Academic Freedom Statement | Christian Heritage College
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Academic Freedom Statement

Policy

CHC considers that a commitment to the principle of academic freedom is fundamental to the fulfilment of its mission statement. Academic freedom (or free inquiry) may be broadly defined as the freedom of the teacher to teach, of the student to learn, and of CHC to be truly an educational institution. While some have seen a contradiction between a commitment to academic freedom and a commitment to the authority of the Bible, CHC holds that, far from contradicting Biblical principles, academic freedom is mandatory for any institution seeking to be Christian in its principles and practice.

CHC’s commitment to academic freedom is justified on four grounds: theological, academic, social and historical.

The theological justification acknowledges academic freedom as expressing the true volitional freedom and individuality with which God has endowed humanity. Thought, like faith, love or obedience, cannot be coerced without being destroyed. While CHC holds the Bible to be true, intellectual assent to the truth of Scripture must be the entirely free and voluntary act of an individual. If all truth is God’s truth, then all must be free to explore and encounter it in their own ways as free individuals. Faith has nothing to fear from free inquiry. Coercion of thought is intellectual suicide: rather than confirming truth, it will drive people from it; rather than defending orthodoxy, it renders it suspect to the inquiring mind. A coerced commitment to a Christian ethos debases the central values of that ethos. Far from prescribing its Christian ethos, CHC seeks to model it and to declare its truth by demonstration and example, and thereby win and retain voluntary commitment to it. Thus, academic freedom represents an acknowledgement of the true human freedom which is the very essence of Christianity.

Secondly, academic freedom is essential to the academic task. A liberal education means the stretching of minds and imaginations, the engagement with honest inquiry, the appropriation of a cultural heritage, the transmission of ideas and values, and an exposure to the frontiers of learning. By definition, it requires freedom to grow, to meet great minds of the past and present and interact rigorously with ideas and values; freedom to analyse, criticise and evaluate the orthodoxies of past and present; freedom to explore and extend the frontiers of learning. A truly liberal education is founded upon academic freedom.

In serving its students and preparing them for life, a Christian institution must teach its students to think, to decide truth for themselves, and to form their own values and make their own judgements. Thought which is isolated from challenge and criticism is likely to be poor thought; judgements formed on partial evidence to be imperfect judgements. Difficult questions ignored do not disappear. In preparing students to function as professionals in a world which is often hostile to Christian thought and faith, CHC needs to ensure that students are exposed within CHC to that which they will encounter outside it. The best training for clarifying and defending one’s thinking is the experience of facing criticism and challenge. Furthermore, if Christianity is intellectually defensible, then its truth is best demonstrated by openly facing the challenge of scrutiny and criticism. Thus students’ interests, CHC’s mission and course outcomes are best served by an environment where orthodoxy is open to challenge within a context of a commitment to free inquiry, critical scholarship and the search for truth.

Thirdly, there is a social justification for academic freedom. CHC seeks to serve the wider society and, as academic freedom is essential to the self-scrutiny and improvement of society, it provides the basis for informed and responsible social criticism and contributes to the common good.

Fourthly, CHC holds to an historical justification for its commitment to academic freedom. The history of the Church indicates the futility of suppressing or ignoring opposing ideas; on the contrary, the Church has been reformed and religious liberty advanced where academic freedom has prevailed. As the experiences of Christian institutions from medieval universities to the present show, academic freedom is not only compatible with Christian conviction, but expresses basic Christian honesty, provides impetus for valuable criticism and reform of the Church, and protects the Church from subversion or coercion for political or personal ends.

This justification and rationale for CHC’s real commitment to academic freedom is offered as a response to the criticism that the doctrinal position of CHC in some way inhibits the operation of freedom of thought or speech. In responding to this criticism, CHC would endorse the words of the American philosopher, Arthur Holmes (1987):

If intellectual objectivity is presuppositionless thinking or learning without guiding purposes, then it exists neither in the Christian college nor anywhere else. Neutrality on matters of belief and value is humanly impossible. Objectivity consists rather in acknowledging and scrutinizing one’s point of view and testing presuppositions. It is more a matter of honesty than neutrality. Every scholar has commitments. The Christian college is unique only because its faculty and administration have common commitments of a religious and moral sort, rather than the variegated commitments of a secular institution.

It is clear of course that the right to academic freedom is moderated by the responsibility for academic integrity. Academic integrity, on the part of both staff and students, implies a commitment to a genuine search for truth, to personal honesty and self-criticism, to scholarship, and to the responsible use of academic freedom. Matters involving academic integrity fall within the jurisdiction of the Academic Board.

Academic freedom provides the opportunity for all staff to express or present a scholarly opinion in the field of their expertise without prior vetting of this opinion by CHC, with the understanding that this is the opinion of the staff member and not necessarily that of CHC. In speaking, writing or acting as a representative of CHC, a staff member should act conscientiously and with full respect for the values of CHC.

For the teaching staff, academic freedom implies freedom, within the constraints of course design, to teach without either prescription or proscription of unit content. This freedom is protected by staff representation on the Academic Board and various committees of CHC.

For students, academic freedom implies the freedom to learn, inquire, question and make judgements, without being subject to a prescription of belief. This freedom is protected by student representation on the Boards and committees of CHC and is defended by student advocacy arrangements.

For CHC, academic freedom provides a defence against indoctrination, dogmatism and politicisation, and thereby guarantees CHC freedom to be truly an educational institution. This freedom is guaranteed by the independence and broad membership of the Council.

Reference List:

Holmes, A 1987, The Idea of a Christian College, rev ed, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.