A national association has denied accreditation to a liberal arts college that requires six-day creationism to be taught in a biology class. Patrick Henry College, a 150-student school in Purcellville, Virginia, is appealing the decision.
"We teach about evolution," Michael Farris, founder of Patrick Henry College, told Christianity Today. "We just think it's bogus—bogus science, and bogus as a matter of faith."
The college, created for homeschooled students, applied for accreditation with the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) when the college began accepting students in the fall of 2000. The AALE sent the college an April 30 letter denying accreditation, saying the biology course does not satisfy the academy's basic knowledge requirement, and limits "liberty of thought and freedom of speech."
"From our perspective, [the denial] was completely out of the blue," said Farris, also founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "None of this had been raised at all. "
The college's Statement of Biblical Worldview says, "PHC does not intend to limit biblically based discussion of [origins]; provided, however, that evolution, 'theistic' or otherwise, will not be treated as an acceptable theory."
Education vs. Indoctrination
Jeffrey Wallin, president of the AALE, said his group does not object to member schools teaching creation in their theology classes, but it is not acceptable in biology classes. He says the organization has accredited colleges that teach creationism in theology classes.
Wallin says creationism is not science. "When I went to school, I took a theology course," Wallin told CT, "but we didn't sit around with test tubes and experiment and try to convince ourselves it was science."
Mark Noll, professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College in Illinois, said the situation raises complicated questions about matters of faith and academic freedom. "It's never a simple question of an ideal that everybody agrees to."
Most accrediting groups tend to ignore matters of theology, says Darryl Hart, author of The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies and American Learning Since 1870. "Patrick Henry may have crossed the lines in some ways because of the question of evolution and creation, which is a subject of biology," he says. "I think that's where Christian institutions maybe are forced to comply more with the general guidelines in the academy."
Robert Andringa, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, was recently appointed by Secretary of Education Rod Paige as the chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises the Department of Education on accreditation matters.
Andringa said the CCCU's 101 member schools do not usually face problems with accrediting agencies, which tend to honor a school's stated mission. Still, some policies by CCCU institutions against hiring homosexuals sparked challenges this year from the American Psychological Association and the Council of Social Work Education.
At least two other small Christian colleges have had run-ins with the AALE over creationism and other issues. The board of New Saint Andrews College, a nine-year-old Great Books institution in Idaho, voted in May to withdraw its application for accreditation after learning about the Patrick Henry College denial.
Terry Stollar, director of admissions and development for Gutenberg College in Oregon, says administrators have concerns about whether they will be accredited because the college requires professors to sign statements of doctrine and methodology.
Patrick Henry College does not accept federal funds, but the Commonwealth of Virginia requires colleges and universities to be accredited. Farris says some students have declined to enroll in the school because it lacked accreditation. The school also stands to lose money from corporate matching programs. The school has an annual budget of $3.5 million.
Patrick Henry College is filing new accreditation applications with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. Meanwhile, it is appealing the AALE decision, saying the academy presented no substantial evidence and "departed significantly from its written procedures and protocols."
Wallin stands by the process: "The real issue, from our standpoint, is whether the institution is providing a liberal education." Farris disagrees. "What they're asking us to do is commit intellectual schizophrenia," he says. "It really is an effort to try to divorce Christianity from what they consider the secular areas of life."
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Also appearing on our site today:
Give Us LibertySecular educators have it backward: Faith statements promote academic freedom
Patrick Henry College press releases and articles on the matter include:
Accreditation vote postponed (Winter 2001)
News articles on Patrick Henry College include:
Patrick Henry's First Graduates—The Washington Post (May 26, 2002)
Religious college denied accreditation, creationism a factor—CNS News.com (May 16, 2001)
Academy Declines to Accredit Va. College—The Washington Post (May 11, 2002)
Higher Yearning—The Washington Post (Nov 27, 2001)
Cash Purchase Expands Campus—The Washington Post (Jan 25, 2001)
College Faces Test of Its Own—The Washington Post (Oct 2, 2000)
Dorm Life Delayed—The Washington Post (Aug 10, 2000)
Education Evolution—The Washington Post (Apr 16, 2000)
Founders Plan Virginia Campus To Train a Christian Vanguard—The Washington Post (Sep 26, 1999)
A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article looked at whether Christian colleges' faith statements violate academic freedom.
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