Small schools excel, Canada lags behind the U.S. and the undergrad revolution
(Click to enlarge)
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7 page 8
[...] University Survey Consortium and the National Survey of Student Engagement survey results are online at Macleans.com. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)For them that likes that sort of thing,Polling [...]
[...] ContentFebruary 4, 2009 — New! University students grade their schoolsFebruary 4, 2009 — 2009 Student SurveysDecember 19, 2008 — Our 18th Annual Rankings Filed Under: Rankings • Top Stories Tags: best [...]
MacLeans should remove Trinity Western University from it’s reporting because TWU students must sign a “commitment contract” with the university whereby they promise to not engage in any behaviour deemed by the institution as “inappropriate”. In compelling students to make this promise the school effectively removes all possible “dissidents” and/or critical thinkers. I was surprised that TWU didn’t attain higher grades considering all of their students are chosen and compelled to report positively on their so-called academic experiences.
Responding to Robert Riggan…
Your portrayal of Trinity Western University is inaccurate, not to mention niave to the way that these surveys are conducted. Members of the Trinity Western Community do make a commitment with the university to certain behaviours that will assist in creating a positive environment for growth, development, dialogue and critique, based on the institution’s clear and forthright commitment to a Christian worldview. Still, as a member of the community I can assure you that I have all the freedom in the world to dissent, question, challenge, and have meaningful dialogue regarding any issue. As a graduate of the institution I think I can speak for all of our grads, that the environment at TWU has some of the most rigorous academic standards in the country, as has often been attested to by students who have come from public institutions, and our graduates have gone on to many illustrious careers in every field of study and service. The institution invites the consideration of all points of view, from a reasonable, thoughtful and scholarly perspective. No viewpoint is cut out of the dialogue before it can be considered. This is not always true of public institutions, where the Christian point of view is often pre-excluded from being heard.
As far as the claim that the institution selects and compels students to only report positively, this survey is administered at TWU in the same way it is at all other institutions… through random selection and confidentiality. There is no way that the institution could follow up on how people answered, nor would the institution gain anything by doing so. As with all the other institutions participating in these surveys, the goal is to learn from the students ways that the institution can improve, enhance, and celebrate what we do in our goal of developing graduates who value truth, compassion, reconciliation and hope. TWU is eager to hear the honest truth from its students.
I encourage you to investigate TWU more thoroughly by visiting the institution or its website, and you’ll find it is a thoroughly serious and rigourous educational institution, worthy of standing beside all other participants in the survey.
As a 2005 Trinity Western University alumni, I feel obligated to correct you on your mischaracterization of the TWU’committment contract.’ The only contract students sign that deals with their behaviour in any way is called the “Community Standards Agreement,” and there is no mention in it whatsoever about providing favourable responses to public polling. Students signing the agreement are agreeing to uphold Christian standards of moral and personal conduct. The only prohibitions included in that document are drunkenness, breaking the law, and sexual conduct violating the basic teachings of the Christian church. No student is ever compelled to sign this contract. It exists in order to foster a sense of community and comraderie, not to police the freedoms of the students.
Further, these polls are conducted independently of the university administration entirely. The results of the polls are not reviewed by TWU staff, and the information is submitted anonymously. Enforcing a ‘positive response’ rule is strictly not practicable. If TWU were attempting to control the responses its students provided to polls like this one, the fact that the information is provided anonymously would more than likely reflect a drastically reduced approval rating from students. This has not been the case.
In fact, TWU has consistently received top reviews from its students in other similar polls, both internal and external. For an example of this, please review the Globe and Mail’s University Report Card articles, in which TWU has been give an A+ rating for overall quality of education for 3 years running, making it the highest rated university in the country in that category.
I would ask other readers to consider the data presented in this report as accurately reflecting the quality of TWU as a post-secondary institution. It has not been doctored by an aggressively ‘Big Brother’ style administrative policy, and it has been collaborated by other reports on the topic. TWU students love their school. It’s no surprise that they say so when asked.
In response to Mr. Riggins comments regarding the suitability of inclusion in the MacLeans survey. As a faculty member at a major Ontario university & a college through the 80′s & 90′s before coming to teach TWU in ’96 I would make the following points: a)I personally felt more censure & constraints on what I, as a faculty member in those settings could bring to the classroom & corridors for “open & free discussion” than I’ve ever known teaching at TWU. I closely watched my words in those “prestigious” Ontario institutions & have never known any censure or lack of freedom in any discussion in my TWU teaching experiences; b)In response to the inaccurate statement that TWU students are “compelled to respond positively” & that they are not critical thinkers …. this is false & denigrates the very excellent, critical thinking students who select a TWU education preferentially based upon it’s long history of academic excellence; c)However, the comment about TWU students being selected – Yes indeed that is accurate.. .at least for the program I teach in. TWU Nursing program has the luxury of selecting among the best qualified applicants as the reputation of excellence of TWU Nursing graduates is well known in Western Canada & many excellent candidates apply for our limited spaces. So yes – the Nursing students are indeed selected for their potential to be future professional nurses of excellence. Mr. Riggin, if you become ill you’d probably want the professional, critical thinking, compassionate care of the TWU Nursing graduates who are preferentially sought after employees in acute care & specialty units.
Trinity Western University is an amazing institution of academic excellence. I’m so grateful to be among their faculty & privileged to teach such dedicated students. I’ve not considered offers of more $ to teach at other “prestigious” Canadian universities to work here, mainly because when I go to professional conferences & hear colleagues reporting about their work in the “public” universities, I return to TWU with a grateful heart for my meaningful work in a supportive & caring community.
You know, I’m not sure if I share Robert’s views, but I think his criticism of TWU in connection with this survey is more interesting than the last two comments give him credit for. I don’t believe he intended to claim that TWU actually controls what students say about their school. Rather, their unusual “agreement” creates a selection bias among students at the onset, and they are less inclined to then complain.
That said (and it’s a good point) I don’t know if that’s a fair criticism or if it’s actually just a restatement of the obvious trend. Smaller, more specialized schools tend to have happier students. Why? Well, I’d hazard a guess it’s because the students who are there have consciously exercised greater control over their education and they tend to be happier as a result. One-size-fits-all education leads naturally to many discontented students.
I’m sure TWU students are happier with their school, in part, because they’ve selected themselves into that explicitly Christian environment. But students can also self-select themselves into other specialized environments with a similar result. I don’t think this example is inherently more suspicious merely because it’s based around a religious position.
I am in agreement with Mr. Rybak’s statement in that the students of Trinity Western have similarities with other students who “self-select” themselves into certain specialized environments within their university experience–the difference with Trinity being that this specialization is one) more explicit and two) religiously-oriented (as Mr. Rybak writes).
What troubled me in regards to Mr. Riggan’s response was his sweeping generalizations concerning the university itself–particularly in regards to the TYPE of students the university accepts. Let me give one example. Last year, I was the Managing Editor for the university’s undergraduate student publication, which recently won the Pacemaker Awards from the Associated Collegiate Press. The Pacemaker’s is an award provided university publications for excellence in journalism. Our newspaper, Mars’ Hill, competed against top North American universities including schools with illustrious journalism programs including Columbia and Northwestern and won. Obviously, rewarding this sort of critical journalistic eye appears to be a non-sequiter if the university did in fact “effectively remove all possible ‘dissidents’ and/or critical thinkers.”
What Mr. Riggan’s comments mainly display is a lack of actual understanding of the university and the students who attend there. He obviously does not know that as students, our classrooms are not filled with a homogeneity of devout Christians, but also contain Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, as well as people of no religious affilation who want to dialog with one another for greater understanding of our worldviews; that our professors challenge us to question whatever belief system–Christian and, in my case, secular humanism–with which we’ve grown up to see its advantages and disadvantages; and that the academic freedom within our university that both challenges religious and secular worldviews has provided our students a rare opportunity to explore both areas without fear of marginalization or isolation. I would therefore challenge Mr. Riggan to investigate his claims Trinity Western honestly before making any more sweeping generalizations about the nature of the university.
On the surface TWU’s ‘Community Standards Agreement’ would seem to be similar to other universities’ codes of conduct. The major differences I note are that TWU students are compelled to sign this agreement which prohibits premarital sex and homosexual activity. While the latter would appear to discriminate against gay students (not to mention horny ones), it has been alleged that the latter requirement would tend to produce graduates who would be inclined to discriminate against gays. As the British Columbia College of Teachers (BCCT) noted in the mid-90s, this would be problematic in the case of teacher certification programs. In 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the BCCT’s position was “speculative, involving consideration of the potential future beliefs and conduct of graduates”.
For what i’s worth, I did my undergrad at Trinity Western University before doing grad degrees at UBC and McGill. And while my experiences at both UBC and McGill were excellent, there is no question that I received a superior education and experienced a more challenging learning environment at TWU. People I know who went on to places like Stanford and Harvard have told me the same.
The notion that a self-selection bias impeding diversity only exists at a place like TWU is highly debatable. Explain to me how those applying to Queens undergrad aren’t self-selecting in favour of the renowned Queen’s/Kingston experience. Or how the tri-lingual allophones who dominate McGill’s population aren’t a unique demographic. Or how the massive “over-representation” of first generation East Asians at UBC isn’t, for statistical purposes, a kind of self-selection.
TWU is more heterogeneous than its detractors realize or would care to admit; a lot of other places are good deal more statistically homogeneous.
Several years ago, the organization I work for looked into TWU’s academic quality control and academic freedom practices as a consequence of the institution’s application for Exempt Status under BC’s Degree Authorization Act. We too expressed concern about how the Community Standards Agreement and their academic freedom policy might impinge on free and critical inquiry by faculty and students.
At the invitation of the senior administration of the university, we met with them and with faculty members to discuss these matters. It was a most enlightening and fruitful discussion. It was clear to us that the institution has a very strong commitment to high academic standards, including critical inquiry.
From our brief examination, we could discern no constraint on the academic freedom of faculty or students (CAUT is currently carrying out a more thorough inquiry). In fact, on a tour of the library I scanned the shelves and discovered a number of books I thought would have been unlikely to be on TWU’s shelves (don’t ask me the titles, it was too long ago for my middle-aged brain to recall).
As a consequence of all of this, neither I, nor the organization I work for, have any concerns about the quality of education being provided by TWU. On matters of academic quality, we’re far more concerned with the for-profit, secular degree granting institutions.
This is not to say that there could never be problems arising from TWU’s Community Standards Agreement or its academic freedom policies, but I’m of the view those should be addressed on a case-by-case basis and not assumed to be the result of any sort of systemic repression or “group think” , as the original poster seems to suggest.
Having said all of this, I know TWU is not the kind of place I would want to study or work. But that’s a personal preference and not because I have concerns about their quality.
Ok, settle down people. My first post was to draw people’s attention to the “statistical” requirement that all of the surveyed groups need to be of “like nature” so that comparisons can be made between apples and not betwen apples and oranges. Any measure, instituted by an institution, that limits or skews student admissions in any way, invalidates the internal cohesion of any study seeking to measure “student population” variables, even student satisfaction variables. That is why TWU needs to be removed…because their student population is “managed”. If there are other institutions that deny students entry based on any screening activity that is additional to what is “normally” required (i.e. high school completion, transcript submissions, etc.) they should also be removed.
As far as academic freedom is concerned people should be aware that the CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers) is currently investigating the “hiring practices” at TWU. They are specifically concerned with the Community Standards Agreement and the requirement that all staff sign this document. I have two friends who have been interviewed as part of the investigation in the last month.
Robert, I’m afraid your first post didn’t come across to me as dealing with validity issues, but rather as an assessment of TWU’s Community Standards Agreement and its effect on the quality of education — thus my response.
If this is a discussion about where to draw the line to separate the apples from the oranges, then there is much more to consider than conduct requirements.
For example, the students at Royal Roads University, a public secular institution, are largely mid-career adults enrolled in Masters level programs. Should they be compared to Acadia, a primarily undergraduate institution catering to recent high school graduates?
What about University of Ontario Institute of Technology or the Ontario College (now University) of Art and Design? Should the opinions of the students at these specialized institutions be compared against those at the more general University of Toronto?
I’m not aware if Redeemer or Tyndale have faith or conduct requirements, but if they do, should they be struck from the list? If they don’t, are we then saying that the student culture at these institutions is the same as that at public, secular institutions?
Making any kind of comparison between educational institutions is a game fraught with difficulty.
Having toured Redeemer officially once, and unofficially numerous times (it is about 5km from my place of residence), I can state that I saw a lot of books that I would not expect at a “religious” university.
I’ve attended a few events at Redeemer and can state they have more faculty/student interaction than a large public university.
I attribute the higher placement of Redeemer to its small size more than a selection process.
Surveys are always fascinating to me since people are so fixated on rankings. My university was never on the list of McLean’s until it recently became a University instead of a University-College. it did quite well in the rankings here. So for years it’s not on the list despite the courses and instructors largely being the same.
One school gets 58% in the definitely yes and 40% in the probably yes and is near the top – another school may have the numbers flipped and be near the bottom. Big deal. You may be in the 40% if you had attended the higher ranked school but you might have preferred the lower ranked school had YOU attended that one. Since you can’t be in two places at once you would not know.
As for Trinity Western I know only that it is a school geared for Christian students. That I suppose worries people to some extent. As someone who does not believe in God any more than the tooth fairy, the reaction MIGHT be that the school does not really believe in critical thinking, science (specifically the “fact” of evolution), or other open-minded liberal ideas. However, it is not fair to assume that this is the case at Trinity Western or to force people to believe in things they don’t wish to believe. Christian values, for whatever that actually means, is something that if you want to share you will feel “safer” going to a school where other people share your same values on marriage, liberal notions, God, etc. With Religion being one of the more “talked about” subjects these days, and more dogmatic atheists like myself not walking on egg shells anymore then it makes perfect sense for such schools to operate. In some respects religious people are ostracised now almost as minority groups have been for the last several years. So going to a place where that won’t happen makes a lot of sense to me.
Although to be frank I think it’s pretty sad that it had to come to Christian’s feeling alienated at secular universities to begin with. My university had wonderful people of all sorts of faiths that allowed me to have terrific conversations on religion, politics, sex, history, with Mormons, Christians, Muslims, even a Wicken. Now there’s a round table. Nevertheless, it never fell into anything close to a shouting matche. In fact most of us had a good laugh about it.
One of my worries about schools like this, and Trinity may not be included here, is that they shield themselves in a castle where everyone thinks alike. I have a tough time with the words “critical thinking” and believing in a supernatural space creature who goes out of his way to not leave any trace whatsoever of his existence and for no good reason. For such an entity to wish to be worshipped he really does go out of his way to make it seem like he’s not there.
I would argue it takes an enormous amount of UN-critical thinking to believe this stuff – and if one is that uncritical on this subject why would people assume that they would be any different on any other subject?
Joey Coleman – it’s not what books a University has but what they are doing with them and how or if they are teaching them responsibly.
To Robert Clift
I agree with you, Robert. It’s impossible to have a ranked list of unequal items and convey much meaning. You can’t effectively compare the student populations (or any data derived from same) of Royal Roads, Thompson Rivers, Athabasca, or Waterloo. They are all significantly different groups. All we can assuredly derive from the NSSE surveys is that those institutions who score well will use their scores in marketing schemes and those that score poorly will either distance themselves from the survey or remain mute.
I have to say, I was a bit astonished when I saw some of the comments about Trinity Western University. I am a freshman attending there and I find it an open school. I am a Christian from a fairly liberal church. As such, I am open to other religions and opinions in faith, and am easily affronted by conservative “stick-in-the-mud” Christians that refuse to look at another point of view. I loathe people forcing others to believe, think or feel they way they do. I shudder to even thinking about it. Sure, as a Christian University, there are classes on Christianity that are required, but, they do not require you to believe in Christianity. They are a discussion on the faith and the history behind it. It is a thought process that requires you to think. There are classes on other faiths and Trinity does not shy away from other points of view. The professors and students embrace these difficult topics and are open to conversation. This is much better than where I come from in the United States. I came from a public school, and had everything dictated to me through requirements made by the school and the government. How I would learn, what I would learn, who I would learn with, and how fast I would learn are the main ways my learning was affected. I had no choice at all in the matter. My high school was bias through heterogeneous community learning that was enforced to the bitter end senior year. The freedom I feel in what I learn at Trinity is at least ten times that of that in high school. Yes, I did choose it as a Christian, but I could very well not be a Christian and still feel comfortable in this environment.
I am also in the biology department, and I can say that in no way, shape or form do they not believe in evolution. Instead they offer a comprehensive way for students of the Christian faith to deal with the common thought that you cannot be a Christian and a scientist at the same time.
Also, on the validity of the statistics, all universities chose who they want to come into their university or not. There are GPA and test standards that one has to meet for most schools, and if you do not meet them, you do not get in. That does not even mention the factor of money involved. If you cannot pay the tuition, does not that also show a selection bias on where your family stands in society? Also, you have to consider the fact that the students themselves chose the universities that they went to. I am guessing that most of the students made at least a slightly informed decision on what university they were going to and what the university was like. In that case, you are asking for randomness in a highly selected environment. If the students were randomly assigned which school they were going to go to and then asked what they thought about the university, I could understand insisting the validity of having randomness in the types of students that went there. The fact remains that there is no such thing, as every university has some form of impression or “personality” as you may call it that prospective students learn about during their search. There are party universities, art universities, environmental universities, and many other types of universities. Trinity Western University’s “personality” is just more noticeable because they have a Community Standards Agreement and are an openly Christian university. Does that make it fair to only call them out on it? Those are just my thoughts on the matter. I do not mean to offend anyone.
I’m an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Trinity Western. In addition to this year’s Macleans student satisfaction rankings, my university has participated in the Globe and Mail University Report Card for the past three years–also based on student satisfaction surveys. And like other universities, mine utilizes favorable rankings for marketing purposes. Every time these surveys come out, I spend a few moments in my classes asking our students what we learn from them. More specifically, I’ll ask, “Do we, as our marketing folk claim, learn that Trinity Western has the best quality of education in Canada as a result of getting an “A+” in this category three years in a row?” Of course, I suggest to them, we learn no such thing. Now I do think TWU is among the best places in Canada for an undergraduate liberal arts and sciences degree but I don’t think that we could really learn that from a NSSE or CUSC survey. Basically, from these we learn whether or not students are happy with their school, and has been pointed out above, TWU students are generally happy with their educational experience. And no wonder; they’re taught by PhD’s who are fully engaged in their respective guilds and who take an active interest in student success and personal well-being.
The connected issues in the TWU thread in the comments raise the following questions:
(1) What, really, is the value of student surveys–what do we learn from them?
