This blog is privileged to be featuring the following guest post by former Cedarville Professor, Ruth Lowrie Markham, Ed.D
I have been a licensed/certified School Psychologist since 1982. I have primarily worked in the public schools, but over the years have also worked with Christian schools, parochial schools, homeschoolers, and overseas with MKs. I started teaching adjunct at CU in 2003, when I was working part-time in public schools. I was hired as tenure track full-time faculty in the summer of 2011. I felt comfortable with where the school was heading under Dr. Brown’s administration, and I felt very comfortable with my department (psychology). I was aware of prior rumblings and tensions among board and faculty in some departments, most of which I categorized in my head as the typical issues that plague every Christian institution at times as they struggle with changes.
The year I began there were about 23 of us that started as new faculty. I felt very supported by the university and my department, but by the time I left six years later, there were fewer than 10 left of that group. It was confusing and intimidating as the rules and standards changed throughout my time there. I started with biblical integration classes for new faculty, led by an esteemed professor in the Bible Department. This was to help us complete our biblical integration papers, which was required of all faculty. In that class, this professor was very encouraging about integrating my faith within such a field (as psychology). A year and a half later, Dr. White had come to Cedarville and I was working on my paper in preparation for my first tenure review. I happened to pass this esteemed professor walking from chapel one day, and thanked him for his instruction in that class as I worked on my paper. He stopped me, faced me, and directly told me, “Forget everything I ever told you about biblical integration. Those ideas are no longer welcome here.”
I began hearing that even the term “integration” was suspect. That word was interpreted to mean that secular and sacred ideas were all jumbled together, and had equal value in instruction, which of course would mean that the Bible was not held in higher regard than textbooks. That is not at all how I had been taught, or how I had used the term. I had understood it to mean that we can’t entirely separate the sacred and secular, nor should we. All that we are and study and experience in life is understood through the lens of God’s word. While I was trying to have students understand how God’s truths could be observed even in our discussions of child development theories, I began to see that what was wanted was “devotions” at the beginning of class. Or perhaps some verses quoted to show how an entire area of study could be thrown out.
The first year of White’s administration, we jokingly referred to as the “year of the disinvite.” Speakers and conferences that had been scheduled were cancelled and disinvited. This was scary for some, as at least one of the speakers who was disinvited was the author of a textbook that was used in class. And that was a genuine fear; was this prof going to get in trouble for using a textbook by an unapproved author? For me, the saddest disinvite was when the historically black university (CSU), a couple miles down the road, whose choir had been singing in Cedarville’s chapel service for Martin Luther King day for several years, was told they were not welcome, because they didn’t have doctrinal similarities to Cedarville’s. One of the professors in the education department had worked for years to build up a relationship with Central State University. The head of the School of Education at CSU was a woman, who was also an ordained pastor. She was not allowed to come speak to Cedarville’s students, though the request could be made if she were to write out her testimony and give a doctrinal statement. The CU professor would not demean her by asking that of her. The year prior to White’s coming, Cedarville had hosted a joint Diversity Conference on Education with CSU, with over 900 attendees. The chair of the education department at CU spoke to White, to try to develop some understanding of how this relationship had taken years to build and was so beneficial for our students. White took no notice of those appeals, and the joint relationship with CSU was stopped. Dr. White would make statements in chapel and meetings that he wanted Cedarville to look like heaven will look someday. Each time, all I could think was, “Well, if heaven is primarily filled with white Baptists, then I guess we’re good.”
That first year, another change that took place was in the doctrinal statement. At first, Dr. White was not going to share with us the changes that were coming until after the board approved them (even though agreement with the doctrinal statement is mandatory for employment, and he was going to change it without letting us know what the changes were). I asked in a faculty meeting if we could see the changes, and first he said that we couldn’t because it wasn’t ready, then he said that he only had the one copy and didn’t have a way to share it. After several more questions, he said he would have copies available in his office with his secretary and we could get one there, but we were not to share it. There were a few tweaks here and there, such as in the statement about the Holy Spirit. One addition, the word “sufficient,” was added to the first point. This was a red flag for some of us, as the term “sufficiency of scripture” is often used to explain that the field of psychology is unnecessary and unbiblical (with which, of course, I do not agree). When I asked Dr. White why it was necessary to add that word, when it was troublesome to some of us, he explained that the board wanted it in there. When I asked him if he could just ask them to leave it out, he finally stated that he wanted it in there as well.
