Long time readers may remember that my sporadic studies at Oxford combined with wrestling with whether and how to earn additional paper (I eventually settled for a well-earned Certificate of Anglican Studies.) has from time to time caused me to reflect on how best to do higher education. No, I am not a fan of most higher education today, but you probably already guessed that.
So I read with interest Charles Erlandson’s bold proposal of an Anglican University. I heartily agree that traditional Anglicans need to step it up in higher education. Our weakness in that area is a drag on our growth and reduces good options for youth. Erlandson’s goad is needful.
At the same time, I do have two immediate concerns: 1. To be value-added, an Anglican university needs to be a traditional Anglican university, not just another woke what’s happening now “Evangelical” program with some watered down liturgy thrown in. 2. A “university” implies diverse and broad areas of study. That would likely take many years to do well.
Dr. Erlandson already addresses my first concern well by proposing that a university be attached to a cathedral or parish. If that cathedral or parish is robustly orthodox, it should be able to keep any school attached to it orthodox and traditional Anglican as well. But the host church must be willing to hold accountable its college/university. It can be done; the REC does an excellent job with its Cranmer House seminary. But the host church must have the will so to do, including booting wayward professors when necessary.
At the risk of nitpicking the article as well as the word “university”, I do not think he addresses my second concern quite as well. But then one can hardly solve all the world’s problems in one go. Further, he has elsewhere acknowledged we need to “begin small.” I agree. Accordingly I think an Anglican college affiliated to an existing university is more doable. An Anglican college can focus on what it can do well: religious studies, history, a religious and communal life, and so on while taking advantage of the resources of a larger university and while being a witness to a university.
Of course, my proposal has its own problems. The foremost is the pitfall of the university pressuring a traditional Anglican college to become less traditional and more in line with mediocre education of the day. At the start, it is absolutely necessary that an Anglican college affiliated with a university have a great deal of independence, including the ability to separate from the university down the road should that become necessary. Yes, finding a good university agreeable to such an affiliation and respecting the mission of a traditional Anglican college is easier said than done.
But there is a beloved institution that demonstrates that it can be done – Pusey House Oxford. Now Pusey House is not a college and does not offer any courses itself, at least not yet. But it is a base for worship, learning, and communal life that has been attracting more and more students at Oxford as it have become more active under the leadership of Principal Dr. George Westhaver. Space has even become an issue in accommodating the popularity of some of its offerings, a problem unheard of years ago. It offers frequent lectures, serves as a venue for the C. S. Lewis Society, has become the home of the Oxford Scriptorium, has frequent and quite lively social gatherings in addition to its faithful round of daily traditional worship. Really, change the bylaws a bit and add courses, and Pusey House would be an excellent small college.
As for its exact relationship with the University of Oxford, that would take some digging, and Oxford does often have a perverse delight in concealing more than revealing. But my understanding is that it is independent from the university, not a part of it. At the same time, there is much cooperation between the university and Pusey House, including PH’s wonderful library being treated as part of the university’s system of libraries.
I can personally testify the mutual benefits between Pusey House and the University of Oxford are great and that PH attracts a growing variety of students across the University as well many from outside, including your humble blogger.
I think the Pusey House model is a feasible exemplar for an Anglican college and probably more doable than a full-fledged Anglican university, at least at this time. Of course, there is nothing wrong with different Anglican educational ventures seeking God’s glory and the edification of students. That most certainly includes Erlandson’s proposed Anglican university. He is right in stating that our weakness in higher education needs to be addressed and soon.