(2) Given one’s answer to (1), how useful are rankings based on student satisfaction surveys?
(3) Is there value in comparing privately funded universities with a religiously informed mission to public universities, regardless of the methodology (e.g. student satisfaction surveys, other more objective criteria, etc.)?
My own views here are that with respect to (1), we don’t really learn much about the institutions ranked by student surveys. What we can get is general info about trends in student population of any given school. Thus concerning (2)–the value of these student satisfaction surveys–is that they’re not entirely useless, but they’re certainly not much use. What I mean is that they provide a very small amount of evidence for conclusions about overall educational quality–evidence which can easily be defeated by other factors–but evidence nonetheless. (In this regard, NSSE surveys are like student course evaluations; a single poor course evaluation may not be an indication of a poor instructor–but, given the correct instrument, a lifetime of poor course evaluations does suggest something stronger.)
Concerning (3)–should privately funded universities with a religiously informed mission be compared to publicly funded universities–I think the answer is a resounding “yes!” There’s no value in excluding private universities from, say, the annual Macleans rankings in the fall. But there is some value in including them–and if there’s no value in excluding them, but some value in including them, then they should be included!
Again, consider Trinity Western. TWU students come from all sectors of Canada’s geographic and religious landscape. TWU has a diverse student body representing a variety of religious, non-religious, and irreligious perspectives. It includes fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalist atheists, Sikh’s, Muslims, disaffected post-evangelicals–the list goes on. TWU teaches BC Ministry approved curriculum and offers BC Ministry approved degrees, including degrees in education, nursing, biotechnology, etc. TWU has three Canada Research Chairs in humanities and sciences, including a CRC in Developmental Genetics and Disease. On any meaningful criterion for categorizing student demographics and course offering, TWU is sufficiently similar to other universities such that there’s no value in excluding it from rankings.
But there’s incredible value in including TWU in university rankings. TWU makes several claims about quality of education, and the benefit of rankings with sound methodology is to provide assessment by groups with no vested interest in the success of any given institution. For example, TWU claims that:
(1) TWU pre-med students have a higher rate of acceptance into medical school than other institutions, thus making it a better spot to go for pre-med.
(2) TWU science students have better access to labs and lab instruction than much larger public institutions, and thus claim to position science grads for better success upon graduation.
(3) TWU’s liberal arts and sciences core, combined with smaller class sizes and prof’s who are highly skilled teachers breeds success regardless of one’s major.
Are these claims true? Are they false? Either way, they are exactly the kind of claims Macleans should be investigating by including TWU in their fall university rankings issue. Everyone would benefit.
Although I have no affiliation with TWU, or any knowledge of their policies and procedures, in a democratic, pluralistic, secular and free society it seems absurd to even consider limiting any educational institution’s participation in something as mundane as a student survey because they are different and their policies might be different from the majority. Even if documents and policies, sociological make-up and other factors have a biasing effect on the results (of which I doubt there is any acceptable warranted scientific support for in the case of TWU) it seems ludicrous to talk about barring a school for such reasons in 21st century Canada.
Also, I find some of Mr. Richard Austen’s comments very interesting in regards to this discussion regarding TWU. I will focus on just one example. He refers to the “fact” of evolution. Because of my background, I once viewed science in this way, using language that was more appropriate in theology/positivistic philosophy or the philosophy of mathematics discussions. Today, most non-naive views of the philosophy of science treat scientific theories as models. This means they are pragmatic constructions reflecting the most and best coherent picture of the majority of empirical data collected, and have excellent predictive and explanatory power relating to a particular area of knowledge. Since new empirical knowledge is constantly being accumulated, the model is always evolving to some extent. Sometimes the prevailing picture needs to be so completely altered that the new picture is radically different from the old (so called paradigm shift). This is necessary in order to create an understanding that is able to be considered more coherent, consistent and exhibiting greater explanatory and predictive power than the old. Hence, referring to current scientific models as “facts” is rather old fashioned and not very helpful when trying to use science to support a position in an argument. This sounds more like Bible or Koran thumping adherents who said – the Bible said or the Koran said such and such … therefore it must be so (not withstanding that most knowledgeable Biblical or Koran scholars would never make such declarations)!! If for example, some type of biological model was developed (for example the controversial Intelligent Design model or another new model) that radically changed the picture of biology and that was more coherent and had better explanatory and predictive power than current evolutionary models, science would embrace them regardless of their theological or philosophical implications.
Why talk about all this in a discussion about whether TWU should be included in a student educational survey? I say all this because I detect in Mr. Austen (and other people who claim to be new atheists) an unwarranted prejudice against schools like TWU and their worldview based on a rather rigid view of what he feels are good reasons for rejecting a God/god. I find this surprising because this attitude seems to reflect a new fundamentalism of thought that is more religious than rational in nature and very much colors seeing the productive dialogue that can occur (other more learned people than me who are traditional atheists and religious have also made this same point). It would seem to me that on Mr. Austen’s own view of things, the rational, critical, enlightened view would be to admit he is pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things (especially when our brains are just products of chance and natural law) and his and all of our current knowledge is quite limited (or even wrong being that we are a speck on a speck in a speck of a galaxy… etc. with no chance of any divine knowledge to guide us!) and so that there could be a chance that his own ignorance, biases, limited exposure to ideas (no matter how broad), and so on might allow for the real possibility that he could be dead wrong (as we should all admit, unless we are in fact God and then we can expect the men/women in white coats at our door to take us away).
Now this more humble approach to knowledge would seem to represent a more objective critical thinking approach that he would want to promote and the kind that seems to be present and encouraged at TWU from what I’ve heard. The flaw in Mr. Austen’s thinking and argument if there is one may be the mistaken belief that only new atheists are so “rational”, “critical” or “enlightened” that they know enough to pass judgements on or talk confidently about these big questions. Perhaps we should all allow our personal “models” of the way we believe the world works and is, to be modified through productive interaction with others who are different from us even perhaps beyond what we thought possible. If nothing else, postmodernism has taught us and challenged us to think about this – right? There are no completely objective human based positions of authority – even in science!
I would challenge Mr. Austen and others like him to open their minds to be truly critical (even of their own most cherished beliefs and their limitations) and seriously entertain the thought that perhaps their ideas might not be the last word on the big questions of life. Some people who have honestly done this have been very surprised at the outcome. I would suggest that it is some of this trans-critical thinking and exploration that allows people, who are graduates from TWU, from all walks of life and beliefs to shine in their various areas of expertise. Hence, although Mr. Austen and others like him might still come away disagreeing with the value of including schools like TWU in this type of survey or the value of dialogue in general (and there is nothing wrong with that!), they might be surprised that they learned something from these dialogues if they are open minded.
All of the above may seem far removed from the original question of the value and issues related to including schools like TWU in the survey. The fact that lively discussion on a wide range of topics (even those as seemingly far afield as the preceding discussion) is generated by including different schools like TWU in a simple educational survey, is as good an argument as any I can think of for their value in being included.
I’m an Associate Professor of English at Tyndale University College.
I think Mr. Riggan’s comment about a ‘selection-bias’ that might have skewed the responses of students at Christian universities seems reasonable, and his is a fairly widely-held opinion in Canada. So I wouldn’t want to pick on him.
There is some reason to believe it is true. After all, one reason students choose to come to Christian universities lies in their belief that there will be a deeper integrity between their Christian beliefs and what is taught in the university, that Jesus who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ will have a stronger relation on their conduct, their learning and their lives than how it is popularly presented in the media.
This belief in an integrity between faith and learning places them in agreement not only with those who laid the foundations of the university, but virtually everyone involved in universities for centuries – until the past generation or two. The weight of history is on their side, and it is simply fallacious to suggest that the Christian faith and academic freedom are somehow generically incompatible.
What is less reasonable then is the suggestion that the high levels of satisfaction in Christian universities are an inevitable product of their congruence with these students’ previously-held ‘mindless’ beliefs. The reason that they are satisfied, he implies, is because the students’ prejudices are confirmed by what they are taught.
This is a caricature which only works to diminish the integrity of Christian students and Christian universities. It seems to reflect a belief that academic freedom can only be legitimate if a person possesses no firm convictions about anything.
But everyone judges and acts on the basis of what he or she understands to be true – just as Mr. Riggan has when, led by his convictions, he suggested that Christian universities are categorically different than other universities.
He understands academic freedom as a *freedom from belief*.
That is his prejudice. It is simply a prejudice that belief and freedom are incompatible, which is a judgement which refutes itself.
[...] Active and Collaborative Learning: [...]
As a graduate of TWU’s English and Arts department, as an individual who took an active role in on and off campus activities (some of which were deemed “appropriate” and some of which were deemed “inappropriate” by the Community Standards), and as an individual who’s wavered in and out of the private Christian and public secular school spheres for nearly two decades, I can say this:
We choose the schools we choose because we want to gain something. Some call this acquisition “learning.”
I was the student who chose TWU because of the small class sizes, and also because the campus was a property that once belonged to my great-grandparents. Some students choose to go to TWU because they want to learn what they already “know” to be “true.” Some students choose to go to TWU because in the absence of really knowing what to do with themselves, their parents have “encouraged” such a simple and plausible “option.” Some students choose to go to TWU because they want to learn to lead, to get involved in the world, and to find a cause they can commit to long term. Some students want to read. Others want to create. There are always those who, alas, just want a job in the end. And finally, every once in a while there is the odd student who just wants to turn his or her community upside down – TWU provides a pretty good place for Christians to rattle their Faith to the bone. Thank God/god for each of these students, who keep places like universities from becoming homogeneous.
These reasons for choosing TWU, I have come to realize, are also the same reasons students choose to go to other institutions. Perhaps one student wants to be assured in his faith of evolutionary “fact.” Another student’s parent might say, “Hey, I went to UBC. Your mom went to UBC. It just makes sense.” So on, and so forth.
What the TWU rankings can show us though, as someone has already indicated, is trends. And I don’t mean trends about student satisfaction. I mean the trends seen in our dialogue here. It’s intriguing to me that although students may choose different schools based on some of the same reasons and although several other schools repeatedly ranked high on the charts, that TWU, a small liberal arts and science school tucked into a nook of Langley, while out of sight, is never out of mind.
Why are we talking about TWU? Because we’re terrified of the notion that enforced community might have some sort of value to it. We’ve spent so long freeing ourselves from any sort of accountability to one another. I can write what I please here, and I never have to hear from you again, your responses, if I so please. That is, unless, you track me down on Facebook.
I spent a good solid 4 years raging about Community Standards, trying to decide with my friends how far we could push it while still being effective in our contributions to the conversation. I say this only to assure myself that I’m not the bible whompster you expect of a TWU grad, and to remind myself how at least I once had something to work from.
At TWU, I couldn’t escape community, in whatever form it took shape. Since graduating, I’ve found it’s quite easy to drift into the backdrop of the rest of the world. I’ve learned that when the man doesn’t force the commandments down on you, there’s very little worth fighting against, and even less worth fighting for. And learning to fight, and then to listen, just so that we can come up with something a little closer to some sort of beauty/truth/good, so that we can learn to love one another a little more, this is the greatest thing worth acquiring in the end.
Mr. BC White
My intent was not to turn this into a dogmatic debate over religion. Atheists simply wish to be convinced, with evidence, that something stated can be proved. If a person claims he was abducted by aliens or sees ghosts in his attic we are not going to “just believe” that person unless the person can produce evidence. Why? Because we know that the mind is a powerful thing that can be tricked very easily or convinced of practically anything if brainwashed.
When we are young we believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. Why? Not because we see them, in the tooth Fairy’s case, or see Santa’s magic, but because of the drum beat of parents who tell us stories. And since we have no reason not to believe that our parents would lie to us – they are after all our most trusted and relied upon caregivers, we believe that these entities are real. That is until at some point we figure out that these are in fact just stories, myths, and entertainments. Ha – Ha now it’s time to find the reality of the situation in that these stories are meant to appease children or in religion’s case control a poor population into believing that they better behave because if they don’t they will not have a better life and rather they will be tortured for all eternity. It’s an effective way to keep the serfs in line.
The line between theory and fact – gravity is a theory. Gravity is a theory with a massive amount of evidence to back it up. Christianity – zero credible evidence any more than the tooth fairy. The difference between religion and cult is merely the size of membership. Something does not become a fact just because lots of people read the same book and democratically believe whatever the book is selling.
