What About Academic Freedom? Good Discussion About Concordia Profs Supporting William Ayers

We broke the news on Wednesday that several professors from Concordia-Chicago (an LCMS university) signed a petition in support of William Ayers, known for his past life as a liberal activist involved in terrorist fire-bombings which still to this day he says he does not regret. More to the point, both he and the  petition, put forth  a questionable, even pagan philosophy of education. We have had some readers wonder if these professors should be cut some slack in the name of academic freedom. This is a good question that calls for an answer. Here are some excerpts from some of the discussion in the “comments” section of the last two posts on this matter.

I must admit that I feel two almost contradictory ways about this issue. First, I believe William Ayers should be in jail and if academics had any integrity this man would have been shunned instead of embraced. However, I also believe that individuals should have the academic freedom to sign petitions if they see fit. (from Dr. Matthew Phillips)

And here is my response:

Dr. Phillips,

Thank you for your participation on the BJS website and your thoughtful comment.

I have some experience with academia. I was a teaching fellow for two years at St. Louis University where I taught freshman philosphy and I have even taught at the university under discussion here (an Old Testatment course). I too am aware of the need for academic freedom but it does have its limits. Try this view on and see if it works.

Universities, even conservative, confessional Lutheran universities should be places where the mind is taught to analyze things, even question things so that the mind can be sharpened to better know and articulate the truth. The truth that they are to be taught is to be consistent with the revealed truths of Gods word. This is a far cry from saying that all citizens and teachers are called upon “to be skeptical of authoritative claims” (from the petition).

This is not a Christian philosophy of education that the petition describes. It contradicts the essence of Christianity. The Bible teaches that God is the creator and we are not. He has authority over us. We do not question his authority but relish it, welcome it, and praise Him for it all because He has redeemed us from our selfish, sinful, authority-questioning self and given us new life in Christ.

Bill Ayers is a Marxist (his words not mine) who believes that authority figures such as God are the opiate of the people and thus are to be questioned and rejected. Professors who sign petitions in support of people like this and thier godless philosophy ought not to be teaching in our conservative, confessional, Lutheran universities.

If you study Bill Ayers philosophy in depth you will see that he espouses freedom at all costs. We Christians do not rank freedom as the end all. As a matter of fact, we are happy to be humble faithful servants, which in many respects is the opposite of this absolute freedom at all costs thing which is actually quite arrogant and prideful. Acadmeic freedom is important but whatever it means, it does not mean that we are free to define the universe in such a way that all authority must be questioned.

Besides all of that philosophy of educaiton talk, does it not bother you that professors at one of our LCMS universities are signing a petition in support of a guy who does not regret fire-bombing peoples houses?

We encourage you to continue the discussion on this post or the previous posts.

Pastor Rossow

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


What About Academic Freedom? Good Discussion About Concordia Profs Supporting William Ayers — 18 Comments

  1. I have a few questions. Do the professors who teach in the LCMS Concordia University System have to subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions? If not, why not? And, shouldn’t they? I imagine they do not because as I understand many of them are not Lutheran to begin with. If they do, is it reasonable to say that they can support a man like William Ayers and his philosophy and at the same time subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions?

  2. Ross,

    That’s a god question. I do not think they do have to subscribe.

    I do not see how one could subscribe to both if you take the words seriously.

    Pastor Rossow

  3. From my examination of CUC’s and CUI’s websites, it appears to me that while CUI has a requirement for all faculty members to be LCMS, it does not require that of staff employees. CUC applies this less stringent requirement to both faculty and staff.

    By the way, I was told back in February by one of the CUI theology faculty members that the accreditation committee (from WASC, I believe) complained that CUI was not diverse enough and that there were too many Lutherans there. CUI’s response was to respond that the faculty members were required to be LCMS, but that they would hire non-Lutherans people for staff positions. (That faculty member thought that CUI should have told WASC, “See you in court.”) They hired non-Lutherans and then had to give them a seminar so they’d understand something about Lutheranism. (We joked that there was a danger that they’d become Lutherans and would have to be fired.)

    http://www.cuchicago.edu/about_concordia/facilities_and_services/human_resources/ says

    “Concordia University does not discriminate in the employment of individuals on the basis of race, color, national or ethic origin, disability, sex, or age. However, as an institution of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and, to the extent allowed by law, Concordia University reserves the right to give preference in employment based on religion.”


    “Concordia University, Irvine Calif., seeks applicants to fill the possible faculty openings in the disciplines listed below. Review of application materials begins immediately and continues until the positions are funded and filled.
    To be considered, a candidate must be a member of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and should possess a graduate degree in the field.”


