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Ethics in the University…or the Lack Thereof

By June 30, 20083 Comments

If you ever get a chance to visit Duke University, walk through the grass in front of the chapel until you find a plaque that sits about 75 yards away from the chapel steps. The plaque contains the school’s mission statement–what the founders of the school intended for the university and the students. It reads as follows:

The aims of Duke University are to assert the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; to advance learning in all lines of Truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and Truth; to promote a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the state, the nation, and the Church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of this University always be administered.

Given the time period (1920’s), this statement is not surprising. In fact, many of our country’s first universities were founded for the purpose of educating Christian ministers. Even after the university became a place for more general liberal arts study, it was still a location for the creation of model citizens. Higher education wasn’t merely about disseminating information, but molding students into leaders with a clear moral compass.

Sadly, those days are long gone. One doesn’t have to spend much time on a college campus to discern how dramatically things have changed. Not only are secular universities not offering classes that intentionally seek to shape students into ethical beings, and not only are professors refusing to take any definitive stance on what is right or wrong, but the students are furthering the educational-ethical divide by the nature of their lifestyles.

Until recently, it never struck me how ironic the college experience has become. My fellow students and I would study great philosophers, scientists and brilliant thinkers who changed the world with their leadership and innovation. Then, after hearing these inspirational stories about the power of the mind and the possibilities before us, my classmates walked right out the door to get completely wasted. Women seeking to improve their minds, aspiring to be lawyers, doctors and leaders in our country, were simultaneously prancing around campus with hardly any clothing on, hooking up with random guys just to get attention. Men who wanted to be politicians and CEO’s engaged in mind-numbingly dumb fraternity rituals and pranks, all for the sake of fitting in.

Go to almost any college party, and you will see exceptional people intentionally debasing themselves, spitting on the gifts and resources with which God blessed them. For many, that is what the college experience has become. It has devolved into a 4 year free-for-all in which anything goes, education being a secondary priority. Rarely do students stop to consider that there might be a connection between their education and their lifestyle.

Well I write all of this today for two reasons, the first being that, because of the huge disconnect between education and ethics in the university today, Christians are presented with a unique opportunity to stand out. The university culture has become so hedonistic that Christians students have to do very little to distinguish themselves. The darkness is so pervasive that even a dim bulb will cast light. Imagine what a blazing torch could do!

But the main reason I bring up this point is that the divide between knowledge and lifestyle is not limited to the university. As easy as it is to point fingers at secular academia, Christians are frequently no better. We learn and we learn and we learn–we go to church, weekly prayer meetings, Bible studies, discipleship, service projects, etc. But our lives look no different than the rest. We often forget that there is a connection between the things that we learn and the life that we live. We forget that knowledge isn’t for the purpose of puffing us up intellectually, but humbling us and molding us into holy disciples.

So the next time you step onto a college campus and you see women ignoring the empowerment of their education to instead pander for a boy’s attention, remember that we Christians do the same. We ignore the freedom we have in Christ and the meaning such freedom has for our lives, to instead live the life we desire now. The question is, are we going to be different, and are we going to do what’s necessary to protect the Church from the fate of the American university?


  • Clifford says:

    Very, very interesting observation here… Similar thoughts have started to take shape as I’m in the first quarter of my return to school six years after my first experience. It’s a lot different being at least 7 years older than the oldest of my classmates. Maybe there should be some kind of mandate for folks to live in the “real world” for about two years before just jumping from high school to college.

  • Troy says:

    I’m an Orthodox Christian at Duke entering my sophomore year. College is nothing like I expected. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but Duke students, by and large, fail to respect themselves and those around them. And it’s so easy to fall into that same mind set…

  • Anonymous says:

    Wow… you go girl! Where were you when I was 17 and a freshman in college – I could have used your advice!

    I am afraid that I was one of those getting wasted in college in order to feel comfortable enough to fit in. Sad, yes, I know. Do I regret it? Not for a minute.


    Let me explain – it’s pretty simple really…I lacked confidence.

    I wasn’t walking in God’s word either…stumbling was more like it.

    Had I grown up understanding the difference between religon and relationship I like to think my choices would have been more wise. Also, had I given others more credit I would have realized they liked me for me, not just drunk, me, but me… yes, even stone cold sober. Turns out my personality wasn’t half bad – but for some reason my confidence just wasn’t there.

    The reason I don’t regret my path is because it was part of a long, slow process where I weeded out the demons, the second guessing and expectations. I wouldn’t be where I am now in my faith had I never been so far away from faith.

    I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense, and no I am not drinking again…

    My hope is that if anyone out there reads this and is struggling with the same thing I want them to know that if you think you have to get mind numbing drunk to be accepted – you don’t and if you think folks around you only like you if you are hammered -you’re probably wrong.

    Don’t sell yourself short… don’t sell God short. If you are strong in your faith, don’t compromise. If you are new to your faith, dig deep. If you are wondering what is to all this “faith talk”… keep asking, but with a clear head, it will lead to a light heart – He promises that.

    Anne Steppe

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