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Back to May Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 232 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS MAY 2005

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God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America, Naomi Schaefer Riley, St. Martin's Press, 2005, 262 pp., $24.95.

This book is a refreshing follow-up to I Am Charlotte Simmons, which was reviewed in this space in the Feb. 2005 issue. Tom Wolfe's novel, recommended by President George W. Bush to his friends, paints a bleak though riveting portrait of the current culture of secular colleges.

Religious colleges are a different story. Naomi Schaefer Riley has done her homework, visiting 20 campuses and logging countless interviews with students, faculty members and administrators.

Colleges with strong religious identities are unquestionably becoming more popular and their academic standards are rising. Enrollment in the more than 100 member institutions of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (which hire only professors who share the faith) jumped 60% from 1990 to 2002. This trend mirrors a rise in evangelical and Jewish day schools and homeschooling (for which religion is a strong motivating factor).

Riley profiles six colleges in depth - Brigham Young, Bob Jones, Notre Dame, Thomas Aquinas, Yeshiva and Baylor - representing Mormon, fundamentalist, Catholic, Jewish and evangelical/Baptist traditions. Her respectful observations about the distinctive character of each campus paint a colorful portrait of religious diversity and vitality in the U.S.

Brigham Young, for example, is run top-down by the Mormon Church, while at Notre Dame the Catholicity of the campus is more palpable in the 85% Catholic student body than in the faculty or administration. Thomas Aquinas takes a monastic approach, secluding the students from the larger world while they debate Plato vs. Aristotle in a unified curriculum shared by everyone. Such an approach would seem alien at either Brigham Young or Notre Dame, larger universities that, despite their robust religious rules, are very much engaged with the larger world.

Especially interesting are the methods each college employs to manage student social life - dormitory arrangements, restrictions on dating and sex, encouragement of marriage between students, and limits on drugs, alcohol, clothing, dancing, movies and rock music. They vary in their appeal and effectiveness, of course, but visitors to many of the campuses mentioned cannot fail to note the wholesome, courteous, friendly atmosphere that usually results. Tom Wolfe's fictional DuPont University they aren't.

God on the Quad makes an excellent primer for parents or college applicants interested in a religious college - or for administrators open to learning more about what works and what doesn't in such an environment.


 
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