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Margin Notes

A test of faith at Trinity Western

The university’s faith conditions are put in the spotlight.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | FEB 01 2010

The National Post carried what I thought was a balanced piece this past Saturday dealing with the controversy surrounding Trinity Western University. That is praise indeed from me, as there is much in that newspaper that I find unbalanced.

For those unfamiliar with the TWU controversy, it began last year when the Canadian Association of University Teachers created an ad hoc investigatory committee “into whether academic freedom is being infringed at Trinity Western University by the requirement of a faith test as a condition of employment.”

The two professors who took up the investigation, William Bruneau of the University of British Columbia and Tom Friedman of Thompson Rivers University, concluded in their report this past October that indeed “TWU’s Statement of Faith, its Res­ponsibil­ities of Membership statement and the univer­sity’s policy on academic freedom allow for unwarranted and unacceptable constraints on academic freedom.”

Jonathan Raymond, TWU president, is taking CAUT’s actions very seriously. “Such an allegation can easily damage the reputation of a university and place a cloud over the scholarship of its faculty,” Raymond wrote in a recent response to CAUT’s report.

It’s not clear to me exactly why CAUT took up the issue when it did. TWU’s faith conditions are hardly new – they’ve been around for as long as the university itself, which was founded in 1962. It’s also not news to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, which granted TWU membership back in 1984.

The CAUT report received only scant media attention immediately after its release, but Maclean’s On Campus and others have recently picked up on it. See some of the Maclean’s online commentary on this issue here and here.

University Affairs also recently ran an opinion piece on the issue by John G. Stackhouse, Jr. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was our commentary which tipped the Maclean’s On Campus crew to the story.

I won’t downplay the fact that this is a complex and thorny issue. I know academics are supposed to question all assumptions, and I would personally feel uneasy it I were told that that there is a base set of assumed and unalterable truths that I must work from. But I think Professor Stackhouse is right when he suggests that a committed group of scholars can take “a number of basic assumptions for granted” (i.e., faith) and still “go on together to analyze a wide range of important questions.”

I think there is one other important point: no one is forcing students and professors to study and teach at TWU. They are there of their own volition and are almost certainly well aware of the conditions imposed on them and have accepted to live within them.

ABOUT LÉO CHARBONNEAU
Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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