the green fields beyond

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Location: Charles City, Virginia, United States

Friday, August 08, 2008

Of PhD's and Smoke-Screens

The Westminster administration has released some statements and reflections on the seminary's recent controversies and battles. These documents reveal some new information, and I do appreciate that. I'm glad that the seminary is reflecting on what it has recently gone through...but my goodness, there's also a WHOLE lot of spin going on here.
One particularly egregious example caught my eye: in this document, the VP for academic affairs (Dr. Trueman) discusses the pressure on WTS to have professors with PhD's in order to be accredited. He strongly implies that certain recent departures (Steve Taylor, perhaps?) were made necessary not for theological or personal reasons but only in order to fulfill accreditation requirements and to secure WTS' status as an academically respectable institution. He says things like this:
"That seminaries have typically had lower standards on this matter and
employed faculty who have spent many fruitless years on doctoral
programs has not served them well but has rather compromised their
academic integrity."

Just a quick reminder, in case anyone had forgotten:
Professor Al Groves never got a PhD. Neither did John Murray or John Frame. And we all know how much those men compromised the academic integrity of WTS.
As far as I can tell, these current and former WTS professors were hired years before they completed a PhD, ThD or equivalent...some never did. If they had been asked to leave, would we have had much of a faculty left?


  • Poythress [he had a PhD in an unrelated field and didn't do a ThD until later]
  • Oliphint
  • Leonard
  • Gaffin
  • Green
  • Edgar
  • McCartney
  • Murray
  • Groves
  • Frame

Are we supposed to believe that if accreditation standards hadn't been so "lax" in earlier years, these men wouldn't have been able to teach at WTS? If Westminster's academic integrity has been so compromised, why have recent graduates been accepted to doctoral programs at Harvard, Yale, Duke, Oxford, Cambridge, Notre Dame, Brown, U.Chicago, U. Michigan, Columbia, Saint Andrews, and William & Mary, just to name a few?
What "weakened" the seminary's academic credentials more: the laxity that allowed these professors to teach, or, perhaps, the forced departure of Pete Enns, one of the most highly qualified men on the faculty (Harvard PhD, numerous publications)? Why the reluctance to admit that theological issues may have had something to do with Taylor's departure?

9 Comments:

said...

Justin lets please just stick to the facts. Steve Taylor chose not to even apply for tenure so he could not be reappointed. You can spin your scary scenarios all that you like but the facts are the facts.

12:59 PM  
said...

Thanks for that bit of info, Anonymous. I had not heard that. But what in my post contradicted the facts? Did I get my list wrong? Is VP Trueman correct that the laxness of earlier years compromised the school's integrity? Was I incorrect in portraying Murray or Frame or any of the others as academically sound?
Dr. Trueman says that we should see recent events in the light of his strenuous, active efforts to bring the school in line w/ accreditation. Read the relevant paragraphs of his document again. The only recent event to which these paragraphs could apply is the departure of Taylor, since Enns had a PhD. (Notice also that Dr. Trueman highlights HIS active role and says nothing about the decision by Taylor that you describe). So is he taking too much credit (that is, it was actually Taylor's decision and Taylor received no pressure from the admin)? Or too little (that is, that there was more going on than "Oh, the Accreditors made me do it and it had nothing to do w/ theological views")?
I'm sure the situation was and is complicated. But why make it sound like it was all about accreditation? No one else is expressing it that way. I believe I recall Taylor stating, in public interviews, that other factors were involved, but Dr. Trueman is asking us to see it through just one simple lens. And why claim such an active role for the admin if Taylor just up and decided to leave?
Contrary to what you imply, I have better things to do than "spin scary scenarios." But I can't be silent here: I see this as a spinning of the historical record, much like the spinning that the administration did this past spring.

5:42 PM  
said...

Are you *seriously* comparing Steve Taylor's academic accomplishments (or, rather, lack thereof) to Murray, Frame, Poythress, et. al.?

You need a serious reality check, Justin. If Mr. Taylor had spent the past decade churning out the kind of quality work at the standard of Murray or Frame, perhaps your post would be *slightly* less chortle-worthy. Did he have *any* publications in the last decade?

