He Didn't Worship the Market

August 17, 2007

When Colorado Christian University notified Andrew Paquin, an assistant professor of global studies, that his contract would not be renewed, he knew that not being sufficiently guided by Christ wasn't the problem. But it might have been that he wasn't sufficiently capitalist.

"Throughout the process it became evident that the issue of capitalism, the use of a couple of different books were at the core" of President William L. Armstrong's "discomfort" with him, Paquin said. Those included works by animal-rights ethicist Peter Singer and Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and The Left Doesn't Get It. Once Paquin was notified that he couldn't continue on as a professor, students, faculty and alumni started petitions and contacted The Rocky Mountain News, which broke the story this week and sparked a torrent of anger on the blogosphere.

Of course, Paquin knew that he was a full-time professor at a private, religious institution that does not award tenure; Colorado Christian's statement of faith says, "We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God." But he didn't think his views or his teachings would conflict with the university's mission -- and besides, he'd been voted Faculty Member of the Year for 2006.

All that apparently changed when Armstrong became president a year ago and helped unveil a new set of strategic objectives, including to "[i]mpact our culture in support of traditional family values, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, Biblical view of human nature, limited government, personal freedom, free markets, natural law, original intent of constitution and Western civilization."

"It should be said that there are many on the campus … that might agree with some of those tenets but recognize that it reads very political and don't necessarily believe that it should be as part of the objective of our university. A university should be a place where things are kind of pulled apart and questioned and examined. So some of the things in that paragraph I might be inclined to agree with," Paquin said, but he doesn't "want to be held against the wall" and pressured to advance a certain agenda.

Armstrong, a former Republican senator from Colorado, vigorously defended the university's mission and says it is compatible with academic freedom. While he couldn't comment on the specifics of personnel issues, he said, "I certainly expect all members of our faculty to support" the strategic objectives.

"I guess I would say that all of us who are responsible for the leadership of the university have an interest in preserving academic freedom because it's our job to do so," he said, but he stressed that it must operate within certain constraints. Groups such as the American Association of University Professors maintain that tenure is necessary to preserve academic freedom.

Paquin, on the other hand, said that faculty members censor themselves to avoid a similar fate to his own. "The faculty at Colorado Christian are fairly powerless overall to the greater wishes and whims of the administration, and I think others if they could say so, they would say so," he said.

On issues like a commitment to free markets, Armstrong said, "We're very straightforward about our convictions." But he stressed that the commitment to capitalism doesn't necessarily come from the Bible. "We don't look to the Scriptures for justification for everything we teach," he said. "It's not that we are tying [Christianity and capitalism] together."

Paquin generated his own response in a blog entry, where he wrote, "My stance on capitalism is this ... it is obviously a very efficient and pragmatic economic system that has produced the largest and wealthiest country the world has ever seen. It also can be exploitative, lead to human greed, and leave vast populations behind in its wake. It can turn citizens into consumers. Adam Smith writes that the common good is served by the individual pursuit of self-interest. Excuse me if I believe that the pursuit of my own self-interest might be in contrast to the life of Christ that exemplifies the pursuit of the interest of others. This is my tension."

Other commentators have chimed in as well. Christianity Today's blog wondered, "Does Armstrong's support of a constitutional amendment banning ‘desecration' of the U.S. flag violate the school's commitment to ‘limited government,' for example? As one often wonders in these stories of lines in the sand, How far is too far?" And at a Beliefnet blog run by Jim Wallis and others, Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Barnard College, quipped: "Capitalism, in fact, appears to be Jesus' preferred economic system."

At Episcopal Café, meanwhile, a blogger asked, "Let's put the shoe on the other foot. What if a professor at an Episcopal college or seminary deified the free enterprise system? Would she be fired?"

As the executive director of a charitable organization, The 10/10 Project, Paquin takes advantage of markets to help Africans start their own businesses. He'll be able to give more time to that pursuit, as well as teach, write and travel -- as well as possibly study for a Ph.D. He currently holds a master's degree from the University of Denver.

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