, I may be able to take advantage of the instability and tell people why we need people like me weather they agree or disagree on my political, social, and theological beliefs.

  4. I spent two years at CU (2009-2011) and by the time I left, I no longer attended church (still havent gone back), my faith was absolutely shaken, and I had learned only one real truth: you can’t question doctrine, church views and teachings, or conservative ideals…to do so is to risk metaphorical crucifixion. Before I went to CU, I was practically a youth pastor in my church, had a conservative upbringing and followed conservative ideals. Like any normal human being, after leaving for college I began to try and find my own place in life, including establishing my own beliefs and reasons for those beliefs. Never did I think that it would be Christians who shook my faith. I was involved in CU’s art program (with passing grades, usually B’s, throughout my time there) until one day, the art faculty set up a meeting where they basically told me that I wasn’t the right kind of Cedarville student artist and that they would make a desicion after one more semester about whether or not I could continue in the program. At one point, Professor Gosser went as far as to say that my “from the streets persona” (whatever the hell that means) wasn’t a good fit and impeded with my work and sucess among my fellow students and peers. Who knew that personality and not academics were the real factor in continuing college education. The worst part was the confusing shame and rejection I felt. I had no idea what I had done wrong and why I felt like I had even done anything wrong. Close friends and classmates helped me feel better, but the scar CU left has never fully healed. By the end of that semester my choice had been made to leave. Although it was never really my choice, was it? To this day, the hurt, confusion, anger and pain plague me. Simply put, after CU I have no idea where to even start, especially in my spiritual life. And what’s worse, the “Christians” around me (parents, old friends, former church aquaintenses) continue to crucify my lack of church participation, my desire for equality and acceptance of the right to have different ideas and opinions among other Christians, and my simple “lost-ness” in life.

    • Hi Tay.
      I have nothing to do with Cedarville or the controversy there. But I am a recent follower of Sarah’s blog. I am so sorry for what you have experienced and are experiencing from other Christians. My husband and I also no longer attend church in the traditional sense. But, we do gather in informal groups with other friends/believers in our homes and we all have different perspectives. We love and accept one another in the midst of that. I hope that you will be able to find a similar situation to live out your faith. (if that’s what you desire. 🙂 )

      • Thank you so much for the encouraging words Val. I know there’s good people out there, even among Christians. Perhaps I’ll find some of then one day that are worth going back.

  5. Well, this is now an old issue. However, I would still like to comment. The underlying problem of Christian love and tolerance at the University still remains. I attended Cedarville in the late 60s/early 70s. I had a great education by some very competent and Godly men (few women professors there in 70). Having just spent several years in the military during the Viet Nam period, I was slightly older than most students and also much more interested in my education. I found my time at Cedarville stimulating and the tolerance of the professors to my constant questioning open and receptive. Compared to my previous experience at Ohio State (before military service), i know I received a better education at Cedarville. I left Cedarville with a vastly strengthened Christian faith and a solid foundation in history, business, and life. I will admit that my study and writing over the past 8 to 10 years. since my retirement, have led me to more liberal views of Science and a greater respect for the role of reason and philosophy in the pursuit of truth That has not shaken my faith nor deminished my love for Christ but has given me a broader Christian Woldview. In fact it has made me a stronger Christian. However, it has opened my eyes to the shallowness of my science education while in college and made me wonder why the philosophy department never introduced me to such great Christian philosophers as Lewis, Augustine, Bonhoeffer, Chesterton etc.

    Unfortunately, things do not always get better with age and growth. I have followed closely the situation at Cedarville and I am deeply disappointed in the obvious move to the “religious right”/return to fundamentalism. It was founded as a liberal arts college…it holds it’s self up as a liberal arts college…yet it is acting more like a bible institute. Only time will tell what Cedarville will become in the future. However, the new President does not offer hope for growth of the academic programs at Cedarville!

    C. S. Lewis wrote: “Reason is the natural organ of truth – but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Clearly reason must be anchored in the reality of God as Creator/designer of all creation and author of all that is true. However, neither Christian reason nor imagination appear to be acceptable with the “new” Cedarville.

  6. I entered Cedarville a devout Christian in the fall of 1964. I left in May of 1966 an agnostic. I transferred to Baylor where I could breathe. Even though Baylor was a Baptist school it was far less rigid theologically and no agreement on faith was required. Baylor was much more challenging academically. Eventually, I worked myself back to the Christian faith, but it is now a progressive Christian faith.

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