From Abilene Christian University in Texas to Zion Bible College in Massachusetts: For this survey, FIRST THINGS began by collecting information on 2063 colleges and universities in America. It was mounds and mounds of material, starting with previously published college guides, information the schools make publicly available, and government-collected data on attendance, graduation rates, etc. We followed up with our own student polling and systematic conversations with students, graduates, faculty, and chaplains--and followed that up with our most trusted resource: the subjective judgment of the extended network of FIRST THINGS friends and colleagues who teach at many of these schools. (See page 45 for technical information.) After generating our lists, we wrote up these descriptions of more than a hundred schools, representing different ranges and types of schools, to cast a light on the place of religion--or lack thereof--on American college campuses today.
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 27.9, SOCIAL 31.3, RELIGIOUS 16.4
Established by Congress in 1893, American University quickly became a creature of the Protestant establishment, staffed and funded primarily by Methodists. The Kay Spiritual Life Center houses the campus ministry, and the university chaplain says its "ethic of hospitality" must extend "beyond the borders of organized religion." Groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ are not encouraged.
American's faculty is typical of second-tier secular universities, which means a rhetoric of inclusion largely dismissive of faith. As one student tells us: "Most of my professors have, during the course of their classes, made snide comments about Catholicism. I find this remarkable, as all my classes have nothing whatsoever to do with religion."
Campus life follows the usual pattern of late adolescent hedonism. Students don't study all that hard, leaving time for parties, hookups, and beer-soaked evenings. Overall, not much to offer a student of faith: neither academically excellent nor supportive of religious commitment.
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 44.0, SOCIAL 31.2, RELIGIOUS 9.7
One of the so-called Little Ivies, Amherst offers the typical profile of an elite East Coast liberal-arts college: earnestness approaching piety with respect to social liberalism, combined with the sensible hedonism of upper middle-class youth on their way to professional careers. The image of students launching an initiative to recycle condoms--"sustainable safe sex"--is only slightly fantastical. Needless to say, any historical links to Christianity disappeared long ago.
Recusant life at Amherst is possible. FIRST THINGS board member Hadley Arkes teaches political science, offering incisive criticisms of the complacent establishment that dominates the school.
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 24.0, SOCIAL 48.3, RELIGIOUS 38.9
Founded in 1890 and later renamed in honor of the father of American Methodism, Asbury's bylaws bind the school to the doctrinal standards of John Wesley and his first successors. But it is independent of any denomination and doesn't take government funding.
The majority of students are evangelical Protestants and chose Asbury because of their faith. They report that their peers are "strongly religious." Drinking and dancing are prohibited, under threat of expulsion. Although "there is definitely a minority that goes [over to the nearby campus of] the University of Kentucky to party quite often, the average Asburian doesn't party or have sex in the typical college manner," a freshman reports. Another student says that that she has "met one person who admitted to smoking and heard of one person who drinks alcohol on campus." As for the classroom, a student observes, "Deviation from traditional / orthodox religious views is occasionally discussed, but frowned upon by most students at Asbury."
For many, the college provides a wholesome environment, serious about Christianity and removed from the drinking and hookup culture. Prospective students should not expect much for faiths outside the evangelical mold.
AVE MARIA UNIVERSITY
Ave Maria, Florida
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 35.7, SOCIAL 28.9, RELIGIOUS 46.3
Founded in 2003 by Tom Monaghan, the Domino s Pizza tycoon, as a faithfully Catholic university, Ave Maria moved from suburban Michigan to its new home in Florida in 2007. Although still small, Ave Maria is intended as an experiment in resurrecting the medieval ideal of the symbiosis of university and town. The modern oratory serves as the center of activity, and future residential developments are planned to be Catholic-friendly, as Monaghan and his associates maintain a monopoly over real estate. Ave Maria made headlines in 2009, and aroused the ire of Planned Parenthood of Collier County, when a grocery store near the university refused to sell prophylactics.
