U v. u (Part 2): Universities, in the Big ‘U’ Sense, versus universities, in the Small ‘u’ Sense

As I suggested in my previous post, Trinity Western University’s argument that religiously-minded students are likely to face discrimination in the law schools of secular Universities due to their religious beliefs seems to have been greatly overstated–while the probable main reason for TWU now wanting its own law school, the income-generating potential of a law school, hasn’t been publicly stated at all.  Although religiously-minded students may indeed encounter discrimination due to their religious beliefs in many programs in Canada’s secular Universities, especially in the humanities and social sciences, the chances of this occurring in law schools seem to be relatively small due to the close ties between law schools and the Canadian legal profession: Canadian law schools teach (primarily) Canadian law and, in Canadian law, there is a protection of religious freedom.

To accommodate all potential Canadian law school students, including religiously-minded students, our secular law schools don’t seem to need fixing to nearly the extent suggested by TWU; however, undergraduate programs in secular Universities that now serve as prerequisites for law schools do need fixing, and  not only for the sake of religiously-minded students who can’t afford the high fees charged by private Christian Universities.   Perhaps we should now consider modelling these programs more after professional programs like law . . . or maybe we should just allow students who want to do so to bypass University, in the big “U” sense, altogether, and enter these professional programs (with certain modifications) directly from high school, as is now being tried, on a limited basis, in Great Britain.  The institutions that such students attend might still be called ‘universities’–but we can drop the capital ‘U’.

I’m very curious to know how many current law school students and recent law school graduates–and maybe even not-so-recent law school graduates, who were undergraduates when, or after, I was an undergraduate in the mid- to late-70s–generally have been satisfied with their law school experiences yet have felt that the program of studies they had to complete at the undergraduate level in order to be accepted into law school was generally unsatisfying–and possibly even questionable in legal terms.  I’m most interested in Canadian cases, since I’m Canadian and since, due to our current national ethos, I suspect there is a relatively high prevalence of such cases in this country.  But I also suspect there are many such cases in other Western countries know well, especially the United States and Great Britain.  I’m also, of course, interested to know the nature of the discrimination, or perceived discrimination.  I doubt very much that it’s only Christian lawyers and law students who have felt there were some significant problems with their undergraduate educations.

Indeed, religiously-minded Christians seem to have it relatively easy in our secular Universities, compared with other groups.  As pointed out by the Vancouver Sun’s religion writer, Douglas Todd, in a piece about TWU’s quest for a law school that appeared in the Sun’s Saturday edition on February 16, “A spat over spirituality in higher education,” Western Universities in general have been strongly associated with Christianity since their inception.  Todd suggests in that piece that, in recent decades, our secular Universities have lost that longtime connection with Christianity–but I would argue that, in many respects, including some very profound respects, this is not actually the case.  (For consistency’s sake, I’m continuing to use the big ‘U’ when I see fit, even though Todd doesn’t capitalize in this manner.)

Among the policies and practices of our secular Universities that can be traced back to Western academia’s Christian roots include the notion that there is such a thing as pure, unadulterated, Universal, Truth (definitely deserving of a capital ‘U’ and ‘T’), from which it follows that academics in pursuit of this highly valuable Commodity deserve to be free of any outside interference.  In this context, University professors also deserve to be accorded a very high status, much like that of respected clergy.  (Watching a procession of all of the Cardinals congregated in Rome to elect a new Pope on TV last week, I was strong reminded of the entrance of professors in their full academic regalia at a University Convocation.)  Today’s religiously-minded Christian students studying in secular Universities are likely to find the fundamental belief system of our Universities consistent with their own fundamental belief system–even if they have trouble with certain left-leaning professors or fellow students.  But, if they are careful in selecting their courses and professors, they can get through University relatively unscathed.  (Particularly when I was studying education, several of my professors were openly, devoutly, Christian.  One was even retiring early to become a priest.)  Those who believe in Absolutes, whether they are on the right or the left of the religious and political spectrums, get off relatively easy.

It’s the rest of us, including, I suspect, the majority of Canadians today, who don’t–and who shouldn’t be prevented from entering law school, or other professions that now require University education, due to our religious and political beliefs.

***I POSTED AN UPDATE TO THIS PIECE IN DECEMBER OF 2013, SHORTLY AFTER TRINITY HAD RECEIVED BASIC APPROVAL IN BC FOR ITS PROPOSED LAW SCHOOL. THE LINK FOR THE UPDATE IS: https://pamelathird.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/update-on-the-trinity-western-university-law-school-controversy-the-third-option/.



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