Mark Elrod is currently a professor of political science at Harding University. Mark, one of the more popular teachers on campus, has recently decided to make his blog private. Though he was not asked to do this by the school, most people around the state of Arkansas have concluded that there was probably some pressure placed on him due to his politics and support for Obama. I heard of the great Mark Elrod when I arrived on Harding’s campus as an undergraduate in the early ’90s. My experiences in his classes were always positive, as he challenged students to think in an intelligent way. Bad students or apathetic students could not stand Elrod. They often cited terms such as arrogance or cocky; I never saw that. I recall thinking how lucky Harding was to have him and that he seemed too enlightened for the narrow conservative views of the school. Although it will not happen, I hope the school’s president comes across this blog piece. I have decided to completely distance myself from Harding and any other school that violates my academic standards. I do not give a lot of money to the school, but what I do give is no longer going to Harding.
In part, I feel that Harding and many other religious affiliate schools are anti-intellectual in that they do not value free thought. Moreover, a school that only hires those of its own religious faith should question its mission to the greater academic community. This is true of secondary independent schools too; I can think of a few church of Christ private schools that only hire members who are church of Christ. In doing so, they usually do not conduct national searches for candidates. They visit the same old church of Christ schools for faculty members. In essence they commit the same crime Harding has been committing for ages: they practice academic incest thus permit inbreeding to take place (see below). On a sad note, you find few to no minority instructors on such campuses. I will admit that I am to a point in my profession that it would be a step down to work at a school that teaches and embraces one perspective.
Furthermore, Harding does not have a tenure system. I suspect faculty members are not permitted to have a faculty senate either. Without this voice or the support of the American Association of University Professors that protects intellectual freedom and assures academic standards, schools such as Harding can preach the idea and concept of the liberal arts, but profess conformity. The greatest benefit of having tenure is that it protects one’s political and intellectual freedom. The process is designed to encourage teachers to challenge students’ intellectual prowess via tough issues and questions without fear of being terminated. This model is very different from that of most jobs. But, with that in mind, jobs outside of academic circles are designed to generate profits; and, although schools are designed to encourage discourse, they too can be motivated by economic factors. It is not unusual for lesser-established private schools to be driven by economic forces. For example, it is more important to put bodies in empty chairs than it is to promote discourse of intellectual matters that might not meet the approval of a few of the school’s clientele. At this point, an institution must have confidence in itself as an academic center.
I can no longer support Harding; I can no longer encourage students to attend a school that operates by a code that goes against my beliefs. Although I once taught at a church of Christ private school, I can say that I no longer support such schools, their beliefs, or values. As for the title of this post, Jeff Baker, a Harding graduate and Vanderbilt Law graduate who now teaches at Jones School of Law, sent a number of us history/poli sci majors a facebook asking that we post our status as “______’s name is Elrod too. I like the show of support for Mark Elrod. But, I believe this matter is far bigger than Mark. This is about academics having the right to support their ideological beliefs and political candidates.
Blogs and other outlets addressing this matter: