Robert C. Andringa, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, announced Monday that he would retire next year, after 12 years in office.
Andringa has led the Christian college group at a time of enormous enrollment growth for many of its institutions -- and he's played an influential role in Washington helping colleges (the vast majority of them secular) on a range of issues.
Lobbyists say that Andringa's organization gives him clout with lawmakers who aren't always receptive to other higher education leaders, and he has used that clout to promote student aid issues and to encourage Christian colleges to play more of a role pushing Congress to assist low-income students.
Andringa has also been fighting to defeat the Academic Bill of Rights, a resolution before Congress and many state legislatures that calls for ideological balance on college faculties and that many academics believe would intrude on academic freedom.
"Bob has played a role far more influential than simply as a leader of his association," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. Hartle noted that Andringa's background on the staffs of members of Congress and governors gave him working relationships with a wide range of political leaders.
Andringa, in an interview Monday, said he was proud to have worked to get bipartisan support for measures important to colleges. "I believe that higher education has to remain bipartisan, so it saddens me deeply how partisan things are in Washington right now," he said.
He called the Academic Bill of Rights "a distraction that confuses the role of government," and said that he was working with lawmakers and others on a plan that might alleviate some of the tensions the proposal has raised. He declined to elaborate on that plan.
The increased enrollments of Christian colleges are likely to continue, Andringa predicted. "Our colleges are places where students go and feel less pressure to do things that they don't want to do," in terms of drinking, drugs and sex.
He also said a significant trend in recent years is that more of the graduates of his 176 member institutions are going on to get Ph.D.'s, making it easier for the colleges to find talent with both a scholarly background and shared religious values.
A number of Christian colleges are facing debates over academic freedom and civil rights, particularly with regard to gay issues. Andringa said that his member institutions were trying to balance commitment to respecting everyone with "honoring the positions of their denominations." All of those denominations currently would bar gay relationships.
While Andringa defended the right of his member institutions to have policies that punish gay activity, he said that a false impression is created that Christian colleges are focused on policing gay people. He said that in terms of sexual ethics, far more students and professors run afoul of campus rules for heterosexual affairs than do for gay relationships.
He acknowledged that there are some tensions over these issues, on which Christian colleges tend to differ from other institutions of higher education. But he added, "These are healthy debates to be having. We should not try to squelch them."