Why does spiritual unrest haunt the universities?

Under the general title “God and Man in the Twentieth Century,” Educational Communication Association (P.O. Box 114, Indianapolis, Ind. 46204) will soon release a filmed series of thirteen half-hour panel discussions for public-service television presentation and for use by church and college discussion groups. Participants in the panel on “Crisis on the Campus” are Dr. Roderick Jellema, assistant professor of English, The University of Maryland, College Park; Dr. Calvin D. Linton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, The George Washington University, Washington, D. C.; and Dr. John W. Snyder, dean of the junior division, Indiana University, Bloomington. Moderator of the panels is Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, editor ofCHRISTIANITY TODAY.

DR. HENRY: Gentlemen, why are these terms “campus” and “crisis” so frequently connected today? Hasn’t the campus always faced serious problems, or have the problems suddenly become critical?

DR. LINTON: Well, I think everyone must agree that the campus has always been a center of activity, and frequently a center of crisis. But 1 believe we would agree today that in terms of the intensity of the crisis, and the number of the crises, we genuinely confront a situation which does not have any prior precedent. They come to mind so rapidly that I’m simply going to pick the first kind of crisis that enters my own mind—and that is the financial one. It’s an odd paradox in this country that so many students are seeking opportunities to go to college and that many of the smaller liberal arts colleges are having financial difficulties. The cost of giving an education is going up. The expense of providing laboratory equipment, the cost of hiring adequate faculty members—all these things have presented to the private institutions, particularly, a very serious financial crisis. I know in my own college, having just sweated through the budget! It’s a matter of the greatest difficulty to try to balance the quality of education, which alone justifies an institution’s existence, and the resources which are available to a self-supporting institution.

DR. SNYDER: I think also there is a very serious question of quantity—of the number of students involved, and the effect this has on the whole picture. For instance, one hears nowadays that with the development of new institutions in one state alone, the state of California, these new demands are enough to absorb the entire Ph.D. production of the country for the next ten years. And everywhere enrollments are growing, as you said. I believe the four of us here at this table represent at our institutions well over 50,000 students. The problem of staffing is very serious. But also there is the fact that educational output seems to rise in plateaus. After an institution has reached a certain enrollment, to add a hundred more students would mean an added investment of millions of dollars—so that quantity and financial problems are very closely related.

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DR. JELLEMA: I wonder if with those two—the financial and the quantitative—we aren’t already crossing over into—let’s call it the intellectual, spiritual unrest, the sense of revolt that students feel. I think a good deal of it is attributable to problems of finance and problems of numbers. The university tends to become a multiversity. We seem to be committed more and more not really to educating students but to quickly training them to take their place in a kind of organization—man’s society. For example, it seems to me that one of the outcomes of the financial problem is that we must rely more and more on large foundations, or on big government, for subsidy. The university has to repay this, not only in training technological people but in faculty service to the organizations that put up the endowments. The student is somehow getting lost in this. I think he is quite justifiably protesting his loss in this whole kind of business, and it finally becomes much more an intellectual and a spiritual sense of loss, an alienation. He’s not that eager to take part in this organization-man rat race, this kind of squirrel cage that we’re quickly putting him into.

DR. HENRY: Now the frontiers of science have exploded, and today there are broad new vistas of student interest. Are there, at the same time, signs that students are reaching for broader areas of experience that even these new scientific possibilities cannot satisfy?

DR. JELLEMA: Yes. In fact, I would say not only for a “broader” but a “deeper” kind of an experience—that the breadth of experience seems to be a source of confusion as well as a source of enjoyment to them. I’m more and more impressed with how students want somehow to dig in more deeply, want to come to grips with meaning. They’re tired of being lost. They want to look more deeply. I think things like LSD become rather odd manifestations of this search—not only for more breadth but for some kind of depth that we don’t seem to be able to give them just in technological terms.

