Trending Now: The 6th Century
Every woman on campus was in a long skirt. When I asked if this standard female attire was mandated by a dress code, I was quickly educated on the prevailing consensus: “No, no one makes us dress this way. It’s just nearly impossible to find modest pants, you know?”
As a high school student, when I toured New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, I was struck by the social homogeneity and lack of interest in the world outside of the college’s small conservative community. New Saint Andrews only has 15 faculty members. Fourteen are white, and only one is female. Many are alumni of the college, and three are related. Less than half hold a doctoral degree, though, at times in the college’s 23-year history, that number has dropped to under a third.
In America today, you can find growing support for the small liberal arts college model followed by New Saint Andrews, with its emphasis on developing a strong Christian and conservative social environment to the exclusion of diverse viewpoints. In recent years, schools such as Imago Dei College in California (founded 2010), New College Franklin in Tennessee (founded 2008), and the Lord of the Rings-inspired Rivendell Sanctuary, which granted associate’s degrees through San Diego Christian College from 2011-2016, have joined the ranks of small ecclesial communities adopting the label of “Christian liberal arts schools.” Unfortunately, insofar as these schools withdraw from society and turn inward to develop the social character of their students, they fail to prepare graduates to live, work, and defend their opinions in the outside world.
A student at New Saint Andrews graduates without a major, instead receiving a bachelor’s degree in “Liberal Arts and Culture,” after completing a course of study identical to that of their 149 classmates, including a year-long class in “Lordship” and three years’ instruction in spoken and written Latin—Greek and Hebrew are recommended but not required. In their list of advertised “College Distinctives,” Imago Dei College promotes the study of “Knighthood” to its male students and requires female students to learn “Ladyship.” Imago Dei declares the college preference “for the medieval” and criticizes liberal arts schools that are less intense in their traditions, noting that “all ‘great books’ colleges are not created equally.” Other small liberal arts schools even reinforce their insular nature by choosing not to offer internet access on campus.
For a student in the humanities, whether at a large state institution or prestigious ivy league university, self-directed research is a key component of their studies. However, students at small, isolated colleges miss out on opportunities to conduct self-directed research, for lack of funding, faculty availability, or even the institutional access required to present their material at key conferences in their fields. In contrast, many other schools offer generous stipends that allow students to produce original work, under the advisement of a faculty member with specific experience in the field. Completing research is the norm rather than the exception, as it allows students to demonstrate their qualifications, especially for those in the oft-dismissed humanities and liberal arts departments.
"Students are not exposed to a diversity of viewpoints, and often graduate unprepared to work or present their opinions outside their small Christian, conservative communities."
Furthermore, school administrations often oppose bringing in outside speakers or people working in so-called “secular” society, putting students at an even greater disadvantage in critical-thinking, tolerance, and a diverse social (and employment) network. The overall trend toward isolation and exclusivity begins at the top and extends beyond failures in the classroom: For instance, in one April Fool’s joke, New Saint Andrews College staff created flyers for a fake “topless lecture series,” mocking feminism as ridiculous and implying that there would be chaos if a feminist speaker ever hosted a lecture. Actions like these are not uncharacteristic of college administrations that promote ideological purity within their small communities.
The movement toward making college more classical and communal is likely reinforced by the sense that Christianity is in crisis. This idea has recently been promoted by people like Rod Dreher, author of “The Benedict Option” (Penguin Random House 2017), which suggests that “believers should follow the model of the sixth-century monk St. Benedict, who set up separate religious communities as the Roman empire collapsed around them,” according to a summary by David Brooks. Although religious development is a legitimate goal, complete withdrawal from the world hardly prepares college students for their life after graduation.
While I rejected New Saint Andrews as a potential college choice for many of these reasons, I nevertheless enrolled at a small Christian liberal arts college, with an admittedly conservative bent. I understand the attractions of a close-knit community and a liberal arts education.
However, the trend toward an “us vs. them” mindset embodied in the insular college model does a disservice to students who must eventually live and work in the modern world. Many small classical communities, like New Saint Andrews College and Imago Dei College, have gone too far in their desire to respect medieval traditions, erroneously concluding that their Christian faith requires isolation and an almost-monastic social model. Students are not exposed to a diversity of viewpoints, and often graduate unprepared to work or present their opinions outside their small Christian, conservative communities.
But hey, at least they can speak Latin.
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College
A previous version of this article erroneously stated that there are 14 NSA professors, all of which are white. Actually, there are 15 professors, one of which is a professor of color.