May 09, 2011
A sobering, and sad, tale about religion and the academy
In this WSJ book review of "More God, Less Crime", by Byron Johnson, James Q. Wilson concludes with this:
The second story that Mr. Johnson has to tell in "More God, Less Crime" is about what happens to academics—in his case, a criminologist—who turn their attention to religion. When he was a young scholar at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) in the mid-1980s, Mr. Johnson was told by his department chairman that none of his articles involving religion would count toward getting tenure. Though Mr. Johnson began publishing articles in academic journals about subjects other than religion, two years later he was fired. In his appeal to the dean, Mr. Johnson mentioned his publications and high student evaluations. The dean replied: "I don't need to have a reason," adding: "I can let you go if I don't like the color of your eyes."
With three small children at home, Mr. Johnson was desperate to save his job. He appealed to the provost, who told him: "You simply don't fit in here. I think you need to consider getting a job teaching at some small Christian college." The provost added, according to Mr. Johnson, that he would have "the same problem" at any other state university. Mr. Johnson then said to the provost: "If I were a Marxist we wouldn't even be having this conversation, would we?" The provost "nodded in agreement."
Mr. Johnson moved on to the University of Pennsylvania, where in the 1990s he continued to publish material on religion (even though the school is funded in large part by the state). In 2004, he took a job at Baylor University, a private Baptist institution, where he has been quite successful. His advice to young scholars: Get tenure before you start writing about religion.
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A sad anecdote, but I don't think one would be able to find its equivalent in modern academia. I certainly haven't heard of anything like this happening recently, which makes Johnson's advice a dangerous attitude for new scholars.
Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | May 9, 2011 2:00:14 PM
He did get treatly badly, but, excuse me, U Penn ain't exactly chopped liver.
Posted by: Bruce Cole | May 9, 2011 2:52:38 PM
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