Wisdom does not necessarily come with age.
Two of Michigan's oldest academic institutions are showing nothing but stubbornness when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Rather than endorse healthy academic debate, Hope College of Holland, Michigan and Calvin College of Grand Rapids, Michigan--my home state--are playing 'hear-no-evil-see-no-evil,' when it comes to exploring viewpoints that may differ from the established.
Calvin College--a Christian Reformed Church institution--this week declined to review a memo barring instructors from speaking positively about LGBT issues, despite a faculty vote of 36-4 demanding the administration withdraw the memo for the sake of academic integrity and out of concern for censorship.
Meanwhile down in Holland, Hope College is saying "Thanks, but no thanks," to the opportunity to host a brilliant Academy Award-winning screenwriter at their school--because he is gay. Hope College has put the kabosh on plans to have Oscar-winning Milk writer Dustin Lance Black take part in a round-table discussion of homosexuality and Christianity--a presumably appropriate topic for a Christian academic institution and seminary in charge of creating the future spiritual leaders of the Reformed Church in America.
These aren't tiny, unaccredited bible colleges, either. Hope and Calvin are two of the nation's leading Christian colleges, known across America as bastions of academic excellence and scholarly integrity. When I was in high school, if you were a smart kid and you didn't get into Hope, Calvin, Albion or Kalamazoo, and you weren't going to Ivy League, then your fallback was University of Michigan or Northwestern. They're that good.
The issue here is extra sensitive as nearby Kalamazoo--where my sister attends school in Michigan's top undergraduate program at Kalamazoo College--prepares to fight a discriminatory effort to reverse its newly enacted trans-inclusive LGBT non-discrimination ordinance in six days. In the middle of this fray, Kalamazoo College, founded by the American Baptists, is taking a much different route than Hope and Calvin. Kalamazoo college students have been actively involved in College-endorsed LGBT advocacy for years, and the institution has welcomed the debate to campus with speakers, events and discussion of all kind regarding the topic of human sexuality.
Calvin and Hope are cowardly abdicating their duties as institutions of knowledge during this crucial time of debate in southwestern Michigan. Rather than participate in the ongoing conversation in the community, and help lead in the way that academic institutions are expected to, the two colleges are opting out.
They don't call it an 'ivory tower' for nothin'.
When I went to college as a slightly less prestigious Michigan institution (Playboy magazine rated Central Michigan University the number one college in America for a one night stand my freshman year, and we've consistently traded the one and two spots with Michigan State University as the number one party school in Michigan), I knew many very intelligent folk at these schools who were passionate in their pursuit of knowledge, but fearful of being penalized because of their sexual orientation. What's odd is that all these years out, this is still the case, despite giant leaps and bounds in society at large. Maybe the archaic laws remain untouched because the college administrations refuse to acknowledge that a debate even exists.
Calvin's own faculty are eager to take part in this discussion, but their employer is saying 'no' to intelligent debate. Likewise, Hope's students are clamoring to bring Dustin Lance Black--in town filming his next motion picture--so they can explore all sides of the debate on LGBT inclusion in Christianity, and come to a more sound decision, rather than blindly accept a hollow declaration. Again, academic debate is silenced. Hope is reluctantly considering allowing the boundlessly talented Oscar-winning Lance Black to address the screenwriting class about the craft, but that would be the extent of it.
The process of screenwriting, in and of itself, is about as controversial as the subject of plucking one's eyebrows. In most circles in our civilization its pretty much a non-issue.
By avoiding controversy in their mother churches, these academic institutions are giving up their role as bastions of knowledge and opting to become nothing more than museums of dead ideals. Who on earth would want to attend an institution stuck in a rut with no chance of progressing forward? This is the time for southwest Michigan to have this debate; not a decade from now when the Board of Trustees will be less uncomfortable with the idea.
By then we will be well past this election where the rights of thousands of Michigan residents to simply live their lives is up for majority approval. By then few seekers of knowledge will see any reason to attend an institution that would rather run and hide from progress than participate in a very relevant public discourse.
By then there might be no students left attending to celebrate the lifting of the veil.