    “Concordia University Irvine does not discriminate in the employment of individuals on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, disability, sex, or age. However, Concordia University Irvine is a Christian educational institution operated by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and, in compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reserves the right to give preference in employment based upon religion.”

  4. Even if Professors are required to subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions I do not think it is applied to Assistant Professors. I think they should be allowed to subscribe to whatever philosophy they want, but that does not mean that Concordia has to employ them. I’m sure there are plenty of other schools that would appreciate such views. I’m not sure though how easy it would be for Concordia to fill every position with an LCMS Lutheran. Of course that may be an indication of an overstretched system or at least a system more focused on offering a wide variety of classes and impressing accreditation agencies and national rankings than being Lutheran. Excelling in a vocation is a good thing, and the Concordia University System (CUS) has accomplished a lot by the standards of their field. As with everything though, it is important to fix our eyes on the Cross. It seems similar to other situations. Is it more important to be solidly Lutheran and proceed from there in spreading the Gospel, or do almost anything to get people to hear a couple of Bible passages and trust the Spirit to work despite everything else it took to get them there? While the Spirit is certainly capable of working in any conditions, wouldn’t it be better to provide fertile soil for such seeds to grow? The CUS does have many solidly Lutheran professors that are able to share the Law and Gospel with more students, especially non-Lutheran students, than if the school only had LCMS Lutherans in every teaching position. Does that justify having instructors who do not subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions? Is such a compromise in a University setting the same as in a church setting? Wouldn’t a faculty of strictly LCMS instructors be able to grow into a system of equal reach even if not as quickly? Is it reasonable to expect all instructors to actually subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions if the subscription of some Pastors in the Synod is in question? If it is sometimes followed only in word and not deed is that any excuse to dismiss such a requirement? Is such a requirement enforceable even to some degree? If a faculty of only LCMS instructors is preferred would it be better to phase out non-LCMS instructors over the years as they could be replaced or cut back immediately? Would such an immediate reduction even be logistically feasible? Could all of the Universities function with such a reduced faculty? Would a phased replacement provoke instructors to leave before they can be replaced if they know they will be losing their job, resulting in similar problems to an immediate reduction in faculty? Should such subscription also be required of staff? Some of these questions depend on the percentage of classes in the CUS taught by non-Lutherans. Would such a reduction affect accreditation? Would any enforcement of the subscription to the Confessions by any instructors in the CUS even be possible in a divided synod? Are such problems best left until larger ones are dealt with? A splinter in a university versus a log in the Synod as it were. Would a solution to the division at the synodical level improve the situation at the universities or at least be an environment more able to deal with it?

  5. Having studied at the University in question, I know that not every professor could subscribe to the Confessions “quia.” This is especially true for adjunct professors, and as was pointed out, these signatures seem to be from adjuncts.

    If I remember from my student days, only a few professors were “called” (in parentheses because the call came with a contract. Those professors being the president and theology professors. I’m unsure if any others had a “call.” At least for the president the installation service included confessional subscription. They may even do that for any professor on the LCMS roster.

    What bothers me most about the situation is not the name of the professor–they are perfectly free to trash their own name. They have, however, also brought the name of the University into the discussion by their signature on the petition. This seems to imply that the University, at least in part, supports this philosophy. And that’s unacceptable.

    Academic freedom exists within the boundaries of the purpose and mission of the institution. Concordia, at least I assume, exists to promote tradition, Christian, liberal arts education. So to teach evolution to the exclusion of Creation is outside its bounds and should not be allowed. And the academics who do not wish to teach according to that mission are free to find another place to teach. That’s academic freedom.

  6. As someone whose limitations allow for more reading and study then any other activity; it appears that we are discussing an issue that has been at the forefront of the Roman Catholic education system for some time. That of being Lutheran in Name Only or LINO. When our schools went from being 2 year Jr College/feeder schools and 4 year teacher’s colleges to Universities, we lost the ability to require that every professor and/or faculty member be LC-MS and subscribe to the Confessions.
    When the primary role of the institution is no longer for the purpose of supplying the Church with pastors, teachers, and other Church workers, then the control or boundaries on that institution is necessarily changed and we end up as LINO. Those of us who went to Synod schools under the “old” system, found having a non-Lutheran faculty person to be a rare and unusual occurrence, and happening when the “real thing” was unavailable in an emergency situation. Now, from what I can ascertain, it is possible to receive a BA without ever being confronted by a Lutheran faculty person except in a few religion classes. How very sad.
    (“Lutheran faculty” means faculty who are rostered members of Synod as trained clergy, teachers, etc.)

  7. Rev. E,

    Actually, it turns out these are assistant professors, not adjuntc. I was being a little too generous in my initial assessment.

