In The Academy: Moving Beyond Fear and Into Trust

The question of academic freedom for scholars in Christian higher education can sometimes feel discouraging. But it doesn’t have to, according to Dan Russ, academic dean, who explored the topic in a new book of essays published last fall. Russ discussed the challenges and sacrifices inherent in developing a campus ethos that encourages and honors the pursuit of academic freedom—without compromising the integrity of one’s scholarship. His chapter appeared in The Christian College Phenomenon: Inside America’s Fastest Growing Institutions of Higher Learning, edited by Samuel Joeckel and Thomas Chesnes (Abilene Christian University Press, 2011). Russ also recently spoke on the topic at a conference in June on Christian scholarship, and an excerpt of his chapter appears in the most recent issue of Gordon’s magazine Stillpoint

“Fear Not: Security, Risk and Academic Freedom”

By Dan Russ

Recently, my colleagues and I were hosting one of our annual dessert parties for new students. After a bowl of ice cream and some cookies and coffee, we enjoyed a few minutes of discussion. To my surprise, one student asked: “Now that I have chosen Gordon, why is this the right choice?”

While one of my colleagues from the Philosophy Department waxed eloquent in response, I half listened while wondering how I should answer such a question. When my colleague finished, I simply added, “You made the right choice to come to Gordon, because we can tell the whole truth.” I went on to explain that most secular institutions of higher learning deny, ignore, or are indifferent to any truth claims grounded in religious faith, biblical texts, and church tradition, and some insist that holding to religious truths precludes the exercise of academic freedom. I went on to qualify my claim for Christian higher education by confessing that while Christian professors in a Christian college can tell the whole truth, we often do not for fear, individually or institutionally, that we will offend or anger some constituents: the administration, the board, our students, their parents, or some of our colleagues.

We would like to think that faculty signing a faith statement, along with a robust chapel program and a solid biblical/theological core for all students, would distinguish us as a Christian institution of higher learning. However, without an authentic commitment to academic freedom within a framework of Christian faith, Christian colleges and universities easily become either sanctified versions of secular institutions or oppressive and contentious organizations that drive honest questions and discussion underground and produce a scheming and polarized faculty and administration. Speaking the truth in love is the only way I know to live in the tension that we call freedom. If we believe that truth set us free and that perfect love casts out fear, then we need to have the courage to encourage one another, individually and institutionally, to risk living, studying, teaching, and writing as truthfully and lovingly as we know how. It is risky. That is the nature of freedom, whether political or academic. If our ultimate goal is to secure our jobs or to secure our institution financially, academic freedom is not possible.

Read the rest of Russ’s essay here:

Summer Scholar: When Green is More Than a Season

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters.

June and July in New England are typically as green and lush as it gets. But for Irv Levy, professor of chemistry and computer science, green is the schedule he keeps during the summer months—and all year long for that matter. Green chemistry, that is. As the program chair of the organizing conference for the American Chemical Society (ACS) national meetings, Levy is busy preparing. The next meeting is in Philadelphia in August, then the ACS moves to New Orleans in the spring 2013 for its bigger gathering.

That’s not all. Levy has joined the board of directors for Beyond Benign, a green chemistry education organization, and is working with them and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a new project called the Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) where Gordon will be one of its first models. And oh yeah, he’s on the faculty advisory board for the GCC as well. In between his scholarship and leadership, Levy took the time to answer a few of our questions:

Faculty Central: What exactly does your ‘continuing work as program chair’ of the ACS include?

LEVY: I do the organizing of all the Chemical Education symposia for the ACS national meetings twice a year. Typically I’m working on three meetings at a time — final planning for the next meeting, lots of work getting everything in place for the meeting about one year out and pre-planning for the third meeting out. Each meeting lasts for five days with (usually) four concurrent sessions running all day each day. In addition we host a large number of undergraduate student posters. In the fall meetings we typically have about 1,800 authors presenting about 1,200 unique papers. In the spring we have about 2,700 authors presenting about 1,800 papers. At the most recent spring meeting (San Diego this past March) there were seven Gordon College students and all of our faculty in attendance.

Faculty Central: Sounds busy but exciting.

Levy: It is! I work as a member of the Executive Committee of the Division of Chemical Education, working with the division chair and with the meeting co-chairs for the national meetings, as well as with symposium organizers, and even individual authors (at times). I’m also the liaison between the organizers and the ACS national office staff who actually produce the meeting, coordinating details down to catering. So I get to have some of the big ideas about our meetings but I also spend a lot of time attending to hundreds of little details for each meeting. Our portion of the meeting is one of the larger ones but the entire meeting is massive. A typical national meeting draws 10,000 – 20,000 attendance for one or more days of the meeting.

