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Faculty Membership Requirements

Clarification of Calvin College Faculty Membership Requirements and Procedures for Requesting Exceptions

Context for the Requirements

Calvin College has always been strongly committed to a Reformed view of academic practice and community life. Unlike secular colleges and universities, Calvin openly and joyfully expresses its distinctive, historic commitments to both Reformed education and Reformed community. And unlike some church-related colleges, Calvin expects each member of its faculty to live this Reformed perspective in and out of the classroom, office, library, home and church-in such areas as advising, service to church and denomination, professional organizations, research and scholarship, artistic endeavors, and all of the rest of the impressive array of faculty activities.

Although the college has sometimes failed to articulate its faculty requirements clearly and compellingly, Calvin has always held faculty to two related expressions of Reformed commitment. First, Calvin has expected all faculty to demonstrate the Reformed character of their professional work, especially the way their Christian faith shapes their teaching and scholarship. This demonstration occurs formally at appointment with candidates' written statements of their religious faith and with the required pastor's letter; at reappointment and tenure with student review of teaching, and department review of teaching and scholarship performance as well as with written statements on faith and learning. Accountability for expressions of the Christian faith in Reformed perspective also takes place informally through discussions and peer review.

The college recognizes that expression of the Reformed Christian commitment requires continuing development; it is a life-long task. To that end the faculty orientation for regular appointees has been expanded to include the Kenneth W. Kuiper Orientation Seminar, summer faculty development workshops have been offered regularly, and approval has been given for a Dean of the Chapel, whose responsibilities will include working with the faculty on matters of faith and learning. In the area of scholarship, the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and the Meeter Center have provided opportunity and models for doing scholarship that is an expression of the Reformed Christian faith. These formal and informal demonstrations of the integration of faith and learning have helped Calvin become a dynamic community of thoughtful Reformed practice and scholarship, and have earned the faculty and institution much distinction in both the wider Christian community and the broader academy.

Second, Calvin College has always expected its faculty members to demonstrate their commitment to the Reformed faith and to Reformed education through their involvement in church and school. As part of the broader, extra-college community of Reformed believers, the faculty are required to support the historic Reformed creeds and confessions; the Reformed church community, especially the Christian Reformed Church; and Christian schooling. This support was never meant to be purely financial or contractual, but instead a manifestation of a serious commitment of the heart and mind to Reformed beliefs and Reformed community.

Given the rapid secularization of society and its influence on Christian higher education, it is time once again to express boldly Calvin College's commitments to the Reformed faith. While this has been done through changes in the orientation and reappointment of faculty, another significant way for the college to accomplish this is to reassert the requirements and procedures for faculty membership. The religious character of the college faculty, after all, probably has more impact on the Reformed character of Calvin than any other aspect of college life. The faculty are expected not merely to profess their faith, but also to be mentors, advisers and practitioners of their religious beliefs. In short, Calvin faculty are to live the Reformed faith.

This document unashamedly articulates long standing requirements of the college regarding faculty membership. Unfortunately, many of the discussions of the requirements for faculty membership have occurred without adequate regard for the broader context and purpose for such policies. Calvin College's place in higher education is distinguished partly by its stance as a confessional community and by the expression of that stance in the staff and curriculum of the college. The requirements for faculty membership express the college's integrity: integrity of belief and practice, integrity of the college's history and present practice, and integrity of institutional and personal belief and practice. The requirements are directed toward a faithful faculty response to its institutional calling as a Reformed body of believers and professors.

The requirements are easily misinterpreted apart from the broader context. They should not be interpreted as a litmus test of one's faith, nor do they express a judgment on the integrity of the faith of those who do not meet these requirements. Nor does fulfillment of these requirements, by itself, ensure that Calvin College will continue to have the integrity which we seek. Achieving and maintaining integrity requires a continuing effort.

