College presidencies no longer secure

This article gives me hope that things might change at Wheaton College.


pdurant said…
Why? What do you have against Duane Litfin?
duckmonkey said…
Oh, he's just the wrong president. Dr. Litfin is a good man, and I'm sure he's done a number of good things for the school -- and yet he still has kept Wheaton from being the kind of institution that it ought to be.

But I should place blame where blame is due. Dr. Litfin has done his job. But the trustees are to blame for bringing him there against the unanimous opinion of the professors at the time.

For context, Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was written in direct response to the hiring of Litfin.

(Though I suppose anyone who inspires a book so important and necessary as that one cannot be entirely censured. At least Litfin is responsible for the most significant critique of evangelicalism ever written. I'll give him that much.)
duckmonkey said…
By the way, this is my wife's login. I'm using her computer. My apologies for the confusion. :)

bcongdon said…
Did I read that correctly? The trustees need unanimous support from the faculty to hire a president? Litfin has kept Roman Catholics off the faculty -- is that your beef?
Mark Congdon said…

You said a couple of things that I had never heard before, and I haven't been able to find any mention of them elsewhere. I'd be interested to learn more.

Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was written in direct response to the hiring of Litfin.

I had never heard that before, and I did a careful search on the Internet, but I didn't see any mention of such a connection in any published interview. Was that something you learned in a private conversation with Dr. Noll?

against the unanimous opinion of the professors at the time

I think Brad is reading you wrong here. I think you mean that the professors were unanimously opposed to President Litfin's appointment. This also is something I had not previously heard, and have not been able to find documented anywhere. Was there a survey of some kind done at the time of Litfin's hiring, and were the results among the faculty truly unanimous in opposition to his selection?


D.W. Congdon said…
Mark: Yes, you read me rightly, and I often forget where I get my information and so fail to make it clear how I am able to say what I say.

I will try to be somewhat reserved here at the start, but yes, through some private conversations with a couple unnamed professors, I learned (along with a couple of my friends) the following: (1) prior to the nomination of Duane Litfin as president, Nathan Hatch was the only viable candidate for the position; (2) all the professors had registered their affirmation of Hatch as the new president; (3) the trustees went "behind the backs" of the professors and found Litfin; and (4) the first time any of the professors met Dr. Litfin was when he was introduced to them at a faculty meeting as their new president.

Now, I learned a fair amount about this first meeting as well, not all of which I should broadcast publicly. The important elements include the following: (1) the professors were in almost unanimous agreement (I say almost because there may have been one or two who liked Litfin, though this is highly unlikely) that the trustees should not have made this appointment and that Hatch belonged there instead; (2) Litfin's opening words to the faculty included bragging that he could hold his two PhDs up to (and over) any of theirs -- even though in reality he simply had the same PhD twice (he submitted the same dissertation to two different schools); (3) Mark Noll, who is normally a very quiet and gentle man, stood up and gave an impassioned speech that essentially stated: Wheaton College is an evangelical institution seeking to train people for the kingdom. You, Dr. Litfin, are not an evangelical but a fundamentalist, and you do not belong here.

Apparently, Dr. Noll began writing Scandal of the Evangelical Mind that week. And he dedicated the book to the faculty at Wheaton, excluding the administration.

Brad: There are many issues with Dr. Litfin, and the firing of Dr. Hochschild is just one of many. There is most likely much more to that situation than you have heard. I don't suppose you read the article in Books & Culture about it? Dr. Litfin actually responded in a letter to the editor in the fall issue of 2006. The article came out earlier last year.

Here are some of the problems that are apparent in the Hochschild affair alone:

1. By firing Dr. Hochschild, President Litfin explicitly tried to seal the school's identity as an "evangelical institution," as opposed to, say, a "Christian institution."

2. The problem with #1 is that it resulted in a self-contradiction within the school's faculty, because (not surprisingly) many of the faculty are themselves closer to Catholicism than evangelicalism. There are over 30 faculty who attend an Episcopal church, and at least several of those are highly Anglo-Catholic. They are allowed to remain.

3. Moreover, Dr. Hochschild confessed that he is perfectly capable of signing the faith statement of Wheaton. He is, in other words, an evangelical Catholic, of which there are many these days (cf. Touchstone or First Things).

4. Thus, by firing Hochschild, Litfin created an identity that had not existed in word, and only in the broadest terms in spirit. That is, nothing in the College's statements indicate that you need to be a card-carrying evangelical (whatever that is), and if (let us assume) all of the faculty can affirm an evangelical identity, it would be a broad evangelicalism to which they would refer. Evangelical in its classical Reformation sense, meaning "of the gospel."

5. Litfin has thus committed four grievous errors. First, he has effectively overruled the recent attempts to forge ecumenical unity between evangelicals and Catholics. This is something that has been going on for some time at Wheaton itself, and so this event is a major step backwards. Removing Hochschild effectively says: Our "distinctive" (meaning, non-Catholic) identity is more important than the unity to which Jesus himself calls his church.

6. Second, Litfin has effectively defined evangelicalism in denominational, rather than scriptural, terms. Litfin has defined "evangelical" as all Protestant denominations and affiliations except Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This is a grave mistake, something that the Reformers themselves would recoil in horror to hear. Evangelical concerns the gospel. Wherever the gospel is preached and the sacraments rightly administered (as Calvin said), a true church is to be found. Such is the ecumenical spirit of the Reformation, but not of Litfin. Moreover, a college is not a church but an institution of higher learning. The Reformers were concerned about the corruption of the gospel message, and this concerned churches, not universities. Except, I must add, insofar as these universities preached doctrines which the Protestants found to be heretical or corruptions of the gospel. But we've already established that Hochschild is a true Christian, an evangelical believer who confesses what all the other professors confess. So what is left? His denominational affiliation. Litfin has given the association with Catholicism and Orthodoxy a kind of superstitious power that is antithetical to the gospel and contrary to the spirit of the true church.

7. Third, Litfin has made the preservation of a certain backward identity (which is really a non-evangelical identity, I must add) more important than the learning of the students. Prof. Hochschild is perhaps the best evangelical Christian professor of classical philosophy in the United States. There are very few who could even compete. Litfin, however, has elevated his own self-created Wheaton identity over the students who attend this school. For a Christian college, this is simply unacceptable and grounds for outright removal. In fact, by analogy, if he were president of the U.S., this would be the kind of thing for which I would expect Congress to impeach him. This goes way beyond Hochschild. Since his firing, the school has had a lot of problems hiring anyone. People are afraid to apply, and many who wanted to apply have retracted their applications. This has hurt the theology department the most, which has had several empty slots for a couple years now. What this means is that younger graduates are filling these spots (which is good for me!), but this is bad news for students, who could have had top level professors. Litfin himself actually scared away one of the very best candidates about two years ago, and this has sent the theology staff reeling ever since.

8. Fourth, Litfin is propagating a defensive, reactionary form of evangelicalism that needs to die -- and die quickly. Litfin is a dispensational fundamentalist who has only hurt the state of learning at the school. He is an excellent fundraiser, but I do not think this balances out in the end. A beautiful student center is one thing; but a professor who can change the lives of many students is something entirely different.

There are several more I could list, but the bottom line is clear: Litfin needs to go. The sooner people can make this happen, the better it will be for everyone.