Faculty Central: What can you tell us about the upcoming meetings? Continue reading

Provost Abroad: Reflections on Crossing Cultures

Gordon’s new provost, Janel Curry, is on a mission . . . in Hong Kong, that is, while serving the Fulbright Program at the City University of Hong Kong. She’s been chronicling her adventures most recently in that part of the world, focusing specifically on cross cultural encounters and “place” as it affects residents.

As an award-winning geographer and educator, she writes regularly of her experiences and lessons. For instance, on a recent post she wonders what happens to geese and swans when considering urban planning and cultural contexts. On another, she discusses (and shows with her photos) how a hike on Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail inspires some unexpected discoveries.

Read Provost Curry’s blog here.

Summer Scholar: Conflict, Truth and Reconciliation

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters.

Conflict doesn’t have to mean bad news. In fact, according to Judith Olesonassistant professor in sociology and social work, it can be transformative. As part of the curriculum development track of the International Social Work (ISW) conference June 14-16 in Minneapolis, MN, Oleson will present a workshop entitled, “Conflict as a Transformative Process: Preparing Social Work Students for the Reality of Local and Global Contexts.” The talk sprang out of two new courses she recently developed for Gordon’s minor in Peace and Conflict Studies, “Peacemaking: Personal, Social, Global” and “Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation.”

Oleson is also conducting research in reconciliation processes between indigenous and non-indigenous groups in Australia, Canada and the U.S., and so after the ISW conference, she will drive north to participate in the National Gathering of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Suskatoon, Canada, June 21-24.  The event is to honor the First Nation survivors of the residential schools, operated throughout Canada through government and church partnerships.  In addition to interviewing Canadians engaged in the reconciliation process for her research, Oleson will help facilitate survivor groups and provide individual support to those giving testimony. The following is part of her abstract for the ISW conference:

“Conflict as a Transformative Process”
By Judith Oleson

Undergraduate social work students are taught from a generalist framework that enables them to make connections between micro, mezzo and macro contexts of practice. Conflict occurs on all levels and is often the first point of crisis when students are in their field practicum: conflict among colleagues, with clients, with the organizational system or within the community. Providing theory to normalize and understand conflict, and utilize it as a transformational process is essential, whether non-profits or ethnic groups. Teaching the initial skills for social workers to navigate and mediate this conflict is essential for their work at the local or global level. Continue reading

Summer Scholar: Touching the Ancient Texts

Professor Graeme Bird and student Sarah Seibert examine an ancient text.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters.

Graeme Bird, associate professor of linguistics and classics, has always been fascinated by the ancient stories and their modern meanings. And his students can’t help but catch his vision, as the Gordon Tartan recently reported. From June 13-16, he travels to Texas as part of his scholarship on rare and biblical texts. Here’s some of what Bird said about the trip:

“I’ll be going to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, with a current and a former student, recent graduate Paul Johnson, history major, who currently teaches Latin at a school in Malden, Mass., and sophomore Sarah Seibert who has studied two years of New Testament Greek at Gordon. They are two of only 20 successful applicants at the Logos at Baylor program, and the workshop is part of their summer institute for students interested in textual scholarship and Christian apologetics.

The purpose of the one-week seminar on Papyrology (among other things) is to learn about the handling and interpretation of ancient papyrus manuscripts. The two students each won a scholarship to participate in the weeklong workshop, and the event is directly related to Gordon’s loan of an 1800-year-old papyrus of Homer’s Iliad. I imagine part of the session will involve instruction in the construction and transmission and proper handling of ancient manuscript, as well as how to decipher them and work out their dates, from examination of different letter shapes and styles, etc.  But I’m keen to find out.”

Summer Scholar: Dr. Smith Goes to Washington

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters.

Dr. Stephen Smith, professor of economics and business, took four of his students June 6–9 to a conference entitled “Purpose & Prosperity” in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  Smith was asked to speak on a Friday morning panel entitled, “The Morality of Wealth,” and is pictured here on that panel, far left. Other  issues addressed at the conference included social security, feminism and freedom, economics and the crisis of family, and financial cycles and human prosperity. Here’s some of what Smith said about the experience:

“The AEI’s conference hosted approximately 75 college students from across the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, with approximately 25 faculty, drawn mostly from the social sciences.  This year’s student attendees from Gordon were Joy Jeon, Julia Marra, Rusty Hawkins, and Jordan Frank. 
I would have been pleased enough to go to the conference with these excellent students. But I was delighted when they invited me to be part of a panel debate on the ‘Morality of Wealth.’ I argued that one of the compelling moral arguments in favor of economic growth is its efficacy at raising the poor out of absolute poverty.”

