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The Higher Education Bubble Is Bursting Already -- Hastened by Religious Institutions of Higher Learning in the Midwest (Part 1)

Posted on September 1, 2020 at 4:20 PM

The Higher Education Bubble Is Bursting Already – Hastened by Religious Institutions of Higher Learning in The Midwest (Part 1)

Rev Gregory P. Schulz, DMin, PhD

Professor of Philosophy


If I were posting a sermon, my text from Holy Scripture would be Psalm 25, which my wife and I prayed together in our morning devotion: “See how they mob me, this crowd that hates me. Protect me and save my life … for I take shelter in You. Let integrity stand guard as I wait for You, LORD.”

But this posting is not a sermon. Instead, it is a professor’s unvarnished response to the moral and intellectual failures of three religious institutions of higher learning in the Midwest, Notre Dame (ND), Marquette University (MU), and Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC). In all three instances, it is in the public declarations of their presidents that we see their institutions’ accommodations to the contemporary mob and the failure to exhibit integrity with God’s mission for Christian institutions and His means of care for all people.

A Significant Trend in Christian Institutions of Higher Learning

It feels like I am in the prophet Amos’s eighth-century B.C. congregation hearing about God’s dissatisfaction with us and His judgment coming closer and closer to home, until it hits where I live and work. I used to aspire to bring my work up to the level of ND. Yes, it did start with the first time I saw the movie Rudy, but for a long time I aspired to imitate ND’s philosophy department. But then, last January, in 2019, ND’s president announced that his university would cover over its religious Christopher Columbus murals. ND President Covers Over Columbus Murals (Jan 2019). I am an alum of MU (my second doctorate is from their philosophy program), but a few years back, MU’s president empowered the firing of one the university’s political science profs for writing that the university ought at least to allow discussion of its Christian understanding of sexual morality in its classes. MU President Supports Firing of Religiously Conservative Professor (Jul 2018 resolution)

Last week, WLC’s president (with his board), disinvited the Vice President, his college’s scheduled commencement speaker. Here is his thinking in his own words:

The WLC community is shocked and saddened regarding the shooting of Jacob Blake and the subsequent aftermath. We pray that justice and peace will prevail. We pray for Jacob, his family, friends, and the Kenosha community.

Furthermore, as it relates to broader race issues, WLC stands with our community leaders and partners and recognizes that serious changes need to take place within our country, region, and our cities. Racism and systemic inequities in access to education, justice and other aspects of society are unacceptable

WLC Dis-Invites Vice President, College President Cites Injustice and Racial Inequality

A Significant Trend in the Words of Institutional Presidents

Readers of George Orwell will recognize these comments as duckspeak. Educated listeners – and I intend nothing elitist here; some of the wisest and most honest folks I know (and read, study, and teach to my undergrad and PhD students all the time) never had a formal, college education, nor did they need one! – will note that his remarks are expressing the same sentiments that we hear from mediocre tv reports, from social media opinions, and from our state’s governor, in much the same words.

There are at least two reasons why this statement is an intellectual and educational failure. First, it is either trivializing or politicizing prayer. What, exactly, is the point of announcing that WLC is praying for some and not others? For praying for Mr. Blake who put all sorts of precious souls in danger, by his first name, as if he were a personal friend, but not sparing a word for the police who put their lives on the line to protect us from mob violence? Any indication here that WLC is praying God’s way, in words such as Psalm 25?

Secondly, it is either exhibiting a culpable naiveté, or it is perpetuating a falsehood to perpetuate claims of systemic racism in society or education. There are instances of racism in our society, but there is no evidence whatever of cultural, systemic racism on the part of police. Quite the opposite. MSU study - white police officers are not more likely to have shot minority citizens than non-white officers

Not being professors themselves, and thus being free of the regular obligation to write, articulate, give the footnotes, respond to objections, and so on, presidents of Christian institutions nonetheless pro-fess. Sometimes they pro-fess what they are saying with passion for their institutions. But is their zeal according to knowledge? Are they at least seeking out their own theology, political science, and philosophy professors to discover what is really going on in God’s world in 2020? By and large, it does not appear that they are.

Their Zeal is Not According to Knowledge

To mention just two sources of actual knowledge (and not mere repetition of harmful assumptions), consider keeping your Bible open and having your Declaration and Constitution handy. Think of these as what I have been calling “The Scriptures and the American Scriptures.” With those scriptures in mind, be sure to give an ear to the professional and educated view of riots – which are not, for goodness’ sake, related to peaceful protests, except in the mantras of people who venerate the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy as a way of life! – articulated by a graduate of my university. Sheriff David Clarke - riots are "made violence" (26 August 2020 re Kenosha)

Next, have a look for yourself at Karl Marx’s1848 Manifesto and take another look at the riots in Kenosha and elsewhere. “We disdain to conceal our views and aims. We openly declare that our ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions … We have a world to win” (Section 4, 11). Behold the mob, the animating soul of every riot in our nation right now.

To go by their own published words, the reasoning of the presidents of ND, MU, and now WLC (and I do mean that it is the same line of reasoning in all three cases) is not being conducted on the basis of honest thinking, but tiresome rationalizations on the basis of what they imagine to be good educational or institutional policy. Whose policy would that be, exactly?

There is evidence that they are acting according to a presumptive worldview that does not have a basis in reality as it is. Furthermore, to go by their own words, there is not any indication that these presidents are engaging with God’s Word, only that they are deploying sentimentalized religious clichés, for their institutional decision-making. Their institutions present themselves as religious, Christian, Catholic, Lutheran institutions of higher learning to whom we should send our sons and daughters for their college years, but their presidents do not talk the religious walk.

What happened last week in Wisconsin is that, for whatever reason, WLC disinvited the Vice President right after he told the nation,

President Donald Trump and I will always support the right of Americans to peaceful protest, but rioting and looting is not peaceful protest, tearing down statues is not free speech. Those who do so will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Last week, Joe Biden didn't say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country. Let me be clear: the violence must stop -- whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha. Too many heroes have died defending our freedoms to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of America. President Trump and I know the men and women that put on the uniform of law enforcement are the best of us. They put their lives on the line every day.

Interestingly enough, the Vice President was articulating the biblical view of church and state, both God-given institutions, according to Romans 13, for example. Not a word of this theological and Lutheran mainstay in the words of the WLC college president – or in any subsequent elaboration, as far as I can see. [BTW, for a contemporary look at the Lutheran understanding of the divine role of government in sync with the distinctive role of Christ’s church, please watch for my chapter in the forthcoming book on the Two Kingdoms (government and church), edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless.]

Following the Vice President’s biblically resonant paragraphs about the government’s God-given role in protecting with the sword those who are doing good, the following night the President told the entire nation,

In the left’s backward view, they do not see America as the most free, just and exceptional nation on Earth. Instead, they see a wicked nation that must be punished for its sins. Our opponents say that redemption for you can only come from giving power to them. This is a tired anthem spoken by every repressive movement throughout history, but in this country, we don’t look to career politicians for salvation. In America, we do not turn to government to restore ourselves. We put our faith in almighty God.

Those of us concerned about WLC’s rejection of the Vice President immediately after his biblical articulation of the God-given role of the government may be excused for wondering if the college would, if given the opportunity, also reject the President and his unmistakable and distinctively Christian position about the difference between communism and Christianity. It naturally raises the question of whether WLC teaches what its president has written and released to the public.

Rejections Have Consequences

Today as I write this (Monday, 31 August), the President is scheduled to come to Kenosha to back up his already-substantial help in saving Kenosha from the rioting mob last week. I expect that he will come, bringing the government’s assurance of support and protection for our Godfearing neighbors in Kenosha. He will, in a word, be helping them by improving and protecting our neighbors’ property and business (see Luther’s Catechism on the biblical commandment at issue and its what-does-this-mean response).

Our President and our Vice President have just confessed a constitutional and biblical view of their responsibility as government leaders. Today, our Wisconsin governor is making every effort to dis-invite the President for questionable political reasons. Last week, a Lutheran college only miles away from Kenosha rejected the Vice President for reasons that give no evidence of biblical, Christian or Lutheran thinking whatever. What other rejections does their rejection portend?

Rejections have consequences.

There are good, faithful Lutheran professors at WLC. Some of them are my friends. I cannot imagine that their college president’s words express the way they teach their students. But, as I said at the beginning of this essay, WLC is now part of an alarming trend in religious institutions of higher learning in the Midwest.

Lord willing, I will next explain how this trend is evidence of the higher education bubble that has been much-prophesied since the housing bubble that resulted in the great recession of 2008. The higher education bubble is underway. Its first phase is evident for all potential donors, potential students, and churches to see, I regret to say, in the board actions and presidential press releases of the presidents at ND, MU, and WLC.

Rejections have consequences. Rejections of our religious heritage, our conservative professors, and leaders who articulate biblical and American understandings of the role of law and government in our lives are having consequences for how we view our religious colleges and universities. These rejections have consequences for how we professors who know better are reconfiguring higher education. More to come!