Not surprisingly, Ave Maria students are very religious and selected Ave Maria because of their Catholic identity. Students say faith on campus is vibrant and that the university "provides students with the opportunity to express its faith in all that they do," with Mass "paramount to campus life." Students also report that faith is never forced on students, and some come to campus without strong faith, but faith invariably "becomes a part of every student's life."
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 34.6, SOCIAL 35.1, RELIGIOUS 6.3
Still technically affiliated with the Episcopal Church, Bard was ranked by the Princeton Review as the second-most liberal college in the United States--the school that "puts the 'liberal' in 'liberal arts.'" Atheism and agnosticism seem the dominant faiths. "The lack of religion on campus possibly reflects a strong presence of my religious tradition" of atheism, writes one recent graduate. While our research suggests that Bard's faculty (who insist on being called by their first names) tend to keep classes depoliticized, students overwhelmingly agree that teachers do not take religious views seriously. One sophomore declares that "nobody gives a %#@! about a religious perspective in a classroom."
The undergraduates match the faculty. One student reports an "open and accepting environment" in which "all religions are strongly represented and celebrated," but with this proviso: "if there are students who are interested in them." Another student remarks, "We tend to bond over our distaste for irrational beliefs and supernatural explanations for natural occurrences."
Bard students reportedly study long hours--although one student claims the college draws "remarkably smart students who didn't like to work hard"--and are only "light partiers." Still, "alcohol and weed" are widely available, and there is "plenty of sex to be had." The administration, students report, is "openly supportive of safe sex," and students can live in dorms with members of the opposite sex.
Although New Testament scholar Bruce Chilton is associated with Bard, theologically trained faculty and the school's chaplain have no serious impact on campus life except to add occasional ceremonial gloss to campus events and the affirmation of causes.
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 33.0, SOCIAL 28.7, RELIGIOUS 13.6
Founded by New England abolitionists just before the Civil War, Bates College tracks the mentality of the East Coast establishment. Not surprisingly, these days the college warmly enthuses in the usual vocabulary of multicultural education as it champions its "inclusive social character and progressive tradition."
Thomas F. Tracy teaches religion at Bates, and he is capable of providing students with an introduction to classical Christian thought, but those students are not noticeably religious. A leader of the Secular Students Alliance complains that "it is difficult" even "for secular humanists to organize." An expensive college without much to offer a student hoping to integrate faith and learning.
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 30.2, SOCIAL 33.6, RELIGIOUS 33.8
Established in 1845, Baylor set out in recent decades to become a national player. The Baptist university has established new professorships and programs in an effort to exercise national leadership among Christian colleges and universities. A number of faculty make notable contributions to the renewal of Christian intellectual life. In theology: Ralph Wood. In philosophy: Francis Beckwith, C. Stephen Evans, and Scott Moore. In literary studies: David Lyle Jeffrey and Stephen Prickett. Under the leadership of Thomas Hibbs, the Honors College provides a rigorous Great Texts curriculum.
At Baylor, as elsewhere in Texas, students are comfortable combining piety with the usual array of American undergraduate enthusiasms, especially football and fraternities. The campus tends to be religious by default. Some faculty are aggressive secularists as only secularists in Texas can be, but mostly it's still the place where the Texas Baptist Establishment goes to college.
Still, one recent graduate reports, "Honestly, it's less fundamentalist than where I go to grad school (UC Berkeley)." There are opportunities for a superb Christian education, but one can just as easily float through four years without one. The new president (see page 62) has much to work with, but work--and hard work--it will be.
BELMONT ABBEY COLLEGE
Belmont, North Carolina
FT RATING: ACADEMIC 22.8, SOCIAL 34.8, RELIGIOUS 37.6
An exciting school on the rise--but not there yet. Founded in 1876 by the Benedictine monks whose monastery still sits on the campus and who still fund the school, Belmont Abbey recently became famous when it resisted a ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it discriminated against women because it did not include contraceptives in its employee health insurance.
Some at Baylor are aggressive secularists as only...