    Pastor Rossow

  8. Alex,

    You have given us a great set of questions to consider. Your Socratic string of inquisitivness leads us to the real issue at hand. Is the LCMS, as it is currently organized, supervised, and sized, able to remain confessional?

    I know of at least two good approaches to this question: 1) seperate off into a new synod or 2) reorient our presidents, circuit counselors and even pastors away from business/political work to pastoral, Biblical and doctrinal-supervisorial work.

    The latter is the preferred option. Time will tell if we as a synod are willing to choose it. It needs to be a change of mindset from the President of the Synod all the way to each layman. We at BJS will continue to call all vocations in the synod to such faithfulness.

    Pastor Rossow

  9. On its Faculty Positions webpage, Concordia University-Texas provides this Pecksniffian Disclaimer:

    “Concordia University Texas is an Equal Opportunity Employer. The university maintains a drug-free workplace and performs pre-employment background checks. The university is an institution of the Concordia University System of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and to the extent allowed by law reserves the right to give preference in employment based upon religion.” [Emphasis added]

  10. I believe post #5 by Rev. Ehrhard properly defines the problem inherent with this petition. Those professors who chose to use their given names so callously have the “right” to do so as they choose. It is, afterall, their name.

    Where the error occurs is invoking the name of the University. This name is not their possession to use as they see fit. By listing this name, they imply an association which is not warrented, nor desired by members of the LC-MS as a Synod.

    I personnally confronted this problem recently when the petition to reinstate “Issues.Etc” was begun. While I strongly agreed with the petition, I did not feel I had the authority to include others of my congregation without their consent (I hold both the office of President and Elder in my congregation). My solution was to sign with my name only (#536) and include my home of record (ironically, I live in Saint Johns, MI which may have been construed as a church affiliation). Had these professors signed in a similar manner, this would have alleviated any perceived affiliation not warrented.

    As to the political views of William Ayers, I am content that no person ascribing to the Constitution of the United States would give serious consideration to marxism. As a political philosophy, marxism is seriously lacking and historically been a demonstrable failure for those countries which instituted such governments. Mr. Ayers will reap the tares he sows.

    Finally, I would like to take issue with the notion that academic “freedom” exists. Having spent several years in the university system (Michigan State Univ), the one reality I gleaned was the lack of freedom in the secular world. As a prime example today, I would cite the teachings of evolution and the preconceived notions which accompany this ideology.

    A christian confronted with this foolishness will rapidly learn any (and all) reference to God as creator is forbidden. In an educational environment, I can accept this precondition. What appalls me is the lack of scientific rigor and examination afforded this theory. Not only a lack – but an outright prohibition of a proper analysis is the reality. I find no academic freedom in this preconditions; indeed, I find an ideology which requires a blind faith found in marxist thinking.

    Our response should be consistent with God’s Word and our Confessions. We have a pressing need to cleanse our own household, both our Universities and our Synod, and return to our Lord. It is only in God’s Word we will find true freedom; those who look elsewhere will always be in bondage to their sin and will never experience true freedom. As Lutherans, we are conditioned to ask “what does this mean?” What is most important is where do we seek our answers – in ourselves or God?

  11. PR: I know of at least two good approaches to this question: 1) seperate off into a new synod or 2) reorient our presidents, circuit counselors and even pastors away from business/political work to pastoral, Biblical and doctrinal-supervisorial work.

    Great observation! Sadly, it seems that option #1 appears more viable than option #2. But, having a problem just go away (sepearate) never cures anything. The body of Christ appears to be rebelling against the head!

  12. ML: Good point. However, I am not sure that we should take the LCMS or ELCA or any denomination so seriously as to say that rebelling against them is rebelling against the Head. The Church of Christ is where the word is taught in its purity and the sacraments administered according to the Head’s command (AC VII).

    You are correct though in critiquing option #1 and cautioning against running away from problems. It is a difficult question. No matter what happens we just need to make sure that we a remain true to God’s word.

    Pastor Rossow

  13. Steve Bobb…at CU-NE the vast majority of fulltime professors are active members in an LCMS congregation. We take our Lutheran faith very seriously. I cannot speak for any other campus. However, I would argue that we MUST be more than a training school for teachers & preachers. We can be a university with numerous majors and still be Lutheran.

  14. Can we Dr. Phillips? I appreciate your optimism in saying that we can, but based on this issue it ain’t happening.

    I hope we can but the burden of proof is on you, your Concordia peers, President Johnson, President Keischnick and all who are responsible for supervising the doctrine and practice of our universities.

