The Decline of Once-Christian Colleges into Bastions of Unbelief

Marvin OlaskyWorld

What happened to so many once-Christian colleges in the United States? Two fine books describe the decline. George Marsden's 462-page The Soul of the American University shows how once-Protestant universities became secular look-alikes. James Burtchaell's The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches uses 868 pages to show not only how schools moved from liberal theism to secularism but how, before that, they moved from theologically conservative to liberal stances.

I'll try to give the high points of 1,330 pages in fewer than 1,330 words: Three central messages are (1) Follow the money, (2) Watch the college president, (3) See what the college does with Darwin.

Follow the money: Andrew Carnegie, antagonistic toward Christianity, established in 1905 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which the following year began giving matching grants to fund the retirement of professors—but it excluded colleges and universities under denominational control. During the first four years of Carnegie grant-making, 20 schools changed their boards, statement of faith requirements, or hiring requirements so as to get Carnegie money for professors who might otherwise fall into poverty. Read More: