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Expanded Statement of Mission - Enacting a College Mission

C. The Mission of Calvin College in Scholarship

The Historical Development of Scholarship at Calvin College

The emphasis upon excellence of teaching at Calvin College should not diminish the importance of scholarship in the college environment. Indeed, this very emphasis, which sees research informing teaching, which sees the classroom as a stimulating arena for the interchange of ideas, and which sees the college as a whole engaged in a communal search for knowledge and in a committed effort to bring knowledge to bear redemptively upon this world, has proven an invigorating stimulus to scholarship.

The scholarship practiced at the college has, nonetheless, undergone substantial change during the college's history. From the 1930s to 1960, it spoke by and large through elite but non-technical journals to educators and the educated laity in conservative Reformed circles, and in critique of the secularistic worldviews that dominated American culture. This effort aimed at establishing, reaffirming, and legitimating the cardinal premises of a "Christian mind" in contradistinction to those of "secular minds." Such efforts were generally undertaken by gifted faculty members on their own time and at their own initiative.

In the past thirty years, without closing off those channels, scholarship among faculty members has turned to more conventional academic and artistic outlets and has taken up issues within the academic disciplines, including both the theoretical foundations in the disciplines, and applied, thematic, or specific case analyses within disciplinary parameters.

During the 1970s and 1980s in particular, a concerted effort has been made by the college to nurture faculty scholarship, particularly as it accords with such objectives of the college as the investigation of religion and culture, faith and learning, the history of the Reformed tradition, and the nature of creation. This emphasis has resulted in several documents to guide and to support scholarly research. The first is the "Constitution of the Calvin Center of Christian Scholarship" (1975; revised 1978 and 1992), which established a center to study a variety of practical and theoretical topics in Christian perspective. The second and third, "Proposal for the Establishment of a Program of Faculty Development Seminars" (1977), and "On the Promotion of Scholarship at Calvin College " (1980), expanded programs of institutionally supported study and research opportunities for the faculty. The fourth, "Report of the Calvin and Calvinism Center Study Committee" (1981), established a study center with opportunities to do advanced research in the history and character of Calvinism. Additionally, the GRADS document (1988, revised 1990) defined certain expectations in scholarship of Calvin faculty. Such documents constitute a serious commitment by the college to fulfill its mission to scholarship.

This time of growth and transition, during which Calvin College scholars have increasingly reached out to a larger audience, has also necessitated attention to issues of academic freedom. In its respect for scholarly and creative work, Calvin College follows a more generous definition of academic freedom than do many Christian colleges (see Faculty Handbook, section 3.6.4). Essentially faculty members are free to exercise their talents with only three restraints: the confessional standards of the college, the professional standards of the discipline, and the prohibition of propagandizing in the classroom for causes unrelated to their profession as Christian teachers of a discipline. These restraints are not without risk and may be enforced only via due process and by communally accepted standards. Still, they are and should continue to be required in order to maintain the confessional, professional, and educational integrity of Calvin as a college in the Reformed Christian tradition.

At the same time, this very integrity demands a positive, supportive, expansive vision of academic freedom. The integrity of any educational institution resides in a process of free postulation, inquiry, interpretation, and conclusion. While the task of scholars at any college is to keep alive, develop, and pass along the root ideas of a culture, and while the task of scholars at a Christian college is to engage those ideas, to examine them, and to challenge or affirm them as consequential for the Christian faith, the Reformed Christian academic especially feels obligated to engage alternative points of view in order to learn from them, to be challenged by them, and to bring a Reformed and Christian witness to bear upon them.

The Current Situation

Two items in particular mark the history and current context of scholarship at Calvin College . First, the college has attempted to be egalitarian in its faculty structure. Seeing each member as of equal value, the college strives for equality in terms of rank, compensation, and teaching and advising responsibilities. Moreover, each member has an equal voice in running the affairs of the college. Within this egalitarian structure, scholarship has been seen as an individual gift among many other gifts necessary to the profession of education and the intellectual life of the college. This structure has fostered a rare collegiality and sense of communal purpose at the college. But, second, in its communal purpose to examine ideas, to exercise the life of the mind, and to engage modern culture in all its manifestations, Calvin College has also acquired and supported a faculty that does a considerable amount of scholarship. The life of the mind that is cherished in the classroom frequently expands beyond the classroom in articles, books, workshops, conferences, and performances for larger audiences.

Scholarship at Calvin College is expressed primarily through four avenues of effort and production. First, individual faculty members have developed their areas of professional expertise through publications and presentations. Many such efforts have achieved prominence on the national academic stage, and bear evidence of an individual's engagement of, mastery over, and contribution to an academic discipline or professional field. Second, Calvin faculty have also assumed leadership in national affiliations of committed Christian scholars and artists within various fields. Such faculty have brought a direct influence to bear upon national and international organizations, some of them specifically concerned with the challenges of integrating faith with learning, others of them predominantly secular organizations dedicated to a certain field. Third, in-house support of individual projects by means of a sabbatical system and Calvin Research Fellowships encourages individual projects of faculty, broadening their professional expertise, providing time for concentrated research yielding significant results, and contributing to classroom teaching. Finally, ventures through the CCCS and the Meeter Center have established ties with other communities by bringing their representatives to our campus. Thereby, we benefit as a college by receiving fresh points of view, by stimulating classroom teaching and lectureship opportunities, and by testing our particular premises in the company of others.

Calvin now faces new challenges to continue its achievement and new opportunities to broaden its leadership role in scholarship. For example, other evangelical colleges are joining with Calvin in pursuing perspectival issues. We now work in a spirit of communal scholarship with many institutions, particularly those in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. As a result of Calvin's recognition in the broader academic world, some of its scholars have been hired at major research universities. We welcome the extended range of influence that these scholars have had, but we are also challenged to maintain the scholarly excellence of our institution. Furthermore, increased interaction with broader evangelical and secular networks may begin to erode communal loyalty on the part of present and potential faculty members and on the part of the college's supporting constituency. While we welcome diversity and aggressively seek scholarly partnerships with other institutions, we cannot risk losing the clearly identifiable voice of the Reformed tradition.

Before outlining how Calvin might work to meet these challenges and opportunities, we need to define the nature and proper role of scholarship in our Christian academy.

The Nature of Scholarship

Scholarship is not needed in the Christian academic community just for intellectual vitality, prestige, or adornment, but it is needed for that community to do its part in the church's larger mission of being God's agent of witness and reconciliation in the world. Preserving the beauty of the world and redressing its pain do not proceed from scholarship alone; neither do they proceed far without it. Scholarship is not just a registering or responsive activity but a shaping, driving force, particularly over the long run and in the echelons of power and authority. Without seeking to dominate the world coercively, Christians must work persistently, intensively, and communally to make their voice heard in the world: as a witness against secularistic pretensions and idolatries, as a witness against their own perversions of the faith, and as a witness for that reconciliation among the peoples and between God and humanity that is offered in Jesus Christ. Committed Christian scholarship is vital to forming, guiding, correcting, and forwarding that witness.

Purposes of Scholarship

Within the Christian community, scholarship may be considered to serve three purposes: conserving, transforming, and enriching.

Conserving scholarship promotes understanding of the various Christian traditions in order to provide the Christian community with the integrity, vision, and wisdom needed both to frame and to energize its ongoing work. From caring for historic documents to recovering voices of the faithful who have lived long ago or far away, Christian scholarship serves the community with a fuller appreciation of its heritage. Fundamental to conserving scholarship are the research skills of ordering materials, observing significant patterns, and interpreting patterns for the community.

Transforming scholarship may establish Christian criteria for knowledge or for its application, or may implement those criteria in a particular field in such a way as to challenge the wisdom prevailing there or to show the critical, redemptive, or reconciling power of the Christian faith. Transforming scholarship brings to research materials a method for applying analytic skills to a given body of material, theorizing about the significance of that material, and interpreting a body of knowledge under such ethical rubrics as justice and reconciliation.

Enriching scholarship brings the insights or methods of the arts and sciences to bear on Christian thought and the understanding of creation and culture. Such scholarship can enhance appreciation for God's creation and human experience, expand the fund of human knowledge and wisdom, help Christians engage in proper self-criticism or self-understanding, and enrich the testimony of the Christian message. The primary focus here is the scholar's engagement of materials of his or her discipline, or the expression of a creative gift. It includes a range of scholarly endeavor from scientific work in the laboratory, to the writing of a book on a literary figure, to the presentation of a creative performance. Such work is marked by its originality and by its contribution and significance to a field of study.

Definition by Audience

Scholarship, which for our purposes we define as concerted, persistent intellectual reflection in a field of study or of creative endeavor, the results of which are communicated to an audience within appropriate conventions, appears in different forms among Calvin College faculty. And while faculty members are called to be scholars, it is nonetheless clear that not all members will fulfill all categories of scholarly endeavor. While we are all members of one body of Christ, we prize the fact that we are highly diverse members, gifted in different ways for different callings. As there is no superiority of gifts in the biblical analogy of the body of Christ, so too no superiority is implied by these categories. Their purpose is to clarify the ways in which research and scholarship are carried out.

