Evangelical higher education has made a vital contribution to the evangelical community over recent decades in at least three major areas: (1) It has transmitted effectively a very rapidly growing and changing intellectual heritage and related this to a biblical world and life view; (2) it has trained several generations of evangelical leaders whose contribution to the life of the Church and the world has been outstanding; (3) it has gained considerable respect from secular sources for a high level of scholarship and academic integrity. If the same sort of impact is to be maintained in the future, critical and constructive judgment must continually be applied to the central task of evangelical higher education—the transmission of knowledge and values within a framework of controlling biblical and theocentric assumptions. In line with this task, it seems appropriate to: (1) Survey the present national campus scene; (2) summarize student attitudes and outlook; (3) suggest some specific steps for action by evangelical colleges and universities.
The Campus Context
The cumulative effect of the vast changes that have swept over our culture and society in the last generation has finally burst forth on university and college campuses in the United States, and, indeed, throughout the world. The current situation is puzzling to those who wistfully recall the campus scenes of the forties and early fifties.
Sociologists who studied students of the two decades following the Second World War saw them as the Silent Generation, the Cautious or Conservative Generation, or even the Non-Generation. They were not interested in politics or causes. W. H. Whyte found them eager to become organization men: “They do not wish to protest, they wish to collaborate.” David Riesman remarked at their evident desire to join the “post-collegiate fraternity of the small suburb.” Wallace Stegner chided them from the standpoint of the professor: “Feel something! Get enthusiastic about something, plunge, look alive, go boom!” How different from our present situation!
Youth and student rebellion are not new. In the same year that our Declaration of Independence was signed, there was turmoil on the Yale campus. President Thomas Clapp was confronted by rebel students who presented a petition for his resignation on their charge of “senility and arbitrariness.” He refused, and the rioting students broke furniture and smashed some four hundred panes of glass. Then two-thirds of the students quit the campus. Clapp bowed to the student pressure and resigned. By 1776, Yale had been led by six presidents, three of whom had been compelled to relinquish office because of student pressure. Similar incidents may be found in nearly any modern historical period. Yet it is clear that the present campus stress and student unrest is not to be equated with the isolated and limited student revolts in the past.
The current sharp and widespread student unrest has come somewhat unexpectedly. In 1962, Kenneth Keniston, a member of the psychology faculty of Yale Medical School and an analyst of youth attitudes and behavior, wrote that he saw “little likelihood of American students ever playing a radical role, much less a revolutionary one, in our society.” It would have seemed impossible then to imagine students taking over campus buildings, toppling administrations, and causing so much disruption that national leaders would express alarm.
An attempt to explain this shift in campus life and values should begin by examining the changes that have occurred in the student situation or the campus matrix and also the changes in student attitudes. Obviously, these two factors are closely interrelated; the separation is for convenience in discussion.
In size, the campus of the late sixties is something new. Last fall saw 7,250,000 students enrolled in American colleges and universities. Public higher education through community and junior colleges has expanded tremendously. Established colleges and universities have developed at a fast pace by every standard of measurement: enrollment, facilities, and faculty. All this has created a mass college-educated youth—a new phenomenon. Although the student activists are only a small minority, still the sheer number of collegians contributes greatly to their impact on the social scene.
No generation of college students has had better housing, library facilities, counseling services, and financial assistance. Construction of new facilities over the past decade has been financed by huge outlays of private and public funds. S. L. Halleck, director of student health psychiatry and professor at the University of Wisconsin, connects present economic well-being with student unrest: “Affluence without a tradition of service, without a sense of responsibility, and without a social purpose leave our young people in a vacuum of boredom and despair. As the pressures for economic security have diminished, the affluent student has been deprived of a major vehicle for involvement and commitment.”
Students have more freedom than ever before from the regulation of their campus life. The rules of colleges and universities have been drastically relaxed over the past decade, particularly in the last five years. The old debate of in loco parentis or moral responsibility of the college has pretty much been resolved in the abdication of responsibility by the campus administration.
Mass media have played an important role in shaping the consciousness of the present student generation, though social scientists disagree widely over their precise effect. Television is the most discussed. Marshall McLuhan’s proposition that this medium is forming a world tribal community by the instantaneous sharing of experience has been extensively debated. Other observers have focused on the effect of exposure to violence on television and on the implicit values transmitted in TV commercials. Halleck maintains that the decline in young people’s respect for authority has been fostered by a deep skepticism that, in turn, has grown out of exposure to the “cynical facts of life” as presented on television. For example, television has given viewers a vivid, personal awareness of existing racial inequality, in contrast to our expressed and taught ideals. Finally, television has given national or world prominence to a minority of student activists. As one administrator wryly pointed out, “It is a great thrill to demonstrate and then rush home to watch yourself on the evening news.”
The nature of the academic world has also changed greatly in the last two decades. Universities and colleges have grown vastly larger and more impersonal. The growth of research and fragmentation of academic life have become predominant characteristics of modern American higher education. There has been a decline in the emphasis on general education or the humanities, which were supposed to develop the “whole man.”
Whatever the influences on this student generation, there is no question about their abilities. Clark Kerr, one of the nation’s leaders in higher education, has called this generation of students outstanding and possibly the best our country has ever had. The report of the commission investigating the disturbances at Columbia was more specific in its evaluation: “The present generation of young people in our universities is the best informed, the most intelligent and the most idealistic this country has ever known.”
The Student Outlook
What are the attitudes and aspirations of students today? Fortune magazine recently commissioned a survey of a cross section of students on American campuses. The survey divided the students into two basic categories. First were those who viewed college as a practical matter, enabling them to earn more money and achieve a higher status in society. These students, tagged “practical-minded,” made up 58 per cent of the total. The 42 per cent in the second group were less concerned with the practical benefits of college and more interested in something intangible, such as the opportunity to change things. These students were designated the “forerunners,” and Fortune believes that the “forerunner” attitude will become more predominant in the future. This is interesting to consider along with an observation Clark Kerr has made about students: “They are the one group in our society which is neither under adult authority nor exercising adult responsibility—they are in between. And so they have a degree of freedom like no other group. And they have fresh minds for new problems.” Kerr thinks students are a sensitive weather vane to tell us the way the winds of change are blowing.
An important conclusion of the Fortune study was that there is a substantial rejection of traditional American values by the forerunner group. Although most of the students in this group came from middle- or upper-middle-class backgrounds, only about a third indicated any identification with the middle class. Slightly more than two-thirds of the forerunners said they felt no sense of identification or solidarity with people of their own religion. Only a little over a third could accept “living the good Christian life” as a reflection of their own personal values.
In examining attitudes about careers and status, the surveyers found some interesting response patterns. Over two-thirds of the students surveyed in both categories would welcome less emphasis on status and on keeping up with the Joneses. Substantial proportions (over 70 per cent) of both the “forerunners” and the “practical-minded” students looked for the challenge of the job, wanted to make a meaningful contribution, and wanted to do work that is more than just a job. A majority of both groups also felt that bringing about needed social change is an important part of their value system.
Richard Flacks, sociologist at the University of Chicago, wrote in Psychology Today: “Our studies indicate that activism, as well as other expressions of youth disaffection, are symptoms of the declining power of those values and goals which traditionally have given direction and meaning to the lives of the American middle class and direction to the American Dream.” If students have rejected much of the mainstream of traditional American values, what is the alternative they seek? Although there is some evidence on campus of nihilism, with its abject despair over the human condition, most students have not really raised the black flag. They are concerned about the quality and condition of human existence and are willing to work for improvement. Flacks argues that their system of values is essentially humanistic, with an emphasis on individual development and self-expression along with a genuine social or humanitarian concern.
A great many students are disillusioned at the gap between social and political ideas and the actual conditions that they experience and know. They have been taught to be critical and analytical in their judgments, and they often consider themselves catalytic agents in the process of social reform. There is a strong humanitarian impulse and a concurrent impatience with institutions that seem to perpetuate injustice, inequality, or simply unresponsiveness to human needs. Keniston remarks, “They have the outrageous temerity to insist that individuals and societies live by the values they preach.”
This generation of students has reacted also to what they regard as the constraining and stifling effects of a highly structured, bureaucratic, and technically complex society, of which the college or university is a microcosmic representation. They are intensely interested in personal relationships. They feel that to relate effectively to others is a greater source of fulfillment than the traditional sources of satisfaction—status or achievement. This personalistic outlook violently resents manipulation, domination, or arbitrary authoritarian constraint, which students tend to see both in the university and in society at large.
Students have been effective and articulate critics of the entire structure and process of higher education. They want their instruction to be more relevant to the whole of their lives. They want some application of the concerns of the classroom to the anguish of their times. They agree with Goethe, “Gray is all theory, green grows the tree of life.” They want to play a part in shaping educational policy and other matters that affect their campus lives. “Participatory democracy” is not just a slogan to them; they want a significant role in institutional government. Jeremy Main, writing in Fortune, characterizes student critics on many campuses as “responsibility seekers” who are “not simply after power.” They are concerned with the quality of education, and “from their new positions on university committees, they are beginning to influence their courses, teaching, and examinations.”
The institutional church has been dismissed by most youth as archaic and unresponsive to the great moral issues of our time. “No other institution in our society is suffering more from the sheer indifference of the young,” writes John D. Rockefeller III, discussing the crisis of confidence in which the Church finds itself today. It is most disconcerting to see the growth of this indifference and even antagonism toward the Church on evangelical campuses. A student survey taken at a church-related school not long ago showed that fully 75 per cent of the students polled regarded the program of the average evangelical church as irrelevant to the needs of today’s non-Christian.
There is a quiet revolution going on in higher education in the evangelical sphere. Although these campuses have been relatively untouched by overt student unrest, the attitudes and life styles on these campuses are changing and are sharing, to a significant degree, developments on the secular campus. The students may be more restrained, but they are moving persistently along the paths blazed by their secular counterparts. There is a kind of a cultural lag in evangelicalism. Perhaps this gives evangelical institutions a chance to deal constructively with student tensions before they harden into estrangement and hostility.
