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Our Traveling Correspondent
By Mike Van Denend

 

Former Calvin President Anthony Diekema '56 is still looking for a home.

He and wife Jeane Waanders RN'56 have been scouting out possible hometowns ever since Diekema retired from the Calvin presidency five years ago.

"We have it narrowed to a few general locations," Diekema said. "The main criteria are to live outside the snowbelt, be near a college or university so there are cultural and learning opportunities locally and have a sizeable airport close so we can travel easily to see the family."

The Diekemas spend the summer and fall months at the one residence they do maintain, a simple cottage on Lake Michigan. Other times, they're visiting children and grandchildren in Seattle or Iowa City or Winston-Salem. Or, they're researching places that could become their new "settling down site."

But lest any alumni and friends think that former President Diekema has immediately swapped the hectic life of a college chief for unending months of leisure, this month he returns to campus for a reception and panel discussion based on a new book he has been hard at work researching and writing over these past years.

Academic Freedom and Christian Scholarship is due out from Eerdman's Publishing in September and Diekema is eager to talk about this important subject—a favorite of his from the early days of his 20-year presidency at Calvin from 1976-96.

"Academic freedom is a universal problem and issue," he said. "I've known and researched enough cases to recognize that this is not unique to Calvin. And it is certainly the case that academic freedom issues are handled in widely different ways in higher education."

His original idea was to write a series of articles on the subject, but Calvin English professor Ed Ericson challenged Diekema to develop an entire book on the matter.

Diekema's volume takes on both sides of the current debates on academic freedom—Christian colleges that "won't allow professors to search out the truth wherever it leads them" and the secular university where "post-modernism has created a climate where any opinion is as good as another and there are no standards."

The book contains his perspective on the concept of academic freedom, the result of years of research.

After they left Grand Rapids, the Diekemas sought out places in the world where they would learn about new cultures and he could affiliate with a university to continue steady research and writing. These sites turned out to be in Wales, New Zealand and Spain.

"We spent about half of the time close to the universities for my work and half the time traveling and living among the people in these countries," he said.

He's also been doing consulting work for educational institutions and other non-profits, "choosing projects that are compelling." Now that the book is done, he said, "The real test is this coming year. If I experience any dull moments, I'll know it's time for a new project."

For now, he is hopeful that his book on academic freedom will spark much discussion and debate among the leadership of American higher education, especially in religiously affiliated schools.

"One of the most important things an institution can develop is an atmosphere, an ethos of freedom and a clear method for determining faculty compatibility with the worldview of the school," he noted.

"I suggest some controversial things, such as moving away from tenure and toward covenant, which is possible when there are compatible worldviews. It is in this area that, perhaps, Christian colleges can actually lead the way in academic freedom nationally," Diekema stated. "Christian scholars have the right model, but it takes persistence. It takes guts."

Calvin community members will be interested to note that Diekema uses some historical moments in the college's past—such as the debate over Professor Howard Van Till's book The Fourth Day—to illustrate some of his points about the topic. The book also contains suggestions for faculty, administrators, trustees, students and constituents.

Although he's been away from the college spotlight for some time, Diekema said his admiration for Calvin continues to grow.

'This place is a unique jewel in the Kingdom," he said, "solidly grounded with a strong faculty, alumni and church base, a covenantal community positioned to influence society far beyond its campus boundaries."

So although our former president is currently "homeless," he does know where home is. For now, he's willing to be our traveling correspondent. His first message from the road reaches us this month at the book reception. We hope for more to come.

Note: Alumni and friends are invited to the book reception/panel discussion for Dr. Diekema's Academic Freedom and Christian Scholarship on Thursday, September 28, at 4 p.m. in the Gezon Auditorium.

 

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