-Another Anonymous

5:52 PM  
said...

Another Anonymous,
I'm not sure why your comment is listed as "Brian." I didn't do that. It could be some kind of a glitch, or you could be logged into Blogger under that name without realizing it, or whatever.
But anyway, I'm glad i was able to give you a Friday afternoon chortle. I wasn't comparing Taylor's accomplishments to Murray's or Frame's or whatever...although, if you've been around WTS, you know that he's excellent at what he does. Rather, I was highlighting the absurdity of the admin's rhetoric. "We're going to stamp out this deplorable lack of PhD's! Firm action will be taken! All will be treated solely on their academic accomplishments."

I say again, if WTS had worked that way in times past, how many of the past and present faculty would ever have been employable there?
And the administration rhetoric would be a lot more believable if they and their supporters hadn't spent so much time recently dismissing "the academy" and "PhD's from scary liberal schools" in the Enns case.
Was Taylor's departure all to do with accreditation? Is that really what you think?

6:06 PM  
said...

It's worth pointing out that a generation ago, an MA was an acceptable academic terminal degree. Murray wasn't exceptional, not by far. Think of FF Bruce, Alan Cameron, and Ronald Syme (the latter would've had his MA had his thesis not drowned en route from New Zealand to the UK, and yet he was still chaired at Oxford w/ only a BA). That's to name only a few. All that to say, one needn't have been a Murray to justify tenure with an MA.

That said, nowadays an MA isn't what it used to be, and not having a PhD is fair game for not renewing an academic appointment, but that's a new thing. But in Taylor's case, he didn't go for tenure because the writing was on the wall and because he had a different option (a new job). Had he done so, there's no question his credentials would've been at issue, but it wouldn't have been the only one, maybe not even the major one. At any rate, though I might disagree with Carl theologically, I think he would have a fair reason for not renewing the contract of a man who didn't have the degree.

That said, I think what bothers me about Carl's paragraph is that he insinuates that he did let someone go because of his credentials, the only person that could be is Taylor, and yet that's not what happened. Steve left on his own before Carl could've done so. What's more, Carl's forgetting the fact that Taylor prb would've had his diss done had not his faculty swallowed all his spare time with debates that could've waited, including his sabbatical. That's not right; it's not professional. That's spin.

1:39 AM  
said...

I wonder if we could call a halt to all the false accusations against the administration at WTS with respect to Steve Taylor. Steve was no more burdened with work load than any other member of the faculty.

Mr. Taylor had every right to apply for tenure and chose not to. Had he applied there might well have been a fight over both his academic credentials and his theology, but Steve decided he would rather leave. That was HIS choice, not Dr. Trueman’s, so please lets call a halt to the nasty insinuations and accusations.

10:09 AM  
said...

I'm not sure that'd I'd have a problem with Trueman's statements on Ph.D's... I don't think he has given tenure to any other non-Ph.D. faculty. If he has a bias toward having advance degrees, that's something he's allowed to do.

9:31 AM  
said...

oh - I would be more inclined to critique the article on other grounds.... for example the irony of criticizing evangelicalism and their tendency to minimalize and gloss over doctrine while not providing much neuonce on Enns position (problem) and throwing him into the same historical trajectory as old school liberalism. - I think that's less fair.

9:33 AM  
said...

I know this is old and cold, but I'll post here anyway because

A) I'm pretty sure I know who the other anonymous poster is, and he well knows that he is not telling the whole truth, under the cover of a gag order on Mr. Taylor.

B) Someday that whole truth will be a me to be told, and all will know there was much more to the departure of Mr. Taylor than "lack of credentials."

Incidentally, Professor Taylor was near completion on his dissertation. His advisor had already stated that it was more than acceptable; it was Taylor's drive for perfection that kept him still working it over. The truth that will eventually emerge is that Steve Taylor would have been driven out of WTS even if he'd had six Ph.D.s. For Trueman to pretend that was the real issue, well let's just say someday he will reap the wages of spin.

7:21 AM  

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