Summer Scholar: Touring the Land of the Bible

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories about Summer Scholars, exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters. Here Elaine Phillips, professor of biblical studies, shares a few of the highlights of her upcoming study trip to Jerusalem. She is the second from left in the front row of the photo below, which was taken during the last class in 2010 on the south side of the Temple Mount, steps from the first century, “so we know Jesus would have ‘walked there,'” Phillips said. The hands-on class has become a Gordon tradition.

Walking Through the Geographical and Historical Settings of the Bible
By Elaine Phillps

We leave 9 June with 15 Gordon students – and return on the 30th.  Four of the students will actually stay an additional two weeks for another course in Jordan taught by a good friend and former colleague of ours at Jerusalem University College. Although the title of the course is Physical Settings of the Bible, we are always unavoidably doing contemporary political contexts, modern Israeli and Arab cultural observations, eating fabulous Middle Eastern cuisine, hiking, and bonding 24/7. Here’s a quick overview of our trip:

10-11 June – arrival and getting over jet lag — informal walks around both the Old City and New City of Jerusalem

12 June – Orientation and walking introduction to Jerusalem

13 June – walking field study — Old Testament Jerusalem:  City of David, Hezekiah’s tunnel, pool of Siloam

14 June – New Testament Jerusalem:  Herod’s Temple platform, church of the Holy Sepulcher

15 June – tribal area of Benjamin field study:  Gezer, Gibeon, Wadi Qilt

16 June – field study survey of approaches to Jerusalem:  Mt of Olives, Herodion, Bethlehem Continue reading

Summer Scholar: “The Avengers” or A Chemical Mixture that Makes Chaos

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories about Summer Scholars, exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters. Here Rini Cobbey, associate professor of communication arts (pictured here), reviews the recent blockbuster film, “The Avengers.”

“A Chemical Mixture that Makes Chaos”

By Rini Cobbey

Summer time means big screen blockbusters about superheroes and/or alien invasions. And, if you’re like me, it also means viewing big blocks of TV series on DVD or streaming.

At the time of writing (but likely remedied by the time of publication), the only blockbuster I’ve made it to so far is The Avengers— although in the previews alone I saw about a movie’s worth of heroes and aliens to look forward to in the coming months.

Breaking box office records in its opening weekend a couple of weeks ago, Marvel’s The Avengers is a superhero ensemble flick building on recent summer hits featuring individual members of this movie’s team – including Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. They come together to stop the destructive plans of alien/god Loki who wants to rule the human race (or at least the American members thereof) by bringing about world peace after orchestrating intergalactic (and intra-cultural) war.

The Avengers has something for just about everyone. Or, in my case, for all my many personality layers and entertainment preferences. And that’s impressive, because sometimes my brain’s like a bag full of cats.

First, I LOL’d. The script, directing, and performances are very funny. (I’ve made it my mission to use 80 percent of Dr. Banner/Hulk’s lines in natural, everyday conversation by the end of the summer, and I’m doing smashingly so far.) It’s lots of kinds of funny, as each of the superheroes has his (mostly his, despite the director’s reputation as a strong-female-character creator) own clever or silly way – providing a little actual character development in a genre that promises no such thing. As always, I love the meta: when Iron Man calls Hawkeye Legolas, it’s a gift to (movie) nerds saying, “We’re glad you’re here!” Continue reading

Christians and Politics?

This week, Gordon hosts the Christians in Political Science national conference, partnering with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) and the Institute for Global Engagement. Several Gordon professors are participating and Timothy Sherratt, professor of political science, has written a recent column for CPJ’s Capital Commentary addressing some of the issues:

“Power and Justice to Change the World?”  By Timothy Sherratt

This week, the Center for Public Justice is cosponsoring the Christians in Political Science conference at Gordon College—Power and Justice: Perspectives on Political Order. This promises to be a stimulating and eclectic gathering of scholars tackling a wide array of political matters through an equally broad range of approaches and techniques.  But I draw attention to the conference for the way it may punctuate a season of reflection—even doubt—about Christianity and politics.

Few scholarly works see the light of day outside the ivy-covered walls of the Academy. Those few that do emerge take a number of paths into the daylight. James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World (2010) is one of the few. It may not have flooded church cultures, but it is percolating through Christian intellectual gatherings, drip by drip, as one scholar after another engages the author’s argument.
Read the rest of Tim’s column here.