    Pastor Rossow

  15. Pr. Rossow,

    First, I have no knowledge of CUC so I don’t feel a burden of proof at all. Second, I am only responsible for my own teaching, doctrine and practice. I am a history professor and I try to be fair to every subject about which I teach, even Karl Marx. However I make no apologies for being Lutheran at CU-NE. When I teach the Reformation I present the late medieval and “Catholic” position very accurately and fairly, but my students know where I stand. I compare Luther’s positions with other Reformers and the Anabaptists. When I teach about Islam I present their ideas fairly and as accurately as possible, however I also compare and contrast Islam with Lutheran Christianity.

    My point was that we can have numerous majors (theology, business, science, math, music, etc.) that are not specifically about training teachers and preachers. To suggest that we should return to some golden age when the Concordias were just parochial teachers’ schools is naive. Our college simply would not stay in business. Also it denies the doctrine of vocation to suggest that we could not teach these other fields well. Every course doesn’t need to be like Bible class or have a theological topic to remain Lutheran.

  16. Dr. Phillips,

    I am glad to hear that you teach history with an eye toward presenting the truth of Christian and Lutheran confessional dogma. Thank you for doing that. I am thankful for the several professors I had at Concordia who did that same thing when I was a Bulldog. (You and I not only have St. Louis U in common but also Concordia, Seward.)

    But, why do you say it is naive to return to Concordias that are just turning out teachers and preachers? (BTW – I only propose this if we prove that we cannot manage a larger liberal arts college, which we are demonstrating we have a hard time doing at CUC.) You suggest that it is economically impossible. What would Jesus say to this? Would he be happy that we make decisions in the church based on the availability of cash? On a different tack, do you realize how much the LCMS is raising in the Ablaze program? Have you done the math to figure out how many church workers that would train? I think your position may be the naive one, to think that neither God nor the LCMS is capable of funding our church workers.

    I am a big proponent of the doctrine of vocation but your point does not stand the test of reason. The doctrine of vocation is important for the church to uphold but it does not trump the more fundamental doctrine that we are to oversee the teaching of the faith in the church. We have no doctrine of vocation if we cannot supervise doctrine in general. To put it another way, it is wrong for us to widen our scope in our universities if we cannot control what is taught and confessed by our teachers. The burden of proof is on you to show that we can do this. That is why I hold you accountble as a professor of a Concordia to speak out and call for these professors to recant their support for this pagan and godless ideology. For you, a Concordia professor to do this will mean much more than for me, a pastor in the field to do such. If we can get these professors to recant, we will have taken a huge step toward proving that we can properly oversee doctrine in a large liberal arts college. If Dr. Johnson chooses not to do this, your point becomes much less tenable.

    Pastor Rossow

  17. I seriously doubt Ablaze money could fund CU-NE and definitely not 10 colleges/universities. I wish it could, but I doubt it. Simply because some professors at CUC make a few bad decisions does not negate the fact that we can have a Lutheran liberal arts university. I may be wrong but isn’t that a non sequitur.

    We must use reason to make decisions concerning the proper use of funds. That is in no way limiting God. Frankly, I have no idea what Jesus would say about it and neither do you. We are free to have a business or science program. It is god-pleasing as long as it is done in faith. I did not suggest that this should be done at the expense of the preaching/teacher programs. My point is that it would be very difficult to fund a teacher/preacher college without other programs or significant donor support or both.

    Finally, hold me accountable all you want. I’ve stated that they made poor decisions and that it bothers me that they signed the petition. I don’t know the particulars of their contracts and I have no authority to do anything about it. I don’t have the time or money to start a crusade against them. If that makes me a sinner, I repent.

    I suggest that you encourage every confessional Lutheran youngster to attend CU-NE.

  18. Dr. Phillips,

    You are correct about several points in your last comment. First let me apologize for my silly comment about what would Jesus do. I do know what Jesus would do about this struggle over supervision but I do not know what Jesus would say about a liberal arts college. I should have been more clear. Thank you for your gentle rebuke.

    You are also correct that CUNE is a safer place than CUC but that is probably just because there is a larger populace in Chicago and a greater temptation to broaden the program beyond the ability to supervise in a Christ-like manner. I fear that if the administration of CUNE were in Chicago they would do the same thing. Hopefully I am wrong.

    Here is what irritated me enough about your first comment (on the other string) to go overboard in my last comment. When you said that you personally felt that Ayers should be in jail for what he has done and yet you were torn thinking that they might have academic freedom to sign any petition that they choose. To me that shows how the culture has gotten into our heads. We have been affected by the culture to the point that we think that there is some sort of freedom that trumps our common sense trust in God’s word. Thank you for clarifying again that poor decisions have been made at CU. I wish the president of that university would agree with you on that.

    Thanks again for your input. The brothers of John the Steadfast are better for it.

    Pastor Rossow

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