To have a critical dialog on the subject one can not use the “bible” as any kind of reference to support said argument is merely arguing from authority or circular logic.
And it’s really tough for me to see how people can be considered critical thinkers when they are so willing to be uncritical on this matter – especially in the field of science. I admit they can still be good scientists.
[...] Level of Academic Challenge: [...]
I appreciate your concern for rationality and critical thinking. I too am interested in these things. I had hoped to have you think a little more deeply about your assumptions and presuppositions which were influencing your thoughts on the more general issue under discussion (as by your own admission you have strong biases). This kind of thing is what schools like TWU try to encourage from their students from my understanding. If you want to be fully consistent with a scientific approach to metaphysical questions than subscribe to no metaphysical position since they transcend the limits of science. Of course most people find this impossible and therefore adopt some overarching metaphysics and worldview (which they sometimes don’t realize, especially in my experience if they are from a strictly science background – as I realized about myself many years ago while in mathematics and theoretical physics!), even people like the new atheists who try to make it sound very scientific!
Thoughtful people who hold religious beliefs do not necessarily park their rationality at the door when it comes to discussing religious subjects. It is an unfortunate stereotype to label non-atheists as being uncritical or being influenced by what I think you might term religious propaganda. Trying to liken all thoughtful people of faith as children when it comes to evaluating faith claims is committing the fallacy of a straw man argument – I trust that is not your intent. Of-course there are people whose ideas about faith (or atheism!) might be something akin to children who believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus but one would be committing the fallacy of over generalization to put everyone of faith (or atheism) in this category – Again I trust that you didn’t intend to overstate your case and make this logical mistake. I have often heard people who claim to be very logical, atheistic, rational, scientific, critical thinkers and so on make these and other basic logical fallacies. I do certainly agree that people can be easily influenced by propaganda whether atheistic (Communist, Nazi, or secular) or non-atheistic for evil purposes by evil people. We must be on our guard and encouraging critical thinking from different points of view as TWU seems to do is a great way to prevent this type of evil.
Of course propaganda cuts both ways. Atheists raised to disbelieve in a god can suffer the same “brainwashing” from parents. The most famous case of this that I can think of is the son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Ms O’Hair crusaded to have prayer out of the American school system in the 1960′s. As a fully indoctrinated atheist, her son later in life claimed that it was because of what he saw as the rationality of faith and his own critical appraisal of his mother’s own irrational way of living based on her belief structure that convinced him to look elsewhere for a better and more credible system of belief. I find a great irony of history that someone who crusaded so furiously to protect her son from religious indoctrination and propaganda, irrationality, and other terrible brainwashing, would in the end produce a son who accused her of doing the very same thing based on her atheism.
You mention gravity as an example of a theory that has large amounts of evidence to support it (historical evidence). I think that Christians would argue in the same way in favour of the resurrection of Jesus – historical, theory based on known facts, open to re-interpretation, stood the test of time, new knowledge has supported the theory (new understanding of the body and medicine) etc. Christians would point out that some very thoughtful and educated people who did not claim faith that had honestly looked at the evidence changed their mind because the evidence was very persuasive. The nature of the evidence may make it difficult for someone committed to a fundamentalist atheistic faith to accept but the facts as known, most probably support the traditional view.
I discuss the above to hopefully illustrate that issues of faith, science, philosophy and their inter-relationship are not so easily dismissed by popular rhetoric levelled against religious thinking as some people popularly do. I’ve seen manipulation, illogical and uncritical thinking, propaganda, conformance, controlling of populations of people done to and by atheist and non-atheist. Although it may be hard to understand for people with what seem like rigid fundamentalist atheistic views of the world, schools like TWU are important institutions for encouraging critical thinking, careful evaluation and academic scholarship. The fact that academics from these schools are committed to a particular metaphysics is no more disturbing to me than people committed to a different one from a secular university. Everyone has their bias towards a particular view of the world and I for one am less mistrusting of people who freely admit this than who claim to be purely rational, always claiming to exercise critical thinking (and therefore implying they are better than others), unbiased or “scientific”. Dogmatic debates over religion or creating false conflict between science and religion for me have nothing to do with it.
First Atheists do not argue that “there is no God” it’s that they want some remote credible evidence that such an entity exists. The Christian and Muslim Sky God is knocked down in either the field of science or just plain basic logic.
Sighting an example of misguided atheists doesn’t really do anything of value other than to shift the argument away from the central topic. The onus of proof is on the person making the claim. You claim there is a ghost – prove it. You claim there is a God – prove it.
There are good people and bad people from any faith or any non faith. Stalin was an Atheist but Stalin did not act in the name of Atheism. Discussing morality and faith is another issue altogether but there are several exercises in logic based in the field of philosophy that should illustrate that a “sky God” does not make a whole lot of sense. I am not prepared to go into those arguments because there are many forums on the subject for those who would like to discuss in depth.
Banning the teaching of evolution or trying to have it banned when it has enormous amounts of real hard fact evidence that supports it versus creationism or intelligent design – two preposterous arguments with zero evidence is for me scary. The resurrection of the dead has never been validated. Just because a “book” tells you so and like minded individuals want to believe it to be true is a far cry from the theory of gravity. No credible scientist would support such nonsense. Trying to make your case through a lens of “new atheism” or likening it to a “faith” is a complete misunderstanding and reading of what it is to demand evidence and to think rationally and critically about the evidence that is presented. Atheist’s do not have a “faith” that there is no God. There in fact very well may be a God – Atheists don’t know. They’re willing enough to admit the things they don’t know. But they’re also smart enough (some of them) to know when someone else is basing a belief on fallacy.
I’m not saying TWU is a bad school or anything like that. On Religion it is simply a matter that someone of faith is willing to take the leap of faith that despite the enormous lack of remotely credible evidence of a creator that they’re going to “believe” anyway. Fine by me. The field of science has its share of leaps as well no doubt where a scientist will fill in the gaps. The difference is that when they’re shown their errors they stop go back re-evaluate their stance.
Typically, a Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, Scientology, etc are sure that they’re correct. They are positive that they are 100% correct and that the other faiths are out to lunch. There can be no conversation with such people because no matter the logic, science, whatever there is no way they can be moved off their stance. I can be moved off my stance with proof.
However if TWU invites Richard Dawkins to teach in their biology department my view about the credibility of not requiring someone to be Christian would increase. I have an inkling that that the science department teaches faith based science – which isn’t science.
