Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Another reason to be pissed at my alma mater
Wheaton's administration just keeps getting more and more narrow, draconian, and legalistic. When I was a student they were busy kicking out both the modernist and the postmodernist profs. Then, after I left, they started pushing out the charismatics and the Catholics. Now they've fired a professor for getting a divorce.

Of course, they don't fire all divorced professors, just the ones who refuse to talk about the circumstances of their divorce with their employers. According to Kent Gramm, the English prof who was recently fired:
"I think it's wrong to have to discuss your personal life with your employer," he said, "and I also don't want to be in a position of accusing my spouse, so I declined to appeal or discuss the matter in any way with my employer."
I agree with Gramm. Wheaton's actions here are completely out of line in my opinion. Yes, divorce is condemned in scripture (except for a few reasons), but that doesn't somehow give Wheaton the right to fire someone over it. They are not an ecclesiastical authority, they are a school. Gramm is not their spiritual subordinate, he is their employee. This is absolutely none of their business.

What saddens me the most about this is the attitude of legalism and lack of grace that this displays. Is this really what a Christian institution like Wheaton wants to be known for? This story was the headline in the Metro section of the Chicago Tribune the other day. This is what people are seeing of the college. And it reflects badly on all of us, both current students as well as alumni like myself, not to mention on Christians in general.

I can only hope that as Dr. Litfin, the current president of Wheaton College, rapidly approaches retirement, that perhaps things will start to turn around under a new administration.
posted by Mike Clawson at 5:06 PM | Permalink |


At 4/30/2008 07:41:00 PM, Blogger Natalie

Hmmm, as for Dr. Litfin retiring, when I was as Wheaton (just a couple of years ago), I heard that Wheaton likes to keep the presidents more on the conservative/traditional side in order to provide a balance to all those forward-thinking progressive professors :) This way, Wheaton could avoid the "slippery slope" of becoming a school that simply has Christian roots...

BTW when I started my job, I was seriously relieved when hardly anyone at work had heard of Wheaton College. That way, I could build relationships without their having any negative, preconceived ideas about who I am. Don't get me wrong, I had an amazing, life-changing time there, but isn't that sad?


At 4/30/2008 11:40:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

That is sad Natalie. I remember when my wife and I were just out of grad school and candidated with an evangelical mission agency, and they were concerned that because we were Wheaties that we'd be too conservative for them!


At 5/01/2008 11:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

The Gramm situation is sad, all the way around.

Not that Wheaton was ever anything but conservative, but my impression is that Wheaton has taken a noticeably more conservative swing under Litfin. His predecessor, J. Richard Chase, was more moderate and more of an academic - I graduated in the last year of Chase's administration and I think the Wheaton I experienced was more broad-minded in some ways than the Wheaton that students have experienced under Litfin.

The word around campus was that Litfin was brought in to arrest and reverse the "liberal drift" that some trustees and alums felt had occurred under the Chase administration. There was a big hubbub and controversy among many in the faculty over his hiring. Since then, I've been impressed with Litfin in some areas, sadly disappointed in many others.


At 5/01/2008 11:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Had Gramm for a few classes. Good guy. This is sad.
Wheaton's been sending me copies of the alumni survey for over a year. Now I'm never going to fill it out :)


At 5/02/2008 11:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

So here is my question when things like this happen, What is Wheaton's policy?

I'm assuming professors at Wheaton sign a contract and in that contract there was some language about divorce. I would imagine this professor has determined he does not want to agree to the contract. Att all costs - even losing his position.

The issue is - I would hope that the relationships at Wheaton between faculty, staff, and administration are such that HE ABSOLUTELY could talk about it! The lack of authenticity there is mind boggling. It's not new, but if he can't and won't talk about it there is something desperately WRONG at Wheaton!


At 5/02/2008 03:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

I don't know much about Wheaton but I would hope that any Christian college worthy the name "Christian" would not think of the faculty and staff as mere "employees." I would hope that the atmosphere on campus would be that of a genuine Christian community and not just people being paid to teach other people. And in light of that, I totally disagree with what Prof. Gramm said about marriage/divorce being "personal." Granted, there are aspects to marriage that are personal, but there are also many aspects to marriage that are public. So I see nothing wrong with brothers and sisters in Christ holding each other accountable in every area of their lives, including marriage. Insofar as the faculty and administration at a Christian college are brothers and sisters in Christ, I see nothing wrong with "employees" being asked about marriages, divorces, etc.

However, the fact that Prof. Gramm doesn't see it this way suggests that Wheaton has failed to promote this kind of atmosphere on campus. If he sees Wheaton as merely his "employer" and himself as merely an employee, then Wheaton has cultivate a different atmosphere on campus.


At 5/02/2008 05:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"I would hope that the atmosphere on campus would be that of a genuine Christian community and not just people being paid to teach other people."

If that were the case then Wheaton's actions are even more reprehensible. What kind of community throws it's members under the bus right when they are most vulnerable and everything else in their life is already falling apart?

Oh yeah... the church.


At 5/03/2008 03:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Exactly. The whole situation is messed up - both Wheaton and Gramm are wrong.


At 5/03/2008 09:32:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I don't think Gramm is wrong for not wanting to trust the details of his personal life to an institution that is proving itself to be inherently untrustworthy.


At 5/05/2008 09:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

If you re-read my first comment, you will see that that is not what I think he is wrong about.


At 5/12/2008 01:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Mike, I thought you might be interested to see Alan Jacobs' thoughts on the Gramm situation, posted on the First Things blog here:

And some follow-up interaction with readers at The American Scene, here:


At 5/12/2008 05:16:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks for the links Karl. I've posted my reactions to Jacobs over at the second link. My gut reaction after reading his article is "God, I hope I never end up teaching at an institution like Wheaton!"

Not to mention I find the claim (by the administration, not by Jacobs) that they want good mentors to be very hypocritical. They say this, and yet they place very high publishing demands on their professors, and expect them to maintain a full course load. (And push out profs who can't keep up the pace.) If mentorship is really their top concern, they should back off on their obsession with academic prestige. Given all the demands they are putting on their profs, it's a wonder more marriages aren't falling apart.

Besides which, I still don't think Gramm is wrong for not trusting an administration that has shown itself time and again over the past decade and more that it is inherently untrustworthy.


At 5/13/2008 09:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Alan replied to your comment.

I tend to agree with his First Things piece, judging Wheaton a little less harshly than you - no surprise to you I'm sure. And that is even with personal knowledge of other professors and friends who have been treated in ways that I feel were less than fair by Wheaton - situations which did really anger me. That doesn't mean I'm totally comfortable with the Gramm situation, or that I blame Gramm for making the decision he did.