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DR. LINTON: It seems to me that the real crisis is in the minds of the students, in the minds of the faculty; in short, it is the intellectual, spiritual temper of the campus. You remember the story of how Schopenhauer was seated on a park bench when an approaching policeman, thinking he was a bum, tapped his shoe with a night stick and said, “Come, come now. Who are you and what are you doing here?” And Schopenhauer replied, “I would to God that I knew!” I think that the students urgently, though perhaps unconsiously, seek an answer to such basic questions as that. Instead they are given information without meaning and physical relationships without value judgments. It appears to me that the student is at the center of the crisis and by reason of his need has become our primary and most urgent responsibility. I think he feels the urgent need for a depth, for a significance, for a kind of relationship which he is not receiving from his higher education, and perhaps he doesn’t know that it’s these things that he needs. He is like a man who suffers from a vitamin deficiency and knows he is not well; he immediately responds to anything which seems to satisfy his needs. But we can’t expect the student to articulate his need. It’s up to the faculty, out of its wisdom—and I perhaps had better put quotes around that word—and its insight, to return to an awareness of these basic questions: Who are you? What are you doing here?

DR. SNYDER: It seems to me, too, that students are responding to pressures of society in this regard. Many changes have come across the scene in recent years. Young people, I believe, are exposed to a great deal more sheer information than they were a generation or so ago, and they are being asked to come to grips with the social issues while at the same time, I believe, having been deprived of the grounds upon which to make mature judgments about those social issues. In a very real sense they suffer from a lack of guidance about such basic questions as Schopenhauer was responding to, about purpose and the end of being, about the existence of God and the significance of this, and many related things.

DR. JELLEMA: I wonder if you gentlemen agree with the observation that this generation of college students seems to be a generation with a peculiar sociological awareness of itself, in a way which one doesn’t really expect to find anywhere else: that sense of being trapped in a society in which there is very little meaning, very little authenticity. They are a generation very fond of the word “phony” …

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DR. LINTON: … deeply introspective, and yet incapable of defining what about themselves is valuable. One thinks of the line of Wyndham Lewis some two or three decades ago, speaking of the tendency of our time to move to the island of withinness and then to conclude that men have a “loathesome deformity called self.” And I think our students suffer from confinement within their own subconscious awareness and an inability to relate that subconscious awareness to external values. So they seek affiliation with anything which seems for the moment to give them an intense sense of existing, of being, of being relevant to something.

DR. JELLEMA: Yes, and here comes the activism, the Causes, and that sort of thing.

DR. HENRY: Amid the uncertainty of the campus, if I understand you, the students today are reaching, some of them at any rate, for the hallucinative drugs like LSD, for wider ranges of consciousness and perhaps some abortive spiritual experience. In the demonstrations and the riots, such as at Berkeley, they are looking for something ultimate with which to identify themselves finally—even though nothing makes a supreme demand upon them in the academic milieu.

DR. LINTON: It seems to me that at the surface you find endless symptoms. But at the root you find this mobility, this fragmentation, this alienation, this lack of sense of meaning, to be caused by the disappearance of a fixed center, of a motionless point with which to determine the significance of mobility. And it appears to me that the students’ confusion is the product in many ways of the theory of education which we have around us today. We all know that at least through the seventeenth century there was a philosophy of order, of central meaning and purpose, and we know that since that day things have become fragmented. When a fragment is separated from its parent body, and when other fragments are taken from it, and it is finally declared that no fragment is relevant to any other fragment, you have a condition of chaos, a condition in which there is no up, no down, no meaning, no purpose, no direction. And so the students naturally respond to a philosophy which declares that existence resides wholly in the intensity of the instant—no instant preceding it has led to it, no instant following it is a consequent of it—and so they seek to relate themselves to any experience which gives them a keen emotional and immediate gratification. They seek by that means to find a center of meaning, to find the answer to the question put to Schopenhauer, “What are you doing here?”

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DR. JELLEMA: Yes. I wonder if at the same time—in addition to this sense that they surely do have, of the loss of a meaningful tradition that gives them some kind of answer about themselves—I wonder if at the same time they don’t find themselves alienated because they stand in a kind of negative relationship not so much to tradition but—let me use a lesser word—to conventions of the past which created the system of illusions by which men thought they were giving the answer to this question. I have in mind largely the nineteenth century, the idea that progress is an automatic law; very few students accept this anymore.

DR. HENRY: Their parents did.

DR. JELLEMA: Their parents did, yes. Their grandparents surely did; the Victorian age, the late nineteenth century—I suppose the whole nineteenth century.

DR. LINTON: Through the Edwardian, probably.

