Wheaton faculty member Timothy Larsen weighs-in on the controversy swirling around his campus. In the midst of it, he makes an observation about academic freedom that might be counter-intuitive to some readers but that demonstrates the deep need for Christian institutions of higher learning. Larsen is spot-on when he writes:
Indeed, for some of our most thoroughgoing critics it means that we are not at all like the University of Illinois. A statement of faith, they assert, prohibits academic freedom and thus disqualifies us from being a genuine institution of higher education.
It feels differently from the inside. The vast majority of the professors Wheaton hires come either straight from a Ph.D. program at a major, secular school or from teaching at a secular university. Again and again they revel in the luxurious, newfound academic freedom that Wheaton has granted them: For the first time in their careers they can think aloud in the classroom about the meaning of life and the nature of the human condition without worrying about being accused of violating the separation of church and state or transgressing the taboo against allowing spiritual reflections to wander into a conversation about death or ethics or hope.
Just like no Catholic wants everyone to join a monastery, so I would not want every institution of higher education to be like Wheaton. Still, I have no doubt that the intellectual life of the entire nation is stronger because places like Wheaton exist than it would be if all higher education had its academic freedom curtailed by prohibiting theological lines of inquiry.
Your average secular university believes in academic freedom so long as Christian ethics and worldview are excluded from the mix. Were it not for committed Christian institutions of higher learning, we as a people would indeed be impoverished.