By the criterion of audience, scholarship may qualify as personal, applied, or advanced .

Calvin College currently requires personal scholarship of all its faculty and defines it to be "that active life of the mind . . . in which the faculty members are engaged as they continue to learn" (Faculty Development Task Force, July 1987, p. 7). This includes staying current in one's field, remaining inquisitive about the world, and interlinking those two qualities in creative and challenging ways. The primary audience of such scholarship is for the professional integrity and improvement of oneself, though it will be communicated quickly to others in-and remains absolutely necessary to-the college community as well; for only through the vibrant intellectual life of individual faculty does teaching stay fresh, collegiality exciting, and community service distinguished.

Applied scholarship is that intellectual reflection which is communicated beyond the college or beyond one's academic-professional circle strictly defined. It can include such work as consulting, counseling, advising, or speaking on topics of extra-collegiate or -academic interest to the extent that these draw from or are informed by one's reading, research, and reflection.

Advanced scholarship can be defined as the generation, interpretation, and evaluation of knowledge or of performance/creative activity for and before one's professional peers, whether these be within or without one's special field of endeavor. Advanced scholarship receives detailed analysis in the GRADS report as a foundation for graduate study (p. 58 f.).


To fulfill its mission in scholarship, Calvin College should take concerted and innovative measures to improve scholarly research and exchange within its own house and in broader academic networks. The priorities in this mission may be viewed according to the purposes and audience for scholarship.

Calvin should encourage scholarship to achieve the three purposes of scholarship outlined above. These three feed, correct, and drive one another, and thus go forward best together. They seem to be equally needed for the construction of Christian scholarship and for its address to the broader academic world.

In terms of the criterion of audience, however, different categories need different measures.

As indicated above, personal scholarship is already required of Calvin faculty but does not seem to be practiced equally or adequately throughout the faculty. The canons of personal scholarship must be clearly noted at the time of hiring and more strictly enforced at the time of promotion and at subsequent reviews. Every faculty member must be held accountable to the standard of personal scholarship, as each member diligently engages the intellectual life of a discipline and brings it to bear upon the classroom and the larger college environment.

Any glimpse at faculty activity will find the practical area of applied scholarship in abundance. These efforts should continue to be encouraged in order to reduce the risk of scholars losing touch with the broader audiences that also need their insight; the risk of the college losing some vital, nurturing ties with its constituency; and the risk of scholarship losing "real world" insights and stimulation for its own projects. In particular, the college must make sure to maintain its historic strength in serving the denominational community while broadening the scope of that service to include more civic, professional, and other religious organizations. Applied scholarship is the readiest avenue for such service. To qualify as scholarship, it must reflect persistent intellectual engagement with the substance of the arts and sciences; to qualify as service, it must challenge, instruct, and learn from its audience.

For the next few decades, the promotion of advanced scholarship deserves particular attention and new initiatives on the part of the college. The college should provide material, moral, and structural support to those conducting advanced scholarship. This can take any number of forms from flexible contracts (which might reduce teaching or advising loads in exchange for clearly accountable scholarly work), to stipends for summer research equal to those awarded for summer teaching, to the creation of new institutes for Christian scholarship or the re-tooling of current institutes toward advanced rather than only applied research, and to the development of new graduate programs.

In all areas of its scholarship, finally, Calvin must give keen attention to nurturing the resources that have helped distinguish its efforts thus far. These include the concern for forthrightly Christian scholarship that has set Calvin apart from most other institutions. While scholarship is often an individual enterprise, it becomes communal in that Christian scholarship depends fundamentally on the collegial solidarity of purpose and perspective that has marked Calvin historically. This collegiality has been manifested at the college in many ways: departmental seminars, collaborative research among colleagues, student research participation, lectures by fellows of the CCCS, lectures given by faculty on the occasion of publishing a book. Such mutual support certainly merits continued encouragement and should include the support and exchange of scholarly research across disciplinary and departmental boundaries on campus. Colleagues within and across departments should stimulate, encourage, and hold one another accountable for scholarship.

Such collegiality, however, extends beyond the campus environment as well. One of the foremost means of bringing together scholars in like-minded pursuit of knowledge and direction is through conferences. In recent years individual departments have sponsored conferences that have drawn national and international participation. As Calvin College 's leadership in scholarship increases, some administrative channel must be established at the college for the encouragement and conduct of such conferences.

All these efforts require patience and perseverance over the long term, concern for quality above quantity, and conviction of the importance of knowledge and ideas-all of which good scholarship requires and all of which Calvin, by confessional and ethnic heritage alike, has manifested in the past.

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