Occasionally the requirements for faculty membership are considered a barrier to achieving academic excellence. They are also seen as a barrier to achieving ethnic and racial diversity within the faculty. Given the high quality of our faculty, the claim of the membership requirements as a barrier to quality is dubious. Although they could be a barrier to recruiting and retaining ethnic minority faculty, Calvin's record is not significantly different from many comparable colleges. The requirements are seen as a barrier most often at times when we are trying to recruit the best faculty person in a given discipline or trying to achieve the diversity of perspectives that can enrich an academic community. However, as George Marsden has noted in his study of the secularization of the American university, few of the colleges or universities became secular as the result of a deliberate effort to do so. It happened in the pursuit of professionalism and excellence, at times striving for goals that were not derived from the religious beliefs that undergird the college, but also, at times, in the name of the Christian mission. Moreover, the secularization of Christian college's and universities occurred primarily through faculty appointments and reappointments. That history affirms the importance of faculty membership requirements in maintaining the confessional identity of the college.

Finally, it is important to consider the requirements as a whole. Maintaining the confessional status of the college starts with the affirmation of the teachings of the church, nurtured by the life of the church, and expressed in the Christian philosophy of education. This is also the expectation of members of the faculty.

Recent Events

At the May 1993 meeting of the Board of Trustees, a report on faculty appointments was approved. The report was the result of a study initiated by the Board of Trustees to ensure the confessional integrity of the college and an academic administration initiative to improve the faculty appointment process in the context of the mission of the college. The committee, with members from the trustees, faculty, and academic administration, prepared a draft of the report and held nine forums for faculty discussion of the report before a final report was prepared for submission to the faculty and Board of Trustees.

The report was approved with revisions by the faculty and the Trustees after debate - including expressions of both affirmation and dissent -- on the proposed requirements. The report also recommended changes in the procedures for appointment and reappointment of faculty, all of which were strongly endorsed. The appendix to this report includes relevant sections from the Committee on Faculty Appointments report as approved by the Board of Trustees.

Although there was considerable debate on the requirements and the final report was widely disseminated, misunderstandings about the policy persist. Some faculty members think the policy applies only at the time of tenure; others have indicated that they think the policy applies only to persons on regular appointment. Likewise there is misunderstanding about the process for requesting exceptions to the policy. Again, some think the request is to be made at the time of tenure; others think it is primarily a matter of informing the President. Some colleagues think there is no room for exceptions, while others apparently believe that the requirements are voluntary. In addition, the reports on the number and nature of exceptions granted vary greatly.

This statement is presented to clarify the significance of the requirements and the procedures for requesting exceptions. Given misunderstandings in the community, this is necessary in order to make the requirements meaningful and to ensure that the policy and procedures have integrity.

A. Requirements

  1. Signing the Form of Subscription: Calvin College faculty members are required to sign a synodically approved Form of Subscription in which they affirm the three forms of unity--the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dortrecht -- and pledge to teach, speak, and write in harmony with the confessions.
  2. Church Membership: Calvin College faculty members are required to be professing members in good standing and active participants in the life, worship, and activities of a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) or of any church which is a member of a denomination in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC as defined by its Synod.
    The CRC has established ecclesiastical fellowship with twenty-two denominations worldwide. The North American churches are the Reformed Church of America (RCA), the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC), the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Korean American Presbyterian Church.
  3. Christian schooling: Calvin College faculty members are normally required to provide -their children with Christian schooling.
    The requirement is applicable to grades K through 12. Christian schools that are members of Christian Schools International are expected to be the primary schools of choice for faculty. However, home schooling and sending children to other schools that base their education on the Christian faith could also fulfill the requirement when approved on an individual basis.

Applicability of Requirements

Requirements for membership on the college faculty described above apply to all persons on regular appointment (full-time and reduced-load). Term appointees are expected to affirm the Reformed confessions and are required to sign the Form of Subscription. While the term appointees are strongly encouraged to join a Reformed church and provide Christian schooling for their children, this is not a requirement in the first two years of such appointments. At the time of any subsequent appointments, whether term or regular, all the requirements for faculty membership apply unless an exception is granted. Visiting professors and part-time instructors must support the mission of the college and are encouraged to abide by the requirements; however, their compliance with the requirements is not mandatory.

In order to provide sufficient time to make an informed decision regarding church membership and schooling, faculty will normally be expected to be in compliance with the church membership and Christian schooling requirements by the beginning of their second year of appointment to the faculty. Unless an exception is granted the Form of Subscription must be signed before the first appointment begins.

B. Exceptions

The Handbook for Teaching Faculty includes the faculty membership requirements in Appendix A, Tenure at Calvin College. There is an exception clause listed under the church membership requirement and but not under the Christian schooling requirement or the requirement of signing the Form of Subscription. However, the Committee on Faculty Appointments report states the following:

. . . The CFA recognizes that there may be exceptions, however, and supports continuing the practice of making exceptions when that is prudent. The authority to grant exceptions resides with the Board of Trustees. The committee advises that exceptions be considered only upon special request and that the President take action on the requests upon the recommendation of the academic dean and Provost, who will normally seek the advice of the Professional Status Committee.

The goal of this statement is to clarify the membership requirements and communicate that the college is serious about the requirements, to establish the criteria and process for making exceptions, to enable the college to be consistent in granting exceptions, and to clarify the process for monitoring compliance with the membership requirements.

1. Signing the Form of Subscription

Exceptions to the requirement for "subscription to the forms of unity of the Reformed Churches by signing a synodically-approved Form of Subscription" are made occasionally for individuals on term appointment, following discussion between the individual and the provost or dean, on the basis of a written statement of both (1) the reasons why the individual is unable to sign the Form of Subscription and (2) the individual's affirmation of a deep Christian faith and of support for the mission of Calvin College as a Reformed Christian institution of higher education.

Since reasons for requesting exceptions are often idiosyncratic, it is difficult to state criteria for granting exceptions. The exception will be for a particular person and not applicable to any class of individuals. Whereas exceptions may be granted to some persons, no person on a regular appointment will be granted an exception on a continuing basis.

For those who have difficulty signing the Form of Subscription for reasons that are represented within the limits of continuing discussion of the confessions within the church, e.g., on total depravity or view of Anabaptists, we expect these persons to sign the Form and indicate, in writing, their reservations with affirmation of the confessions. Exceptions will not be granted to persons who hold theological positions which are not consonant with the mission and purpose of Calvin College.

2. Church membership

There have been relatively few requests for exceptions to the church membership requirement. The two exceptions that have been granted have involved ordination in another denomination. Furthermore, with the recent expansion of options, we anticipate even fewer such requests.

By the exceptional nature of the request, it is difficult to anticipate all the reasons for such requests and hence it is difficult to establish criteria for evaluating the requests. However, it is possible to list some criteria when such exceptions will not be approved. First, exceptions will not be granted if the church/denomination embraces confessional teachings fundamentally contrary to the affirmations of the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort. Since we expect of faculty an integrity of faith and work, that seems impossible when someone signs the Form of Subscription and is an active member of a church fellowship that affirms teachings contrary to the confessions. Second, an exception will not be granted if the church is not willing to supervise the spiritual life of the faculty member. Were someone to challenge the theological orthodoxy or lifestyle of a faculty member, the faculty member should have the support of that church in a way that gives the protester assurance of the person's faithfulness.

3. Christian schooling

In fulfilling the Christian schooling requirement it is expected that parents will enroll children in schools affiliated with Christian Schools International (CSI) whenever possible. Home schooling and other Christian schools may be an acceptable option in some circumstances, but faculty members must obtain approval for these exceptions from the President before proceeding with enrollment.

