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American confidence in the “value” of higher education is plummeting. In 2015, 57% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, but in 2023 that number fell to a mere 36%.1 What role might academics play in eroding this trust and how might Christian academics help reverse this trend?

I contend there are plenty of reasons for this decline that lie with academics themselves. For instance, earlier this year I had the privilege of hearing Ken Elzinga, the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia, share his life’s reflections about being a Christian professor at a secular university. Elzinga has served at the University of Virginia for close to fifty years. During his talk, he noted that he rarely got involved in campus politics. When he did, it was only to serve the interests of others. He shared an example of one of those cases.

Many readers will likely know of University of Virginia sociologist, Brad Wilcox (whose new book, Get Married, everyone should buy). What they may not know is that he was initially denied tenure, not due to his scholarly output, which was larger than many full professors. Instead, the committee bowed to the concern raised by some liberal, female graduate students that Brad’s pro-life stance, large family, and conservative Catholic beliefs made them uncomfortable. When Elzinga found out about this injustice, he made his displeasure known to the university authorities about this Christian discrimination, and the decision was later reversed.

Unfortunately, Wilcox’s story of religious discrimination is not an isolated incidence. I personally know of four different male, conservative Catholics who have paid a significant price at the hand of educational leaders for holding orthodox Christian views about marriage and the family.2 Stories like these merely illustrate the discriminatory practices of secular academics that we know from broader quantitative research dominate the secular academy.3

Elzinga’s story, these cases, and broader empirical research have made me reflect upon Nicholas Wolterstorff’s 2019 book, Religion in the University. Wolterstorff’s central question was: “Is it permissible for the scholar who is religious to allow her religion to shape how she engages in the practice of her discipline?”4 The rest of Wolterstorff’s book challenged the wider secular, academic norms that still dominate the academy, such as those that Elzinga and Wilcox experienced.

Although I understand Wolterstorff’s charitable way of beginning, I think his starting question grants to much to the secular gatekeepers of the academic profession. After all, the religious are not the only partisans in the academy. In truth, secularists exhibit the most partisanship in the academy today when it comes to hiring and promotion and enjoy the most epistemological privilege.5 By epistemological privilege I mean that their beliefs are more likely to be taken for granted in the academy as the right or proper ones without being seriously questioned.

Now part of what Wolterstorff sought to do was to question one of these presuppositions. He specified that what he meant by “permissible” in his central question pertained to the professional ethic of the scholar. This professional ethic, he noted, is similar to that of the physician, lawyer, and therapist—“certain things one is to do if one is a scholar and certain things one is not to do.”6 He observed, “Nowhere is the ethics of the scholar written down….. And like all professional ethics, it is fuzzy around the edges.”7

I contend that recent trends reveal that it is more than fuzzy around the edges. It appears to be getting fuzzy in the middle. Furthermore, I contend that this fuzziness stems from a lack of clarity in the academy about the nature of professions produced by the secular elites currently leading them.

Thus, before going further I want to offer one definition of a profession as a means by which to demonstrate this ambiguity. Michal Davis defined a profession as “several individuals in the same occupation voluntarily organized to earn a living by openly serving a certain moral ideal in a morally permissible way beyond what law, market, and morality would otherwise require.”8 While somewhat helpful, I contend a profession involves more than simply “openly serving a certain moral ideal in a morally permissible way.”

Its nourishment and growth requires a degree of agreement about the contextual realities in which one pursues those moral ideals. For instance, if the medical profession agrees that it is pursuing ends such as health, human flourishing, and life, a whole host of theological or metaphysical assumptions inform how we understand health, flourishing and life, as well as the particular rules, virtues, and practices required to meet those ends. The medical profession cannot be hermetically sealed from important philosophical or religious presuppositions when defining and building these necessary elements.

The same proves true with the academic profession. Now, if we tell an accurate and inclusive historical story about the academic profession, we will come to recognize that Christians and Christian beliefs about reality played a vital role in creating the intellectual context, ends, norms, and practices that helped give it birth. In the first volume of the massive four-volume history of the university that he edited, Walter Rüegg provided a helpful list of seven values legitimated by Christian thought that nourished the desire to learn and know (amor sciendi), that found institutional expression in the first medieval European universities and their professors:

1. The belief in a world order, created by God, rational, accessible to human reason, to be explained by human reason and to be mastered by it; this belief underlies scientific and scholarly research as the attempt to understand this rational order of God’s creation.

2. The ancient understanding of man as an imperfect being and the Judeo-Christian idea of a creature fallen into sin, and the proposition deriving from these ideas about the limitation of the human intellect operated in the Middle Ages as driving forces impelling intellectual criticism and collegial cooperation…

3. Respect for the individual as a reflection of the macrocosm or as having been formed in the image of God laid the foundation for the gradually realized freedom of scientific and scholarly research and teaching.

4. The absolute imperative of scientific truth, which already had led in scholasticism to the basic norms of scientific and scholarly research and teaching such as the prohibition of the rejection of demonstrated knowledge, the subjection of one’s own assertions to the generally valid rules of evidence, openness to all possible objections to one’s argument, and the public character of argument and discussion.

