Here is Bob Smietana at Religion News Service:
A veteran English professor at a leading evangelical university has lost her job — in part because a school official deemed her writing classes too liberal on the issue of race.
Julie Moore, an associate professor of English and director of the Writing Center at Taylor University in Indiana, said she learned in a meeting with the school’s provost earlier this year that her contract was not renewed.
When pressed for details, Taylor Provost Jewerl Maxwell said there had been complaints about assigned readings on racial justice in Moore’s classes. Maxwell named one author as problematic in particular, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by media.
“Jemar Tisby is the main focus,” Maxwell told Moore.
Tisby, a historian, is the author of “The Color of Compromise,” a New York Times bestselling book that details the way Christian faith and racism have been intertwined in American history. A popular speaker and writer about issues of race in evangelical circles, Tisby has become controversial with conservative Christians worried about “wokeness.”
Last year, the board of Grove City College, a conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania, issued a report that criticized diversity training and programs at the school as “woke” — which has become a catchall pejorative for all things liberal, especially regarding race. The report also said it had been a mistake for Tisby to speak at a Grove City chapel service.
During her meeting, Moore protested, pointing out that while she quoted from Tisby — whom she said she admires — in her syllabus*, she’d not assigned any writings by him to students. Her protest went unheeded as Maxwell told her he did not want to debate specifics, according to the recording.
“I felt I was in the twilight zone,” said the 58-year-old Moore, who said she’d taught about racial justice during her composition classes since she first began teaching in the 1990s. Moore came to Taylor in 2017 after teaching at Cedarville University and the historically Black Wilberforce University, both private Christian schools in Ohio.
At Taylor, she assigned students readings such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to My Son” and Claudia Rankine’s New York Times essay “The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning.” Moore’s hope was to help her students, most of them white, develop some racial literacy and to see how the issue of racial justice related to their faith.
That was particularly important, she said, because Taylor is in a part of the state with a history of racism, including the 1930 lynching of two Black teenagers in nearby Marion, Indiana, that drew a crowd of spectators. Many of her students, she said, knew little of that history.
Now she fears the school’s leadership would prefer not to talk about issues of race.
She compared her situation to that of Samuel Joeckel, an English professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University who was fired after a parent reportedly complained he had been “indoctrinating” students at the Christian college by teaching about racial justice.
“I am a faculty purge,” Moore said, saying she worries faculty who teach about systemic racism or the connection between racial justice and faith will no longer be welcome at the school.
Taylor declined to comment on the specifics of Moore’s situation, saying it was a personnel matter.
“With any contract non-renewal, there are many factors that impact an organization’s decision,” the university said in a statement. “We understand and empathize with a faculty member’s disappointment when a contract renewal decision does not go as they had hoped. We are fully dedicated to embracing and celebrating diversity as an intentional community striving to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which transcends all ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and national divisions.”
Read the rest here.
After reading these documents carefully I have a few observations and questions:
First, at my Christian university writing is taught to first-year students as part of a First Year Seminar that focuses on a particular topic or theme. In other words, students choose a First Year Seminar on racial reconciliation or human rights or baseball history or Bob Dylan and write papers related to that theme. It appears that Taylor University does not teach first-year writing this way. Here is the description of ENG 110, the course Julie Moore taught: “The course provides practice in reading academic articles related to composing, writing clear and effective prose through expository modes including summaries, locating main points, responding to quotes with explanation, relating to quotes with specific personal illustrations, exploratory writing, a formal research paper, and reflections over course objectives and growth as a writer. A brief review of grammar and mechanics is provided via instructive comments in every graded assignment.” This looks like a basic English composition course. So why would it be necessary for Moore to include a quote from Tisby’s Color of Compromise in the syllabus? Here is the quote: “The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression. History and Scripture teach us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.” Again, I am not sure what this quote has to do with a 100-level composition course. I can thus understand why the administration asked her to keep her first-year writing course focused on writing pedagogy and not racial justice.
Second, it seems that Taylor University is still trying to figure out how to handle the new post-Trump and post-George Floyd world. It appears that Julie Moore was a victim of this institutional failure. Perhaps what happened here should be understood in a larger historical context. In 2018, the university made news when a faction of conservative faculty and staff started an underground newspaper to complain that the school was shifting in a more “liberal” direction. In 2019, the campus was divided over the administration’s choice of then vice-president Mike Pence as the commencement speaker. (We published a piece by a Taylor alum related to this controversy.) Then there was the “Little Hitler” professor incident. And the university has experienced multiple administration changes in the last five years.
Third, let’s remember that we are only hearing one side of this story. I can’t imagine that Julie Moore was released from her teaching duties simply because she included a Jemar Tisby quote in her syllabus. But from the documents I have read it seems like Taylor University really blew this one. Even if the Lindsay administration is trying to curb “wokeness” on campus, one wonders why an out-of-place quote by Tisby, and complaints by conservative students, would lead to Moore’s firing. Of course Taylor is free to hire or fire anyone they want to hire or fire. But if the administration had a problem with Moore’s teaching or her approach to racial issues, it did not communicate these concerns to her in a clear fashion. The interview with Provost Maxwell shows that Moore was clearly blindsided by this administrative decision.
Fourth, Taylor president Michael Lindsay will take some heat for this, but he knows exactly what he is doing. The release of Julie Moore, and Lindsay’s statement following her release, sends a clear message to conservative donors and alums that the university cares about racial reconciliation, but is not “woke.”
Fifth, let’s remember that Ibram X. Kendi, Jemar Tisby, and Black Lives Matter do not have a corner on the racial reconciliation market (and let’s not pretend it is not a market–Kendi gets as high as 25K a speech and Tisby gets up to 20K). There are other approaches to race relations out there. Some evangelicals gravitate to the work of Baylor sociologist George Yancey or Columbia University linguist John McWhorter or Brown University economist Glenn Loury. Black socialists such as Penn sociologist Adolph Reed, Illinois State historian Toure Reed, Columbia University historian Barbara Fields, and University of Illinois-Chicago political scientist Cedric Johnson offer stinging criticisms of Kendi’s and Tisby’s “anti-racism” approach from the perspective of social class. It would seem as if a Christian college should welcome all of these approaches to thinking about race, as long as they are advanced in conversation with Christian faith. So in this case Julie Moore’s embrace of a Kendi-Tisby brand of anti-racism, while perhaps unpopular to some on campus, should still be welcomed and defended in the spirit of intellectual inquiry and free speech. Despite what the social media outrage machine is saying, Moore’s firing was egregious not because the Lindsay administration at Taylor University doesn’t care about racial justice (they certainly do), but rather because it doesn’t seem willing to welcome diverse thinking about how to solve our country’s racial disparities.
Sixth, I hope Julie Moore gets her job back.