Elite universities criticize Atlanta school for hiring only Christian teachers.

A leading private preparatory school in Atlanta, Georgia, may jettison its commitment to Christian education under pressure from several college recruiters.

Since its founding in 1951, Westminster Schools, a Christian preparatory academy in Atlanta, has filled teaching positions only with professed Christians. However, deans of admission from several top universities—which regularly accept Westminster graduates—discovered the policy only last year. And they have launched an aggressive campaign of protest.

“We’re not going to support the graduation activities of Westminster Schools as long as they have an open statement that discriminates against anyone,” Harold Wingood, dean of undergraduate admissions at Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.), told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Washington joined Georgetown and Tufts universities in boycotting Westminster’s October recruiting day. They, along with Duke, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have issued letters of protest.

The controversy has helped fuel a re-examination of the school’s mission by its trustees. Westminster president William Clarkson said the school’s religious and academic goals and procedures, including its hiring policy, are all on the table for re-evaluation.

“We are trying to understand as deeply as we can,” Clarkson said, “what it means to be a Christian institution, with a diverse student body, and how you do that with integrity.”

Other educators, however, say Clarkson and several trustees hold a “somewhat more liberal view” about Christian commitment than the more conservative trustees, and they fear the struggle to preserve the school’s hiring policy may already be over. “If they intended to keep it, they would say so,” says Bruce Lockerbie, an educational consultant for Christian schools and colleges. “That tells me that the policy is dead.”

Lockerbie, a former scholar in residence at Stony Brook School, a private Christian school on Long Island, said divisions over Westminster’s Christian philosophy have heightened since Clarkson was named president in 1990. Within months, one trustee publicly denounced the hiring policy and resigned. Last November another trustee, acting independently of the board, expressed concern to university admissions departments. He was ordered to resign.

In both public statements and telephone interviews with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, university admissions deans repeatedly have appealed to notions of “pluralism” and “diversity” in condemning Westminster’s hiring standards as discriminatory. Harvard admissions dean William Fitzsimmons, in a letter to the school, said the policy denies students “an opportunity to be educated in an atmosphere that values diversity.”

Several Christian educators view the response as the antithesis of diversity and freedom of expression.

“They’re not allowing anyone to have a collective vision or ideal,” says Richard Gathro of the Washington, D.C.—based Christian College Coalition.

Though Westminster always has been up-front about its religious commitments, its independence and academic rigor make it an anomaly in academia. Gathro says, “The public square has trouble comprehending that our faith in Christ is a movement rather than a series of ecclesiastical institutions.” Although founded by an Atlanta Presbyterian church, Westminster maintains no denominational ties and receives no church or government money.

By Joe Loconte.

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