There have been more exceptions to the Christian schooling requirement than the others. These have been made on an individual basis and, while the criteria vary depending on the individual circumstances, reflection on the reasons for such exceptions indicate that the following criteria are common to most of the cases:

  1. Evidence of support for Christian schooling, as demonstrated by sending siblings to Christian schools, having sent the child for whom an exception is requested to a Christian school, financial support of Christian schools and other service toward the advancement of K-12 Christian education.
  2. Evidence that the child for whom an exception is requested has special educational or other needs that cannot be effectively met at a local Christian school. Special needs typically involve mental or physical disability beyond the range served by Christian school programs. In some instances special needs for enriched or individualized programs for gifted students may be an acceptable basis for the granting of an exception, provided that the parents have made a diligent effort to work with an appropriate Christian school to provide suitable instruction and have determined in consultation with the administrators and faculty of the Christian school that the student's needs cannot be adequately served in that school.

In addition to the above criteria, there may be special reasons for an exception. These will be judged on their own merits and in the context of the overall expectations of faculty members.

A faculty member who seeks to enroll her/his child in a non-CSI Christian school or to provide home schooling should submit a statement of the reason(s) for the request and the name and description of the school or home schooling program. These requests will normally be approved unless there are significant factors that mitigate against approval.

C. Process for making exceptions

  1. The process for requesting exceptions is basically the same for any exception. The request should be presented to the President, who will forward the request to the Provost and academic dean for a recommendation. The President will normally seek the advice of the Professional Status Committee before taking action. When exceptions are granted, the information will be part of the faculty member's file at the time of consideration for reappointment and appointment with tenure.
  2. Requests for exceptions to the Signing of the Form of Subscription should come at the time of appointment unless, after signing the Form, there is a change in one's understanding of the Reformed creeds that leads to difficulty in having one's signature affixed to the Form of Subscription. In those situations, the faculty member should present the reservations in writing to the President. If the President determines that an exception should be granted, he will present a recommendation to Board of Trustees which has the authority to grant these exceptions.
  3. Newly appointed faculty who seek an exception to the church membership requirement should make the request during the first year of appointment. Faculty members who are in compliance with the church membership requirement but who wish to affiliate with a congregation which does not meet the requirement should request an exception prior to such affiliation or beginning regular attendance. If the President determines that an exception should be granted, he will present a recommendation to the Board of Trustees which has the authority to grant these exceptions.
  4. Requests for exceptions to the Christian schooling requirement should be made by June 1 prior to the school year in which the faculty member seeks to home school or to enroll her/his child in a non-CSI Christian school or a public school. The faculty member should be notified of the action taken by the President on the request by July 15. The President will report that action to the Board of Trustees for endorsement.
  5. Requests for exceptions to enroll a child in a public school should be for a specific period, i.e., one year, junior high school years, etc. or, if the need is considered permanent, an unspecified period but contingent on the continuing special education need that is the basis for the exception request.
  6. A faculty member requesting an exception may request and will be granted opportunity to present the request in person at each stage of the process; that is, the right to meet the President (all cases), the Professional Status Committee (all cases), and the Board of Trustees (in cases regarding the Form of Subscription and Church Membership).
  7. If the President denies a request for an exception he/she shall indicate his/her reason(s) for denial in writing.
  8. A faculty member whose request for an exception has been denied shall have the right to make one appeal in writing and in person (if the faculty member so requests) to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. The Executive Committee will recommend that the full board either sustain the original denial or grant an exception. The Board's decision will be conveyed to the faculty member in writing.
  9. A request for the same exception will only be considered if the faculty member's individual and/or family circumstances have changed such that added rationale for the exception exists.

D. Revision of Administrative Practice

  1. The annual reporting process for faculty will be revised to include (1) confirmation of membership in good standing in a Christian Reformed Church or of a church which is a member of a denomination in ecclesiastical fellowship with the Christian Reformed Church and active participation in the life, worship, and activities of that church, and (2) schools attended by children of school age.
  2. Ways to provide financial relief for parents who are paying Christian school tuition will be developed.

Approved by Professional Status Committee on November 16, 1995

Procedures for requesting and granting exceptions approved by Faculty Senate on December 4, 1995.