As you say honest atheists don’t know whether there is a god or not (I would tend to call these people something other than atheists as most of the atheists I’ve met make much stronger claims than this). I respect people who are willing to weigh the evidence before coming to a critical conclusion and who leave these questions open. Unfortunately, I’ve met many misguided atheists, as you’ve termed them, where this has not been the case. I could go into arguments for God etc but like you’ve mentioned, the forums on the internet are better places to look than here. This is also getting very far from what the main discussion is all about.
Having TWU involved in the survey definitely contributes to a wide range of views and possibilities. It also provides a jumping off point for other wider issues such as those that we have been discussing – which to my mind is a good thing. These may or may not be of interest to a wider audience. As I’ve said before it makes no sense to me to limit any particular group in pluralistic 21st century Canada on something like this type of survey. Enough said on my part. In the spirit of what I believe TWU tries to do at their school I will comment on Mr. Austen’s latest points below (only for those interested) and leave any further discussions at that since this is not the forum to discuss issues of the culture wars, evidence for God and other issues…. I will leave the last word to Mr. Austen if he wishes to have it!!
Thank you all for your input on this issue…
Further thoughts only for those interested …..
The “sky god” concept is a valid criticism in some instances but most people I’ve met are more sophisticated than this so this argument starts sounding like a “straw man” argument again when over generalized. This is a valid argument if a person is expressing frustration with some ordinary people’s views on religion, invalid if discussing sophisticated thinkers from the traditions cited and other similar traditions.
The misguided atheist point you refer to doesn’t shift the argument but simply highlights similar problems in the promotion of ideas to children whether atheist or otherwise. You brought this point up about influencing children which is a separate but related question to evidence and I was simply responding to it. Unless one can establish that the evidence does support the contention that god is no more real than the tooth fairy and Santa Claus than these statements are simply circular arguments (since you were discussing the evidence for the existence of God in the first place). Also, one need not necessarily justify God’s existence if it is assumed in the first place – as has been effectively argued by people like Alvin Plantinga. If someone then wishes to challenge the assumption, they would have to demonstrate why the assumption was invalid.
Stalin acted in the name of atheism and communism as he didn’t see them as mutually exclusive. Sky god concept for morality is just another straw man argument from what most serious theistic thinkers would discuss when it comes to this subject.
Evolution has become problematic to a growing number of scientists especially concerning macro-evolution. New ideas such as intelligent design try to improve on these older models as I understand it. It is hard to say how good or bad intelligent design could be as a theory as it is being prevented from being given a fair chance to develop a research program and present its ideas to be properly criticized in journals in the name of protecting science, at least according to some.
The new atheists are as much about ideology as evidence. For me there is no comparison between the ranting of people like Dawkins (more recent writings) and Hitchens with people like Michael Martin and Michael Ruse. Dawkins for one needs to concentrate on biology where he has expertise rather than philosophy which he obviously doesn’t.
Perhaps fundamentalists of the religions you mention believe they are 100% right on everything but I’ve never met such a person. I’ve met people who are very confident in what they consider the essentials of their beliefs but rarely even than at 100%. They may strongly believe that they are more correct than other groups but most people acknowledge valuable insights, morality or other positives from other groups. Some people like this may be rather triumphal and annoying but I think it is exaggerating to label them quite as extreme as you have. As in science different groups differ on fundamental ideas. As overarching ideas, religion like their secular counterparts that have strong atheist components (communism, secular humanism etc.) can become radicalized and dangerous. Most people in Canada are against such things both atheist and non-atheist and rightfully so. Science generally is much more modest in what it tries to set out to do and accomplish. It also tries to avoid straying too much into metaphysical areas.
It would be interesting to have Dawkins teach at TWU as well as others with opposite ideas from him in biological areas. Perhaps TWU could encourage some type of series where this could happen. I myself heard Michael Ruse many years ago speak in favour of evolution when I was a grade 12 student in a critical thinking seminar on evolution and creation. It was very thought provoking and I think beneficial for all involved as it gave different view points a forum to argue for their ideas.
Most science does not have anything to do with whether God exists or not. To make inquiry easier, it is assumed that intelligent agents are not altering the natural flow of things (although this is of-course a metaphysical methodological postulate) and many religious groups have no problem with this. Only in origins science do question of God’s existence matter much or when trying to provide a metaphysical frame for biology. Most biology benefits zilch from discussions of neo-Darwinian evolution, since what is important is how biological components and systems work together and separately. Whether these systems arose from Macro-evolution or ID contributes nothing to their understanding. Adaptation of an organism to its environmental that exist because of the design and structure of its genetics is useful from a micro-evolutionary point of view which no one would argue with. What happens because of mutations is also interesting when it involves how it affects an organism or biological systems. However, as of yet theories on natural selection that demonstrate long term selective developmental benefits and the overall increase in useful information (and biological complexity) in the organism caused by mutations have not established themselves as an uncontroversial predictive mechanism for how macro change can take place (there are lots of ideas, suggestions and some simple experiments that people claim would demonstrate this but no real good unified theory on this, much is assumed but little is really proven). This may happen some day but that day still seems far off. This is exactly the central issue in the whole debate.
Again I would say that free discussion and debate from different perspectives on subjects is helpful and constructive. Have a wide range of opinions from different perspectives on surveys like those of Maclean’s is also a good idea. TWU can contribute their ideas and opinions just as constructively as any other institution of higher learning.
My invisible friend is better than your invisible friend!
After wading through this wonderful dialogue, I have only a very few things to say.
First, I find it intriguing that the inclusion of TWU, Redeemer and Tyndale in this year’s survey has generated this much discussion. It might be argued that the discussion itself demonstrates the need to include schools like these within the public sphere and public dialogue rather than relegating them to the sidelines by imposing a modernist/secular criteria that judges them as being “second-rate.”
Second, it is equally intriguing how through their objections to the inclusion of these schools Robert and Richard have actually invited a public dialogue on the role of religion, not to mention the belief in a supreme being, in private and public life (e.g. education). I think the Christian community, and others, can be thankful for Robert and Richard for providing this opportunity to dialogue on these matters and in the process further the public discourse on this subject.
