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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“Being a Christian on the Board in Public Higher Education” (article: Presbyterian Journal)

Presbyterian Journal
August 22, 1984

On July 1, 1984 I was elected chairman of the board of trustees of Central Washington University, an institution recently cited by U.S. News and World Report (November 28, 1983) as one of the top eight comprehensive small universities in the West.

I was first appointed to the board of trustees in 1981 as a reward for my campaign support of the current governor of Washington State, John Spellman. I am the owner of a small business in a small rural town in central Washington—hardly the background of a political heavyweight. And yet because I was strategically involved in the gubernatorial campaign in our community, I was willingly appointed to a public board.

Why did I seek a position of influence in public higher education which is avowedly secular, and in Washington State, constitutionally separated from the Christian faith? Frankly, at first I saw the appointment mainly in terms of a stepping stone to elected po¬litical office. However, once I assumed my responsibilities on the Board, I was increasingly made aware of the fact that my position was due more to a divine favor than a civil one (I Samuel 2:7).

One divine obligation that I believe has been laid to my account now is to present one man’s Christian mind-set in a responsible and respectable manner to a secular university environment (Esther 4:14). That is not to say I fancy myself a scholar! Rather, besides the obvious occasion to influence public policy as it applies to higher education, there is the necessity to define the honest search for truth in God’s created order and epistemology (Col. 1:16-20). Because of my position I have the opportunity to share ideas and perceptions of the role, mission and purpose of education, scholarship, research, and even the university system itself to academically gifted men and women. I have also been given a unique role to encourage the rigorous use of that most prized biological gift to God’s most cherished creation—man’s mind.

Are there clear-cut issues which distinctly divide Christians and non-Christians within the world of public higher education? Yes, but fewer than one might expect. More often, my Christian convictions show themselves in such provincial concerns as merit pay and tenure for faculty, staff assessment, student-aid criteria, funding priorities for the institution, and sociological considerations such as being willing to stand alone in board voting and discussions. The fact of the matter is that the discretionary authority of a public school official is so circumscribed by federal and state statute that power to change public education fundamentally is almost absent. What I work for, then, are small alterations in the system and for a continuing Christian perspective, which may differ from that of my secularist colleagues on any given issue. I have not always found that work simple or enjoyable (Jer. 20:7-9).

However, I believe like the Puritans that, if we evangelicals persevere in the halls of academe, Christ will once again take his rightful place as Master and Tutor of all learning (Col. 2:2¬4).

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