April 5, 2010

The Religion of Rhode Island's Public University

Justin Katz

Last year, Notre Dame University was the center of national attention, because it had asked abortion-supporting President Obama to give the commencement address and was planning to give him an honorary degree. The problem was, of course, that Notre Dame is explicitly a Catholic organization, and while nobody objected to pro-choice speakers, in general, many thought the honor implicitly being granted to Obama inappropriate.

Approached from the perspective of that debate, controversy over a speaker at the University of Rhode Island really is remarkable:

University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley's selection of a Christian minister to speak at his inauguration ceremony has triggered a campus-wide discussion about the separation of church and state, tolerance and free speech — precisely the principles Dooley says he hopes will define the URI community.

But not everyone at the state university is comfortable with his decision.

Dooley invited Greg Boyd, a well-known minister from Minnesota, to deliver the keynote address at the April 8 inauguration, a choice that has sparked all sorts of discussions — online, informally and in campus meetings. Some students and faculty say they are concerned that Boyd's views on issues such as same sex-marriage and abortion — he opposes both — and his position as a religious leader make him an inappropriate representative at such a significant public university event.

Let's highlight, first, that this is not a commencement address, but an inauguration ceremony for the new university president and that, according to a profile published yesterday, the event is entirely funded with private money. Apart from such particulars, it can hardly be said that Boyd is a right-wing religious extremist:

Boyd said he no longer describes himself as an evangelical as the word "has gotten so wrapped up with so much that I'm against. Jesus does not want to enforce his morality on others. That's why he attracted prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus has this encompassing embrace. His love for people outruns his desire to control them."

Inasmuch as President Obama, himself, has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, and that the speech has no relevance to abortion, it's reasonable to infer that Boyd's being a public Christian was the factor that brought the red flags. And those flags leave a dark mark on the reputation of the university, as far as this alumnus can see.

There doesn't seem to have been any question, among the faculty, about whether it's appropriate of the institution to take the money of Christians, pro-lifers, or marital traditionalists, whether as taxpayers or students. Yet, any potential student with such affiliations who hears of the controversy will surely question whether he or she can expect acceptance.

It's one thing for Communication Studies and Women's Studies Professor Lynne Derbyshire to raise "concerns" about URI's even hinting that Boyd's views might be acceptable. One expects doctrinaire leftism from such quarters. But even Fisheries and Aquaculture Professor Michael Rice thought it fine to express his reservations about the Christian speaker in the Providence Journal. What field of study could the pro-life, pro-marriage, Christian student pursue at the state's largest public university without fearing the barely contained revulsion of his or her professors?

Note that reporter Jennifer Jordan was apparently unable to find a professor whose opinion comes closer to support of Boyd than Resource Economics Professor Stephen Swallow's statement that it's healthy for the university community to "have some speakers who make us uncomfortable" as an exercise in being "tolerant about other points of view." I knew Professor Swallow as an intern in his department, and he personally gave me some nudges and breaks that sent me in beneficial directions that I might not have otherwise pursued, and I know what he's saying, here. But what he can't help but make clear, as well, is that the state's research institution of higher learning has a particular point of view and that anybody who differs will make the faculty uncomfortable.

Once again, we learn that "open-mindedness" is really just another term for a particular ideology with its own restrictions on acceptable beliefs.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

The Left has its own religion: totalitarian government, and its God is The State. They find this religion attractive because one of their tenets is that Government is run by "elites", some superior race of enlightened human, and supporting Government makes them feel like the belong among those elites. They are as jealous of their God as any Islamic fundamentalist. But somewhere deep within themselves, most Leftists know that this is phony and illegitimate. Their ferocity in attacking any dissenting ideas is actually a denial mechanism to cover their own doubts.

Posted by: BobN at April 5, 2010 7:46 AM

I'm for giving the new guy a break - one right-leaning speaker doesn't mean URI is turning into Bob Jones U.
As long as we don't get mandatory prayer by the flagpole at 7:45 each morning.

Posted by: rhody at April 5, 2010 7:56 AM

Much of academia is as intolerant and narrow as the people at Bob Jones University.This pretty much applies in the non-tchnical fields.The whole concept of political correctness bespeaks this.This narrowness is oriented to the left.
I can't get over how academics find this man so objectonable when a convicted cop killer like Abu Mummia Jamal is invited to address a college graduation.I know nothing about Mr.Boyd and generally never listen to religious speakers anyway,but I don't see what's wrong with him giving a speech.There is little open exchange of ideas on the campus nowadays.If one is interested in science or engineering,including medicine,a higher education is essential.If not,good reading comprehension is all one needs.
Even my nemesis Stuart can agree on that.Rhody??

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 5, 2010 8:48 AM

Personally, I don't care who speaks - I have had priests and reverends open many lunches and dinners with non-religious civic meetings.

As the same time, part of "free thinking" is to allow all those objections to be raised - the students should be more involved (both ways) if possible.

The hashing out of such ideas in the public square is a good thing. What should these faculty do - NOT voice their opinions? Or, do you want to forcibly change their opinions? (impossible, without torture).

Posted by: Stuart at April 5, 2010 9:41 AM

Okay,Stuart-where did you hear me say the faculty shouldn't speak their minds?
But students should get to hear divergent views and not be penalized for subscribing to those which run against the grain of a professor.
It happens,believe me,particularly at the social work progarm at RIC.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 5, 2010 1:11 PM

Joe, Joe,
I am not answering your comment - just giving my opinion on the subject and on Justins post!

If I answer your comments, I will start off with


How's that?

Posted by: Stuart at April 5, 2010 4:10 PM

I have noted that Congress opens its meetings with a prayer.

I am inclined to agree with JOe on the political correctness in academia, it really has smothered education and "opening minds".

As to Stuart:

Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 5, 2010 9:06 PM

Political correctness is in the eye of the beholder. David Frum just lost his job at the American Enterprise Institute because he violated PC re: his remarks about extremists. Mr. Steele is about to be tossed from the RNC chair not because of the stripper party, but because he suggested Obama has as narrow a margin for error as a black man as he does.

Posted by: rhody at April 6, 2010 1:33 PM

Rhody-seriously,you and some other liberals seem to think you can know what it is like to be Black.You cannot.
It's vicarious tomfoolery on your part,although your motives might not be bad.
Fact is,I can't put myself in someone else's shoes on the issue of race.My grandaughter growing up will undoubtedly experience things I can't understand because she is part Black,and unlike Gordon Fox,doesn't have to tell you because it is quite obvious.And I am sure she'll be comfortable with anything that comes her way if her take no prisoners attitude with me is any indication.LOL
Point being,I won't be able to understand her own inner feelings on that because I'm not Black ot part Black.I'm a bystander, just as I am with my wife's experience growing up Hispanic.You can't be someone else.Be yourself and live with it.
Bill Clinton saying "I feel your pain"was totally full of sh*t.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 6, 2010 4:41 PM
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