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I am employed by Houston Baptist University. We are working hard to respond to a gigantic cultural need for strong universities that can offer a distinctively Christian education. You can read our vision for the next 10-12 years here. I just returned from giving a lecture at Union University which is obviously making tremendous strides and is also completely committed to integration rather than offering a commodity called “education” in a Christian environment.

There are several others working in a similar way. What we all experience to varying degrees is financial scarcity. At the best universities, faculty teach one or two courses a semester and have ample time for research and publication. At our schools, professors teach four courses each semester. We simply can’t afford to have them teaching less. Thus, it is more difficult for our faculty members to get work into the journals and publish books at a rate equivalent to what can be done in state schools and wealthier privates. At the same time, a survey of endowments proves depressing. Even our best universities run far behind many secular institutions. Finally, we battle for students with a massive state subsidized system. It requires a real gut check for parents and/or students to pay $10-15 thousand dollars extra each year for a Christian education.

I bring this topic up at the evangelical blog for First Things in order to draw attention to the situation. Those of us represented here: Union, HBU, Biola, and others all need much more help from donors than we are currently getting.

The first and most important need is for scholarship dollars to offset the difference between state and private school tuition. We need to be like the old Catholic schools that made it affordable for a mailman like my grandfather to send all five of his kids to parochial school. “We’re less interested in your money than in your child.”

Second, while we don’t need to cut the teaching load of all of our professors — many of them are very happy being completely focused on teaching — we do need to reduce it for some of them. We have some potential publishing stars who need more time for research and writing. We need funded chairs and research centers to help pay for course releases so they can make a greater cultural contribution through their speaking and publications. I suspect few donors realize how much more valuable it would be to fund centers at universities than to pay for stand-alone think tanks (generally speaking). When you fund a center at a university, the fixed costs are often already there in terms of offices, utilities, etc. and you really only need to pay for the time spent on research by professors and maybe some public events. And you don’t only get their research activity. They are instructing students on a regular basis. There is never a time when they are idle.

I wrote about the secularization of Christian universities in The End of Secularism. A big part of the problem was the financial scarcity I’m talking about. Part of it was bad judgment in hiring and a misunderstanding about how to keep a school Christian, but the other part was financial scarcity and secular donors willing and able to make the kind of offers that bid schools away from their church ties. We have learned a great deal about how to have better judgment, but we continue to fight the financial battle.

Just thinking out loud a bit, but I hope the word gets out, especially among the donor community. Love to have others here at the blog give their thoughts on the situation.

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