In all honesty..I attended Redeemer for a period of time. I enjoyed it, and would have said yes, I was satisfied. Then I transferred to another university and looking back, when I was at Redeemer I had no idea what I was missing. Yes, there is a community atmosphere. But going to a much larger university enabled me to find a niche that I loved, and open up so many more opportunities. It makes me wonder if the students there would feel differently about the way that they rate Redeemer once they find out how much is available elsewhere. Yes maybe class sizes are larger, profs not as accessible, but I feel the education I am receiving now is better for it. Profs are more knowledgeable, larger classes provide more opportunities, better dialogue with more opinions, and many other benefits of a larger university. I do believe that Redeemer is the perfect place for a select few, and although it is a nice small setting, realize that the world outside the redeemer bubble is not a nice small setting, so step outside of it. Then maybe the students would realize that saying they are satisfied with their profs/classes/experience etc. is because that’s all they’ve known. Nothing against redeemer, i loved my 2 years there. But, I’m not sure that it’s right for many people, and I don’t feel it is represented properly in the ratings.
I agree with KFM that the objection to including some smaller religious based schools has opened a productive public debate which is constructive. It is always productive to encourage participation rather than limit it in a pluralistic society.
Many of Brigit’s points are also valid. Larger schools provide more opportunity for a wider range of dialogue and points of view – of poor or good quality as they may be. It also provides more like minded people to interact with – which can be both good and bad (bad if as a person I’m not challenged to learn from others who are different than me, for example). Profs I don’t think are necessarily more knowledgeable at bigger schools but this depends on the subject and school. Big schools have benefits as do small schools, it really depends on the individual, the school and other factors. However, large schools are also a bubble. The real world tends not to be much like the idealized environment of the university. The bigger schools are pretty much just bigger bubbles and may actually be worse in this respect because sometimes people are less able to recognize this at a bigger school than a smaller school.
Although I never went to a small religious based university school (medium sized public university), I recently talked with someone who did and who also went to one of the biggest public universities in Canada. They indicated that not only was the smaller school much more rigorous, better taught and had more thoughtful dialogue, they learned a lot more. The dialogue was not one sided because the school was small. They did have a wider range of courses to choose from at the big school but this was only beneficial under certain circumstances. This particular smaller school because it was smaller, helped students focus their energy on the direction they wanted to go in their lives because the students got to know professors, professors could encourage them personally and advise them best on how to set themselves up for further studies at other much larger religious based schools or public universities. This type of personal interaction is generally not always available to many undergraduates unless they are of exceptional academic standing (and really push themselves forward!). Today, many young people welcome personal interest and help from professors in an increasingly impersonal world, especially when it comes to receiving wisdom regarding important life matters – such as career, life direction, what to consider important and unimportant in their lives. Therefore, I doubt the validity of the comment that these small schools are only best for a select few. I would guess that for quite a number of students it may be the best first experience of higher education.
Perhaps Macleans could consider listing separate categories for very small schools (such as the schools mentioned) and further expanding criteria to compare some of these different types of schools. This would provide useful information for people who have an interest in these types of schools and expanded dialogue – if this is financially feasible. I commend Macleans for continuing to broaden the inclusivity and scope of their university survey and providing a wider percentage of Canadians with information on higher education in Canada.
Can anyone tell me…which University is better for Sociology and Psychology, (Laurier or Waterloo)? I got accepeted…and now I’m really confused…Even though Laurier is best for Arts, but Waterloo has good rep and it’s famous.
please contact me at shikha_327@Yahoo.ca
[...] measures of effective programming, as in the Canadian magazine Maclean’s, as seen in this 2009 Maclean’s article with a chart of university rankings. Service-learning is categorized as a type of “Enriching educational [...]
I have so many problems with this survey. Primarily with the fact that the University of Tronto is ranked near the bottom. Unfortunately I can say that my school is not the best when it comes to student life but no other school in the country can come close to the medium level of education it provides. Yes it is hard but your ridiculous to think the campus does not foster success. This school breeds success. To substantiate my argument, look at my alumni, no school comes close(with the exception of McGill, you guys are alright). Furthermore to discredit Macleans inaccurate surveys, I see that you have identified the college system within Western and surveyed accordingly. You obviously do not have a background in the History of universities, you should know that the college system within U of T is a well-known characteristic of the University and among the best college system’s in the world(I am comparing it to that of Oxford and Cambridge), western’s college system severely lacks in comparison.
These surveys are a great way of viewing the non-academic attributes of Universities and I appreciate this fact, however, if these statistics are going to be inaccurate, I cannot and let this debauchery of world class school’s continue.
Thank you for your time.
WRT Trinity Western University, preventing people from attending a university based on their sexual orientation is a violation of their human rights. What is even more alarming is the fact that many of those students signing the “community standards agreement”are indeed enagagin in premarital sex, actually attending walk in clinics for birth control prescriptions and treatment for STDs! I am in health care, so I know!What a bunch of hypocrites – absolutely typical!
I lost the love of my life due to the brain washing that goes on at this school. Just when you think humans have finally broken the prejudice/racist thoughtline, you’re wrong. Not to say that this school is racist, that’s absurd. The idea of a belief that doesn’t allow you to be with people who don’t believe is the epitomy of prejudice. Now that must be hard for the fundamentalist minds that run that school but for someone who lives in reality, me, it’s easy to see. I always respected everything she did and believed in, until she allowed it to make choices for her. The day she told me it could never work because of Christianity I lost a lot more faith in mankind. It truly was a step back for humanity and rational thinking. To this day I’ll never be able to forgive religion and will always refer to that time in my life as a reincarnation of the ‘Montagues and the Capulets.’ The only difference is I never held anything against her, no matter how far she wanted to take her beliefs. Who is surprised though? Nobody, it’s just another case of religious tragedy that could’ve been avoided in a sane and just world. My two hundred and fifty cents
19 years old
I have no comment
I am a student in high school in the United Arab Emirates
I would like to request that the request
To Whom It May Concern
I’m looking for the university in order to consider fully whether one help me complete my studies
I live in the UAE with my family, but poor physical conditions
I would love to live in a country known for human rights
It is a choice…no one is putting a gun to your head for attending TWU or signing the contract. From your logic, does it mean if I choose to not have you as my friend because of your sexual orientation, does that mean I violated your human rights? Your argument lacks validity and the grounds from which you are making this argument from. All it shows is that you simply do not know TWU well enough to make a comment or you do not understand the core values of being Christians.