Academic Freedom, Baptist Principles, and Christian Behavior

By Durso, Pamela R. | Baptist History and Heritage, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Academic Freedom, Baptist Principles, and Christian Behavior


Durso, Pamela R., Baptist History and Heritage


Many Baptists have long valued education. They have built Baptist colleges, universities, and seminaries, sent their sons and daughters off to those Baptist schools, hired ministers trained in Baptist seminaries, and given and continue to give money to Baptist educational institutions.

Yet, other Baptists have long feared education. They have been suspicious of educational institutions and their faculties, kept their children from obtaining degrees from educational institutions, refused to hire educated ministers, and declined to participate in financially supporting colleges and universities.

The response of Baptists to education over the years has indeed been one of ambivalence and has resulted in conflicts and controversy. Many of those conflicts have centered on the issue of academic freedom. Baptists, like all other denominations, have struggled with finding the correct formula for successfully protecting academic freedom while at the same time maintaining doctrinal and denominational integrity. Finding the perfect formula has not been and will never be an easy task.

Throughout the twentieth century, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) provided guidance for Baptist colleges and universities as they dealt with this difficult task. In 1970, the association, in commenting on academic freedom within religious schools, offered these guidelines: "Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment." (1) Clearly, the AAUP recognized the dilemma faced by denominational schools.

The AAUP also made note of a truth that all Baptist educators should take to heart. In that statement issued in 1970, the association offered these words of advice:

   College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned
   profession, and officers of an educational institution. … 

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Academic Freedom, Baptist Principles, and Christian Behavior
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