Gnosis vs. epignosis: Knowledge vs. personal experience. WORLD’s May 3, 2014 issue contains our cover story on Christian college trends. I can supplement that with a brief account of my 2007-2011 experience as provost (chief academic officer) of The King’s College, New York City, a school that faced financial difficulty like that now plaguing numerous Christian colleges.
At King’s I sometimes had to give professors off-the-record advice: “Uh, if you’re counting on an assured salary, you might not want to buy that house right now.” Often I didn’t know whether the payroll checks would go out until the day they did. Professors on one-year contracts without tenure felt disrespected by administrators who were trying to put the college on a business-like basis to keep it afloat. The faculty teaching load was double what I often had during my two decades at The University of Texas at Austin (UT).
That’s typical at Christian colleges. Professors with ambition to deliver papers at academic conferences have little time to research and write, and little funding for travel—so it’s important to hire faculty members who care more about applying the Bible than padding their resumés with journal articles almost no one reads. At UT, professors were supposed to have office hours for student visits, and professors were often literalists: “hours” meant two. At King’s, professors were also mentors, and many added a zero to the common secular practice: 20 office hours per week.
Teaching at King’s, in short, was neither a job nor an adventure: It had to be a calling. It’s much easier to base grades on multiple choice tests than to comment line-by-line on student papers, but small classes and faculty feedback differentiated King’s from some of its big competitors. Frequent contact with students was particularly important as online education grew: Reduce the most costly part of in-person college education and students might as well be far away. (I knew that from my own teaching experience. Students in my 10-to-14 person writing classes at UT got a far better education than they would have received online. Those in my 490-student lecture classes received a worse one.)