Conn portrays academic freedom at places like Wheaton College as an illusion. It is not an illusion, but it can be complicated. Academic freedom, as Wolterstorff convincingly argues, is never uncomplicated or unqualified. Professors are never free from the ideological constraints of their disciplines or the judgments of their peers. Any rigorously honest history of any academic discipline shows, in hindsight, the blind spots and uncritically accepted dogmas of the moment. Academicians swimming with the contemporary intellectual tides often feel great freedom.
Those whose convictions take them against those tides do not feel so free. Interestingly, when we hire colleagues away from nonreligious institutions, we often hear they feel intellectually and academically free here for the first time in their professional careers, because they are finally in a place where they can teach from and explore the connections between their intellectual disciplines and their religious convictions. And as I write from my convictions with the support (but not always agreement) of my community, it is not uncommon for me to hear from colleagues at nonreligious institutions that they have no such freedom, as their careers would be compromised at their home institutions were they to express similar views.
Regarding Conn’s concern for our requiring faith-statement affirmations, Wheaton College is emphatically open that we seek to be a voluntary community of like-minded scholars who, within the framework of the defining characteristics of our institution, have the academic freedom to teach and to pursue knowledge as persons of shared religious conviction. We publicize those characteristics explicitly. In constitutional terms, we do this as an exercise of our rights of freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Faith-based institutions must have some such procedure to maintain fidelity to their guiding purposes. On that basis, Wolterstorff concludes that “it would be a violation of the very idea of a liberal democratic society if a movement arose to prevent or restrict the formation of religiously based colleges and universities.” That outcome seems to be exactly what Conn advocates.