Teachers' union criticizes Trinity Western for faith statement
By Frank Stirk | Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Jonathan Raymond defends TWU's right to require teachers to sign a faith statement. PHOTO: TWU
LANGLEY, BCTrinity Western University (TWU) president Jonathan Raymond believes a move by Canada's largest union of teachers to censure the university amounts to "anti-Christian discrimination."
In a recently published report, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) questioned TWU's commitment to academic freedom because of the statement of faith that faculty are required to sign. As a result, it placed TWU on a list of institutions "found to have imposed a requirement of a commitment to a particular ideology or statement as a condition of employment."
CAUT is also investigating the statement of faith policies of
"In our view," says CAUT executive director James Turk, "the role of a university is not to make disciples, whether of a religious viewpoint or an ideological viewpoint. They're to create the context in which people can make their own decisions."
Turk adds, "If a fundamentalist Christian were barred from working at a university because of their religious beliefs, we'd be every bit as outraged."
Raymond calls the move a "red herring." He says the sole purpose of TWU's statement of faith is to uphold the founding charter granted by the province in 1972 that allows the school to function as a Christian university. Hiring teachers who self-identify as Christians does not mean that their scholarly pursuits must all conform to biblical principles.
"We don't insist on the engagement of Christian faith," Raymond says, "but we anticipate a high probability that the choice of research topics, how one puts their syllabus together, the interpretation of theories, will be informed by a person's faith just as a matter of course."
CAUT says it has not received any complaints from Trinity's facultynone of whom belong to CAUTthat their academic freedom has been violated.
Philosophy professor Grant Havers says the statement of faith does impose some restrictions on faculty. But he doubts any university in Canada, secular or faith-based, would tolerate unfettered academic enquiry.
It doesn't matter where you teach, Havers says, "If your colleagues who are evaluating your prospects for tenure don't like you or don't like what you're writing, then you're finished."
Havers suspects CAUT's motivation for investigating TWU is "thoroughly ideological."
"They see red when they see religion," he says. "And therefore, they're advancing a viewwithout necessarily demonstrating the truth of the viewthat reason and faith or the university and religion cannot be combined in any sense. No synthesis is possible."
In fact, history proves otherwise, says Al Hiebert, executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC), a consortium of 34 post-secondary evangelical institutions.
"All of the colleges who came together to form the University of Toronto were confessional institutions," he says. "And that's the case for virtually all of Canada's universities founded before, say, 1960."
Investigation kept secret
Raymond says CAUT did not let him know they were on campus investigating the school. He only met with Turk after its report was released in October.
In November, a CAUT delegation visited CMU. This time, CMU was contacted in advance. The result, says academic vice-president Earl Davey, was a two-hour, wide-ranging exchange of views.
"I have a lot of respect for CAUT," Davey says. "They've done some important work on behalf of Canadian academics, and they take academic freedom very seriously." Fourteen of the 122 faculty associations CAUT represents are faith-based.
But Davey says CMU's faith statements are necessary to affirm that it is "intentionally an Anabaptist Christian university."
"I understand very clearly the position of CAUT, that in their view, such a requirement is an undue restriction on the freedom of faculty," he says. "And on that point, we disagree."
No further action
Turk says while discussions with CMU are still ongoing, CAUT has no intention of taking any further action concerning Trinity Western. "That's the end of it. It's not blacklisted. We don't question their right to exist."
But Hiebert worries that with 65,000 members, CAUT is not lacking in political influence.
"Various CHEC schools have been successful in applying for [government] grants for a wide variety of development projects," he says. "I can well imagine that CAUT would like to shut the tap."
TWU and CMU have both offered to host a conference with CAUT to discuss academic freedom. Turk says they "are open to that possibility"but likely not for another two or three years. "We're full up right now."