One of my great delights while I was there was spending time with students. I loved the advising aspect of my role. The fall of Dr. White’s first year, he had his wife, Joy, teach a class through the Bible department, which was cross listed with the psychology department. This was not a new class, but it was Joy White’s first year teaching it. The class was Counseling and Mentoring Women, and several of our female psychology majors were enrolled. The class met once a week in the evening, and within several weeks I ended up having several of the students in my office each week the day following that class. Sometimes they would be in tears, sometimes they would be mad, often they were confused and frustrated. The primary issue was how openly the field of psychology was criticized, with scripture used as a weapon. These were godly young women who desired to minister to women in the future, and who had chosen their major carefully with a desire to pursue graduate studies and licensure. Now they felt their career goals and their spirituality were under attack. They asked, “Why would she speak this to us, knowing this is our major?”
At one faculty/staff meeting in January of 2014, Dr. White put on the overhead a letter he had received from a parent. The parent was greatly distressed that their child, whom they had sent to Cedarville as a strong believer, had come to believe in some form of evolution (or had in some other way strayed from the exact belief system that had been taught to them as a child). Dr. White was very upset about this letter, and stated strongly that he never wanted to receive another letter like this ever again. His scolding of the faculty seemed to me to reveal an obvious lack of understanding of what late adolescence looks like; how typical students of college age wrestle with different ideas and theories and identities, in their growing pains of becoming mature adults. Even godly, discerning young people, can struggle with the intricacies of their faith, and come out the other end more grounded and steadfast in their beliefs. But if you were to judge them (or their teachers) by their thoughts and questions half way through the process, you might be doing all involved a disservice. He also ignored the reality that these were young adults, who had volition and independent thought. They didn’t all start out at the same point, spiritually, emotionally, or academically, and they certainly didn’t all end up at the same point. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen even at military academies. There was such a strong negative reaction to his sharing of this letter, that he later apologized (kind of) and explained his thinking, through the FCP communication.
When the Phil 4:8 policy was enacted by Reno, great confusion and fear was the result. It happened at the same time that we were expanding our online education to high school students. I only had a couple high school students in my classes, but as I primarily taught higher level classes, it concerned me that they might not be prepared for the content or level of academics. For one of my colleagues, they were concerned enough about avoiding complaints from parents that they completely took out some sections of information that were previously included. I do not judge them, as they are single and more in need of gaining tenure than I was.
My primary goal in teaching and advising students was to help them grow as adults who love God with their whole hearts, and serve Him with their whole lives. But as they (and/or their parents) were also paying for a university level education, I also had as a goal to prepare them for a career, which often meant graduate school. How unprepared would our students have been if they had not been taught all of the major relevant theories and theorists in the field of psychology?
I worked my way through the tenure process with progress noted each time. At each step, two-year, four-year, and six-year tenure reviews, I was given unanimous approval from my department, and then from the university faculty tenure committee at the final review. The next to last step was a required interview by the Academic Vice President (AVP), who had just that year been appointed by Dr. White. Dr. White had promised the faculty some input about this decision, but then went ahead and appointed Loren Reno without input or approval from faculty. The last step would be an interview with the board of trustees, but that only happens if you are approved for tenure by White/AVP.
When I scheduled my interview with Reno’s administrative assistant, she said it usually only took about 15-20 minutes. My interview with Reno lasted three hours, across two different days. He took notes vigorously throughout, but encouraged me at the beginning not to worry, as he wasn’t just going to write down bad things about me. He asked specific questions in areas that were likely to be problematic. For example, he asked what my views were on complementarianism. I shared that I preferred to use the words that scripture uses. If he was asking about my views on submission in marriage, those are the words that are used in the New Testament and I was in agreement with that. I also pointed out that submission will look different in different marriages, and he seemed to agree with that. We talked about a lot of issues, including my views on integration. He noted that in the letters of recommendation that were included in my tenure portfolio, there was no mention of biblical integration. I had no answer for that, though his comment bothered me enough that I went back and looked at my student evaluations and noted that for most of my classes I was rated higher than the university average for, “Integrates scriptural and theological principles in a way that is not strained or artificial,” and for, “Encourages my growth in Christian character.” Reno asked how I handled the “disgusting or ugly parts” of psychology (his words). I asked him to explain. He referenced Freud’s theories. I explained that while we did not have to agree with Freud’s interpretations of the significance of events in a child’s life, it is worth noting that he, even as a non-believer, stumbled on some truths when it came to his observation of children. Reno did not like this at all, and did not understand how I could find anything redeeming in anything Freud wrote.