DR. JELLEMA: Yes, World War I seems to be a kind of breaking point here. Along with that went the illusion that evil is somehow not really metaphysically real—it’s a kind of social accident, and we can correct that! And the idea that man is innately good. My students, although they wouldn’t use this kind of theological term for it, tend very much to believe in the idea of original sin. I think the beatniks believe the idea of original sin in a rather startling way.

DR. SNYDER: I think I’d like to say a word on behalf of those of us with our feet in the mud, so to speak, and make the point that students are suffering from the psychology of frustration. I think that a number of the things that we’ve already mentioned have something to do with this: a lack of guidance, for instance; a lack of their elders’ concern with unending verities, and with the notion that there is something that is real and permanent. And this lack of guidance comes right now at a rather crucial point when social pressures, speaking in the broadest possible sense—not only educational pressures but society as a whole—are forcing a measure of conformity that younger people have never known before. Not only in a purely social sense—what to wear, how to dress, what to think about issues, and so on; it appears also in the educational pressures put upon these young people. In every kind of educational occupation, we are developing the notion of optimum performance. There is one right way to do things, and only one—as though we were all computers. And this tends to force students into a mold which in a very real sense deprives them of a chance to fail of this optimum perfect performance in a way that was possible a few generations ago. For it wasn’t very long ago that people who didn’t want to put up with society or couldn’t measure up to its demands could get on a covered wagon and ride off to the West. But this is no longer true.

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DR. HENRY: Michael Novak, who is a professor in the humanities at Stanford University, has come out with a book recently in which he says that many of the students on campus come from homes in which the parents revolted against the inherited religious traditions and substituted alternatives or nothing at all in most cases. And these students, having lived in these homes where there was a distinct break from the God of the Bible, are not impressed but rather disillusioned with what they see and are now reaching for perhaps the option that their parents discarded, or at least for authentic Christianity. Do you see any suggestion of this in the campus environment in your day-to-day experience?

DR. LINTON: Well, I think the sense of disillusionment—the brave new world—has come, and how long can we survive it? I mean the high promise of the past, and the total disillusionment with the reality as it has come about. It strikes me as having produced a generation of students who are immensely open to any clear-cut presentation of a rationally acceptable, intellectually stimulating, spiritually strengthening philosophy. And to those of us for whom the Christian faith is precisely this, and is the answer, I think we have a generation of students who don’t seek it and, I think, will resist its presentation, but who will recognize deep within themselves that this is what they have been searching for.

DR. SNYDER: Yes, and in support of that it seems to me that the younger generation now is in many ways more moral than its immediate ancestors.

DR. LINTON: Or at least it’s more immoral and enjoying it less.

DR. SNYDER: I agree with that. But what I’m referring to is the fact that these young people don’t understand why in an affluent world we still have poverty; why we have to fight the battle of civil rights; why the questions of Viet Nam and the cold war should arise in a period which ought to have been the brave new world certainly. And when they fail to have presented to them the permanent eternal verities that a life of faith would offer, they are attempting to judge these issues without those, without that kind of mature …

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DR. LINTON: And they’re suspicious of the word “faith.” They don’t seem to realize that the faith which the modern scientist must exercise is precisely that—faith, simply in the assumption that the scientific method can produce something true about the universe. And he cannot use the scientific method to authenticate his own scientific method. He must, on faith, assume the validity of the scientific method. And yet they resist the word “faith” as if that were something which has for many years now been discarded.

DR. HENRY: Well, have the universities then lost their original purpose?

DR. JELLEMA: I think in a sense they have been forced to give up in part or alter quite greatly some of that original purpose. I still like to think of a university—though it’s difficult to think about the one in which I teach in those terms—I like to think of a university as being “an active cloister,” as Lewis Mumford once called it. But this is very difficult. These demands that we were talking about at the beginning, of the technological society in which we live, have simply forced an alteration of purpose. I think the university simply has to reaffirm and re-exert some of that original purpose, at least, regarding itself as an active cloister, affirming the disinterestedness of learning, the life of the mind.

DR. HENRY: As I understand it, the colleges originally aimed to graduate students of intellectual and moral discipline—graduates of rational and ethical fiber. And I wonder whether a university needs to be uncommitted to anything in order to enjoy academic freedom. In other words, doesn’t academic freedom itself make demands on truth and right and dedication and commitment? In a society, even a campus society, in which everyone recognizes everyone else’s right to believe what he wishes, do we have to assume that there is no such thing as absolute truth?