An Effective Response
What should be the response of those responsible for church-sponsored or Christian higher education? First, let us dispose of responses that are inappropriate. One is vigorous repression or a response born of fear and distrust of student motivation and goals. Surely this would only widen the generation gap and intensify the resentment students already feel toward authority. A second unappropriate response is to attempt to proceed with “business as usual,” ignoring the currents of change and the tide of student sentiment. Evangelical institutions are greatly tempted to try this, since they are very sensitive to their supporting constituencies. It would be far easier to pretend that everything is going well. But this response would be as disastrous as the first, for the frustration would eventually spill over with damage to all concerned.
Evangelical higher education has a multifaceted responsibility as it faces the future. It must respond effectively to the developments in collegiate life and attitudes. It must prepare for a startling era of change ahead, with accelerated growth and technological change, affecting particularly modes of instruction. Finally, it must continue to transmit the values of our Christian experience and world view in a way that will meet student reception, not rebellion.
This latter responsibility is the central purpose of a Christian educational institution, and it will not be accomplished easily. The following suggestions are not detailed or exhaustive. They are general guidelines covering several major areas in which imaginative action may enable evangelical schools to fulfill more effectively their responsibility to this generation of students and to the Kingdom of God.
An Action Agenda
1. Make biblical studies stimulating and inspiring. A particular effort should be made to have competent and inspiring teaching of biblical subjects for undergraduates. Students on some evangelical campuses have been turned off by dull and flat presentation of biblical studies. Some means must be found to challenge instructors and convince them of the strategic nature of their role.
2. Expand student influence in campus government. Most evangelical schools have been slow to permit increased student participation in decision-making, and this is an increasing source of tension. To encourage student involvement in areas where they, at their level of competence and experience, could make a genuine contribution seems wise. It need not mean abdication of control and responsibility to have students represented on committees whose activities directly affect their lives on campus.
3. Open and maintain clear lines of communication. A corollary of student participation is that lines of communication must be open among the various major elements of the campus—students, faculty, administration, and trustees. There should be increased opportunities for trustee contact with students and faculty to enable all these groups to hear and understand one another’s views and aspirations.
4. Grant a wider horizon for Christian service opportunities. In the past the Christian service encouraged by most evangelical schools has typically been going as a group of musicians or singers to provide special music for a church service. Some schools are actually proud that this sort of “service” provides revenue and is operated on a business-like basis. Students are disenchanted with this conception of service, and on some campuses they have formed their own volunteer agencies to meet what they regard as urgent spiritual and physical needs in their vicinity. Perceptive students on evangelical campuses feel chagrined that it is their counterparts on secular campuses who are tutoring underprivileged youngsters, working in mental institutions and hospitals, and in other ways showing their concern for those in need. Christian colleges ought to consider carefully whether their Christian-service programs offer sufficient scope to the high tide of idealism and Christian concern in the present student generation.
5. Reform the instructional situation to give greater student-faculty contact. The present mode of instruction, largely built upon the medieval lecture system, is under severe student criticism. Information can be conveyed through lectures, libraries, audio-visual materials, programmed instruction, and the textbook. But Konrad Lorenz has observed, “Young people seem to be unable to accept the values held in honor by the older generation, unless they are in close contact with at least one of its representatives who commands their unrestricted respect and love.” If imaginative reform—utilizing the resources of the new technology—is made in instructional technique and educative process, it should enable the faculty to spend more time with individuals and small groups of students—something they want very much. These are the encounters in which the real transmission of values takes place.
6. Give high priority to faculty selection and development. The importance of faculty-student contact leads to another vital consideration. There is a temptation for trustees and administrators to show vitality in promoting new buildings and facilities while they neglect the demanding task of recruiting and developing a competent, committed faculty. Faculty development will have to become a matter of great priority in view of the crucial role the faculty plays in shaping student values and outlook. Students are deeply impressed when they are confronted with a teacher who is both academically inspiring and devout.
7. Integrate various areas of study around a biblical viewpoint. If evangelical higher education has a unique contribution to make, it certainly must be the integration of knowledge and life from a biblical perspective. Yet many evangelical schools make no serious attempts at this beyond the usual platitudinous assertions found in nearly every catalog about the teaching of all courses from a Christian point of view. What is desperately needed is a concerted and continual effort by all academic divisions to relate the various facets of human knowledge to controlling biblical and theocentric assumptions.
8. Provide for greater cooperation and consultation among evangelical schools. This could lead to common approaches and more unified action on the issues that confront them all. Some tentative steps have been taken by a few schools, in a limited area such as faculty recruitment, for example; but a great many more areas need concerted action toward common goals.
Despite the complex issues and difficulties with which it must deal, evangelical higher education faces unprecedented opportunity and potential. Never have the available resources and facilities been so adequate and never has there been a more gifted group of students than those of the campuses today. Whether these elements will be successfully melded to produce an effective, truly Christian education is still an open question.
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