Since I had probably already burned my bridges, I continued. I shared that most of the theorists addressing child development were not believers, but we observe that there is truth in their theories. For example, in my years of experience as a school psychologist, one of the most common referrals I received almost every year, had to do with kindergarten children who masturbated in the classroom. This is quite common (ask any kindergarten teacher with more than a couple years of experience). Parents tend to be embarrassed while teachers tend to be frustrated, but both would like to know how to address the behavior. I was pointing out that at least a part of Freud’s theory of psychosexual development was observable by me in the schools, but Reno’s response of an audible gasp and a red face let me know that we were not on the same page. I thought we were having a professional discussion about how I observe behaviors in real children, which look an awful lot like the theories I have read about in textbooks. But there was nothing professional about Reno’s response. We quickly moved on, and honestly, I don’t remember all that we talked about in those three hours. I do know that he asked about my personal life and difficulties I had experienced with my first husband’s significant illness, disability, and eventual death. I shared how the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life is how I found the strength each day to keep moving; how God’s mercies were new to me each morning, and I understood it better at that time. He sounded genuinely sympathetic with what I went through, but later told someone I didn’t understand the working of the Holy Spirit.
After the interview, which was in December, I heard nothing until well into January 2017. The chair of my department called me into his office and shared a letter from Reno stating that I would not be granted tenure. There was no explanation. When I asked for an explanation, my chair shared that he and the chair of the university tenure committee together met with Reno to argue for my case, but he would not be persuaded. My chair also shared that he was forbidden from telling me what was said in that meeting.
My chair asked for my description of my interview with Reno. When I went over as much detail as I could remember, he stated that this was not at all the meeting that was described by Reno. There were enough similarities in our stories that he could tell we were both there, but Reno’s interpretation of what I said, and my interpretation of what I was saying were totally at odds.
I remember feeling so frustrated that this one interview with one man stopped everything, and I had no recourse. I asked my department chair for advice/permission to speak to Dr. White about this, which he encouraged me to do. I had to ask multiple times before White would consent to talk to me. When he did agree, his first suggestion (which came from his secretary) was to meet him at the front of the auditorium after chapel one day. I said that would not work for me and asked to meet him in my office or his. He finally agreed to meet me in his office. He was cold and unresponsive throughout our meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. I shared my frustration at receiving a green light at each step of the tenure process until one interview, where it was one man’s word against mine, but I wasn’t even allowed to say my part. I suggested that in the future, for other faculty, it might be better to have another individual in with the interview. White stated that he would never allow that. When I asked what the board would be told, or what evidence would be given for those of us who were denied tenure, he said that they would only be given a list of names of those who were denied tenure – basically a thumbs up or thumbs down (his words). I pushed him on this point and he insisted that all they would receive was a list of names who were denied tenure.
Several weeks later, at a town hall meeting with faculty, one individual who was on the tenure committee asked Reno why so many faculty who had been approved by the university tenure committee had been denied tenure by him. He stated that the board received a full packet of information on each faculty member who was up for tenure and they voted on them with that information. I raised my hand and stated that Dr. White (who was also in attendance) told me directly that the board of trustees would only receive a list of names of those who were not approved for tenure. Reno said that, no, that wasn’t correct, they had a whole portfolio of information on each individual who was up for tenure. I addressed Dr. White at that time and stated, “That’s not what you said to me.” He stood up and said, “I’m putting a stop to this right now.” I sat down and shut up, which is what I think he wanted all along.
I am in a good place now. I am back doing what I have loved for almost 40 years now, practicing school psychology in the schools. I am in a good marriage, and have good relationships with my children and friends. We are involved in a strong church which feeds us spiritually, and cares for us well. Why would I want to speak out now? I am speaking out because I remember what it felt like to have fear all the time about what I was or wasn’t saying or doing. The great delight I felt in my first two years of teaching at Cedarville, was eclipsed by the heavy burdens imposed by White and Reno in my last four years. The ever-changing rules, reorganizations, and increasing scrutiny, sucked the joy out of my time there. When the news of who had not made tenure trickled out, my office was regularly filled with colleagues in tears about my departure, or their impending departure, or just their total disgust with how things were going. I heard more than one faculty member (who are still there – hanging on for retirement or for their child’s graduation) proclaim, “I hate this place!” But the truth is that they don’t hate it. They love it, or they would not have signed up in the first place. What they hate is what came in with the change in the trustee board and White’s administration (including Reno). I am also speaking out for those who are still there and feel they have no voice. I have multiple friends who would like to speak up, but feel they can’t if they have even a distant relative still working there.
I also know that I am not speaking for everyone. This is my story, but it doesn’t fit everyone who has or still works there. There was one faculty meeting when one individual stood up and said, “Dr. White, I just want you to know that we as faculty love you, and are so glad you are here.” I believe that person received an appropriate reprimand after from multiple faculty members who said, “Don’t ever speak for me! That is not how I feel!” So I don’t speak for all. But I speak for myself, and for many who are like me.