DR. SNYDER: I think historically speaking a point to be made here is the fact that when liberal arts colleges were hitting their stride a couple of centuries ago, people generally thought there was a finite end to the amount of learning that constituted a liberal education, that one could trust academic freedom not to get beyond the bounds of propriety because these had genuine limits. But the explosion of information that we’ve already referred to here rather sets that argument aside. There are no limits.

DR. LINTON: An explosion of information with no comparable explosion of wisdom, and a tremendous expansion of power with no comparable expansion of self-control or of the proper control of that power! Indeed, the role of a liberal arts college traditionally is to develop precisely that kind of balance, harmony, understanding, which sees internal relationships; and increasingly the liberal education has become a sequence of narrow specialization. We expect the students to emerge with a much broader education than any of their professors possess.

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DR. HENRY: A real issue is whether students face the great concerns, like who is truly God, and what is the nature and destiny of man?

DR. SNYDER: Yes, and I think it’s these that we have been slighting. I think the students are going to drive us back to at least the second of those questions: Who is man? What is the nature of man? This is the question that they are again raising, I think, in very significant ways. Inevitably they are reaching toward, I think, that first question: What is the nature of God? What is my relationship to him? Whether the university provides for the seeking-out of this question or not simply doesn’t seem to matter too much to them just now.

DR. LINTON: And they are almost barred from considering it on the grounds you mentioned earlier, namely, to have a point of view is felt to be a violation of academic freedom. And yet to take a positive stand on the illegitimacy of taking a stand is to take a very vigorous stand indeed. So that it really eats itself up again.

DR. SNYDER: And certainly we are getting away from the students’ own view of these things. At my institution a year or two ago a debate was organized on the question of whether God exists or not, and drew a larger audience than any similar student program in living memory.

DR. HENRY: So that there is a hungering for God on the campus.

DR. JELLEMA: Yes, I think so. And I think we’re not accommodating it nearly so well as we’re accommodating all the social extra-mural pressures that are on the colleges and universities. I think we’re simply going to have to return to that older function of the university.

DR. HENRY: Are you saying that the students in some respects are ahead of their professors in a searching-out of the spiritual dimension of life?

DR. JELLEMA: Yes. I think I would be willing to say that.

DR. LINTON: In the awareness of the need to do so.


DR. HENRY: We have a few moments in conclusion for each one of us to indicate what step or steps might be taken to set ahead the academic situation in relationship to what we have defined here today as the crisis on campus. Dr. Linton, do you have any suggestions?

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DR. LINTON: The rediscovery of ancient wisdom, I suppose, is a trite thing to say, but it’s true. Milton described the purpose of education as relearning to know God aright. And I’m afraid that I am so devoted to the Westminster Confession of Faith I still prefer it to any revision of it. It asks, What is the chief end of man? And the answer is, The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him. forever. I wish the universities could rediscover it.

DR. HENRY: Its definition of God is a good one, also, isn’t it?


DR. SNYDER: I agree with that, and expand it to some extent by adding the point that students need something with which to identify; that the very nature of the world they face, with its lack of surety and adamant fact, requires the existence of a faith, and that faith must be carefully defined to be, I believe, in a personal God.

DR. JELLEMA: It seems to me that our first step is going to have to be to bring the level of awareness on the part of faculty members somewhere near where the level of awareness of the students is. They seem to be getting this out of modern literature a great deal. Kafka once—Kafka was of course an agnostic—he was once asked what he thought of Jesus Christ. And he said, “He is an abyss of light. One must close his eyes so that he does not fall into it.” I find that a very interesting commentary on some of the awareness, some of the despair, of our time. I think if we as faculty relate to that kind of awareness, to that kind of consciousness of despair, we may begin to get somewhere. I think the students are going to be very receptive.

DR. HENRY: Well gentlemen, I think we have come to the end of our opportunities on this panel, and I want to thank you for sharing your busy lives with us in discussing the crisis on the campus. Thank you very much for coming. We seem to agree that the crisis on the campus consists in the tyranny of temporal interests over the academic mind, and its neglect of spiritual realities and of fixed moral principles. If the world of higher learning is genuinely concerned for the whole truth, will it ignore the truth of God? And if it is genuinely concerned for man in the image of God, can it ignore Jesus of Nazareth?

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