Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tracy McKenzie Responds to Peter Conn

I have been busy in the archives all week and have finally got around to reading Tracy McKenzie's responses to Peter Conn's article about Christian colleges and accreditation.  We have reposted a lot of Tracy's stuff here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Some of you know his story--after over two decades in the History Department at the University of Washington, Tracy joined the faculty of Wheaton College in Illinois as chair of the History Department.  I can't think of a better person to respond to Conn.

Read Tracy's direct response to Conn here.

A taste:

If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton four years ago, these are the words that first come to mind–divided no more.  Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here.  But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.  Conn’s assertion that, in leaving UW for Wheaton,  I have necessarily abandoned reason for dogma also mystifies me.  That he assumes such a trade-off suggests that Dr. Conn is not entirely free of dogma himself.  I could tell Conn about the intellectual excitement that abounds at Wheaton, about the brilliant colleagues I am privileged to work with (trained at places like Harvard and Yale and Duke and UNC), and about the extraordinarily gifted and motivated students that fill my classes, but I doubt that such a reasoned argument would sway him.  Reason is rarely helpful in changing an opinion not grounded in reason to begin with.
A final comment, this one about the relationship between academic freedom and academic community.  In addition to finding greater academic freedom at Wheaton, I have also encountered a true intellectual community here, one that the sprawling postmodern multiversity cannot be expected to equal.  Countless times I have reflected on the words of the German minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who observed in his 1938 classic Life Together, “it is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living [and, I would add, of laboring] among other Christians.”   When we have that privilege, Bonhoeffer went on to observe, we should fall to our knees and thank God for his goodness, for “it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”
By the way, I have had some e-mail correspondence with Steven Conn of Ohio State.  Peter Conn is his father.