Shakeup at Patrick Henry College
A contentious debate at Patrick Henry College that began over theological differences, the interpretation of Scripture, and academic freedom has prompted 5 of the school's 16 full-time faculty members to announce they will not be returning to the conservative, Christian college next year. The announcements bring the total number of departing professors to nine in the past year, not including two adjuncts, as well as four senior executives who left in the past 18 months, departing professors say.
In the wake of the departures, the school announced significant changes to the school's executive staff. Effective July 1, Graham Walker, previously vice president for academic affairs and dean of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, will replace Farris as president, while Farris will assume the college's chancellor position. Gene Edward Veith, currently the cultural editor of World Magazine and a former English professor, will also begin that day as the college's new academic dean.
Founded with the high hopes of becoming an "evangelical Ivy League" institution dedicated to producing the next generation of Christian politicians and leaders, the Northern Virginia-based college in Purcellville has received national attention for its conservative Christian theology and mission. It draws a majority of its students from home-schooling families.
Michael Farris, a constitutional lawyer and general counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Association, founded the school in 2000 as a "Christian college blending classical instruction with apprenticeship methodology." It prides itself on the high number of White House internships secured by its students, whose SAT scores average over 1300.
"We were brought here on false pretenses," said David Noe, assistant professor of classics who has taught at Patrick Henry since its founding. "We are leaving due to a long train of abuses by Farris in violating both academic freedom and due process, as well as many other issues relating to Farris's running of the college."
Departing professors also cite Farris's treatment of government instructor Erik Root and his March firing of Robert Stacey, the chairman of the college's department of government, as additional reasons that confirmed their decisions to leave the 350-student college.
Noe, Root, and rhetoric and theology professor Todd Bates agreed to go public with Christianity Today earlier this month, they said, after Farris repeatedly denied their requests to respond to accusations that beliefs they had expressed were biblically unsound. "Farris said that we threatened the college's fidelity to its mission and vision," said Noe. "He spoke to the press, but told us we couldn't."
Farris did not respond to multiple requests by CT for an interview, but told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he wonders why the professors are still leaving now that he is no longer president. "If I'm the problemwell, I'm going to be gone," he said.
Walker, the new president, told CT the high faculty turnover in one year was regrettable. "These gentlemen made good contributions to the growth of the college," said Walker. "It's regrettable to lose them. I also know that turnover is a fact of life at every collegiate institution."
The debate reached a head when Root published an article entitled "Of St. Augustine, the Teacher, and Politics" in the campus publication The Source. The piece argued that St. Augustine "deserves to be called a Saint because he was instrumental in making political philosophy palpable to Christians and vice versa. [He] taught Christians how to engage the culture around them."