5. The recognition of scientific and scholarly knowledge as a public good which is ultimately a gift of God.

6. Reformatio, the principle which regarded one’s scientific efforts as the renewal and further development of previously established knowledge ‘in the cause of improvement.’

7. The equality of human beings, which is part of natural law, first found an institutional arrangement for scientific and scholarly study in the setting provided by the university.9

Recent events have shown that each of these core principles, which I contend are still vital for nurturing a healthy academic profession, is under attack within the post-Christian university. Certainly, the recent congressional testimonies of university presidents demonstrate that the secular academy lacks the moral foundations from which to derive basic respect for all humans made in God’s image (#3 on Rüegg’s list). And the recent actions of scientific authorities during Covid certainly did not give the impression that the scientists in our government-leading institutions believed #4 and #5.

Unfortunately, in my experience, Christians and academics in general do not realize how separating the academic profession from these Christian roots and beliefs has contributed to the broken secular academy, whether it involves the ends of the university, the structure of the curriculum (especially general education), how we frame the content of what we are teaching, the nature of our pedagogy, or the norms of the academic profession.

Yet, since Christians drew upon these key realities to help invent and nourish the academic profession, I propose Christian academics should start by reclaiming these same seven riches for the academic profession10

Thus, I propose we start with an appropriate form of confidence grounded in God and our intellectual history that avoids begging permission from secular professional gatekeepers in the academy to do what God calls us to create, love, and do: the creation and redemption of learners and learning. We can start by insisting that every person made in the image of God, whether Jew or Palestinian, be treated as image bearers of God (to help with #3), that our academic leaders exhibit intellectual honesty (to help with #2). and that our public scientists engage in intellectual confession about how and when they were wrong (to support #4).  Unfortunately, right now our academic leaders are not even upholding these professional basics. It is no wonder they have lost the trust of the populace.


  1. Megan Brenan, “Americans’ Confidence in Higher Education Down Sharply,” Gallup. 2023 July 11,
  2. For the public details of one such story see: Tyler J. VanderWeele, “Moral Controversies and Academic Public Health: Notes on Navigating and Surviving Academic Freedom Challenges,” Global Epidemiology 6 (2023): online.
  3. George A. Yancey, Compromising Scholarship : Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011).
  4. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Religion in the University (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 4.
  5. Perry L. Glanzer, “Recognizing Christian Complexity and Secular Privilege in Higher Education: A Response to Recent Christian Privilege Arguments,” Religion & Education 49, 2 (2022): 119-37.; Perry L. Glanzer and Jessica Martin, “Recognizing the ‘Both-And”’ Instead of Promulgating the ‘Either-Or’: A Critical Response to Critical Religion Scholars,” Religion and Education (2023): 232-45. Perry L. Glanzer, “Critical Religion Scholars’ Data Denial: Their Odd Efforts to Downplay Bias Against and Contributions of Christians,” Religion & Education:
  6. Wolterstorff, Religion in the University, 5.
  7. Wolterstorff, Religion in the University, 6.
  8. Michael Davis, Profession, Code and Ethics (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002), 3. One finds a similar moral emphasis in the more convoluted definition of a profession offered by Darrell Reeck:

    A profession is an occupational group which specialized in the performance of such highly developed skills for the meeting of a complex human needs that the right use of them is achieved only under the discipline of an ethic developed and enforce by peers and by mastery of a broader contextual knowledge of the nature of the human being, society, the natural world, and historical trends.

    Darrell Reeck, Ethics for the Professions: A Christian Perspective (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1982), 30.

  9. Walter Rüegg, “Themes” in A History of the University in Europe: Vol. I. Universities in the Middle Ages, ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 32–33. I assume for this last point that Rüegg is thinking some of the key developments promoting universal human dignity that occurred at the University of Salamanca and some Protestant universities.
  10. I take this approach in Perry L. Glanzer and Nathan Alleman, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Teaching (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). For an interesting scientific approach to this topic see: Bert Theunissen,”Virtues and Vocation: An Historical Perspective on Scientific Integrity in the Twenty-First Century,” Endeavour 48, no. 1 (2024): online,

Perry L. Glanzer

Baylor University
Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.


  • Joseph' Rocky' Wallace says:

    Dr. Glanzer, indeed. Why are we so timid about embracing our faith in the classroom? It is indeed a bizarre irony for Christians to shy away from the Gospel.

    We can also take more seriously how much family, friends, and our church community look to us for some semblance of guidance when they are helping their children make wise decisions about where to attend college.

    My Mom tells the sad story of one of Dad’s young church members going away to a secular university, known for its liberal and “partying” bent, and coming home a few months later declaring she was an atheist.

    This scenario is common, and I realize now that over the years I have not taken the time to recommend to parents to do thorough research on the daily culture of the schools their kids are considering attending. Such honest and courageous conversation may not have changed one teen’s mind, but at least the parent would not have later been so shocked, and gave me that sad look as if to say: “Why didn’t you warn me? You work in this profession. Surely you knew.”

  • Michael Jindra says:

    Good article. I think Christians should be on the leading edge of reclaiming science from those who abuse it, on both the left and right. BTW, a podcast I did just came out today on related issues of “saving the social sciences” It’s here: