Book Review: Restoring the Soul of the University

Nov 13th, 2018 | Category: Book Reviews
By Ardelle L. Pate

Restoring the Soul of the University: Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age

by Paul L. Glanzer, Nathan F. Alleman and Todd C. Ream, 2017. Downers Grove, IL, Intervarsity Press.

ISBN (print) 978-0-8308-5161-4;
(digital) 978-0-8308-9163-4

For decades, Glanzer, Alleman, Ream and others have examined multiple facets of Christian higher education, delving into such aspects as the quest for purpose and a meaningful life; the pursuit of Christian and moral identity; and the contemporary meaning of faith and scholarship. A previous study in which Glanzer was involved found basic Christian identity of the institution as one of the most influential reasons why many students chose to attend that university (Davignon,  Glanzer, & Rine, 2013).

In Restoring the Soul of the University (2017), the authors have synthesized past and present research into this straight-forward approach to the historical perspective, with a focus on current challenges of Christian higher education. By posing one question, “Can the soul of the university be saved?” the authors’ aim is to explore what it means for the soul of the university to be saved in terms of sustainability for the future. The university’s soul not only relates to its central identity in regard to its ultimate moral ideals and the most fundamental identity—the story of Jesus Christ, but also connects to the pursuit of academic coherence and excellence without idolatry.

Instead of following the traditional university’s oneness of community, vision, and purpose, the multiversity (Kerr, 2001)  was one made up of many independent departments, each of which focused independently on research and a personal agenda, and all of which were held together only by the bond of the overarching name of the university. In other words, the modern multiversity had little or no connection to the a oneness of community, let alone a purpose and vision.

This must-read history is applicable for all constituencies who represent a university, including the communities of the undergraduate and graduate schools. The book focuses on the variety of audiences of Christians in the multiversity and those seeking to nurture and build coherent
Christian universities.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part looks at historical trends that led to the multiversity and the fragmentation of the university’s soul, specifically through the displacement of theology within the university and ending with the emergence of the American multiversity. Within this American history of the university lies the authors’ argument of how the university had at one time a single soul that gave it coherent unity, which “pertained to the overall vision of knowledge and its relationship to God” (Glanzer, Alleman & Ream, 2017, p. 28).

The second part examines the sources of and reasons for the fragmentation of the professors, curriculum, students, administrators, and athletics. Within this section, Glanzer, Alleman, and Ream see a fractured professor as one who views teaching in his institution as secondary to specialized scientific research. The fragmented multiversity occurs when different colleges of the multiversity function as silos with their own unique identities, narratives, and purposes. They also see a fractured curriculum occurring when curriculum is driven by student choice, not by coherence from professionals. The fragmented student body occurs when, due to size, staff are hired to take care of additional service and co-curricular tasks that faculty would not or could not perform. The fragmentation of the administrations results when an increased administrative class can no longer relate directly to individual faculty and students. Finally, the fragmented athletic arena becomes separated from the significant academic and moral forms of accountability and practice.

The third part describes a university with soul through a distinctly Christian perspective and offers suggestions as to how the Christian university can embrace different communities, create an academic greenhouse community that “nurtures what it means for students to grow as image bearers of God” (Glanzer, Alleman, & Ream, 2017, p. 222), and ultimately save the university’s soul. The authors’ perspective argues that restoring the soul of the university means incorporating more theology, while reimaging the academic vocation, the academic disciplines, the co-curricular offerings, and academic leadership. While the authors assert that most Christian higher education campuses have been fragmented to a point of compromising and losing part of their core identity, the authors extend hope by offering new paradigms on how to envision, create, and structure Christian universities and the academic vocation of a university with a soul.

     The undercurrent of academic conversations is currently peppered with implications of unrest and disagreement. Some derisive comments come from students, faculty and administrators, alumni, and others, but all speak to a deep longing for what the university should be. The authors resonate
this central concept:  we are made by God in God’s image and we must first know God if we are to truly know who we are and what the knowledge of the world is.

Personally, I began reflecting on my academic institution, secretly evaluating where it stood. Its life has ebbed and flowed in the past two decades in response to the time and culture. This book assured me that my Christian university was on the right future path toward individual freedom and institutional freedom and a more coherent approach to wisdom and learning. LEJ

References

Glanzer, P. L., Rine, J. & Davignon,P. (2013). Assessing the denominational identity of American evangelical colleges and universities, Part II: Faculty perspectives and practice. Christian Higher Education 12(4). 243-265.

Glanzer, P.L., Alleman, N.F., & Ream, T.C. (2017). Restoring the soul of the university: Unifying Christian education in a fragmented age. Downers Grove, IL: Intervaristy Press.

Kerr, C. (2001). The uses of the university. 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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