Few institutions of higher education can match the legacy of conservatism and independence of Grove City College (GCC). During the Reagan Revolution, the college sued the Department of Education for excess of government power and withdrew from federal funding to safeguard its self-determination. Today, Grove City’s official bulletin states that the college “unabashedly advocates the preservation of America’s religious, political, and economic heritage of individual freedom and responsibility.”
Yet fierce cultural headwinds now threaten to destroy even the strongest conservative institutions. Missing leaders who understand the gravity of the storm will be tossed about by the waves and deflected. Some will sink. At this time last year, Grove City seemed destined for that fate.
Woke programming made its way into the chapel, classroom, and dormitories of Grove City. For months, concerned parents have tried to sound the alarm that GCC was straying from its historic mission. When these concerns fell on deaf ears, they banded together, started an online petition and spread the word on social media. After the administration stonewalled, current and former teachers sent a letter to the school’s board asking them to intervene.
In response, the board took the unprecedented step of creating a committee to investigate CRT and mission drift. His subsequent report is an excellent example of conviction and clarity. The board reaffirmed the college‘s conservative heritage and denounced the CRT as incompatible with the college’s mission. It further detailed exactly how the CRT had made inroads into the institution and gave clear instructions to Chairman Paul McNulty on how to address the issues.
Conservatives cheered. Passionate constituency and vigilant council appeared to have rewritten the centuries-old history of leftward missionary drift in Christian higher education. There remained only the follow-up of the administration of the college.
Four months after the council released its report, the results are in, and they’re not pretty.
Contrary to the unambiguous posture and clear direction of the board, the college administration seems less assured of GCC’s identity and more concerned about not rocking the boat. The board report said GCC was “a conservative, independent and Christ-centered college standing against the grain of the increasingly progressive environment of higher education.”
But Grove City Chairman Paul McNulty expressed a conflicting view of the situation during recent reflections on the CRT controversy. He said: “I’m afraid our polarization is spreading to the point where I don’t know how we’ll get out of it. It seems to be quite different from what it was in the past. Students arrive thinking of themselves as culture warriors. They see everything through this lens.
Where McNulty lacks determination, his provost, Peter Frank, lacks confidence. In a recent video, Frank stated that it’s hard to explain what makes Grove City special, but it has something to do with how GCC balances the conflict between free enterprise and the common good, a remarkable admission. of the Academic Director of Freedom’s College. .
In short, the Grove City constituency and its board of trustees want a bold, countercultural institution, but key trustees seem hesitant. The school’s baffling and now reversed decision to drop the word “conservative” from its vision statement – apparently motivated by a desire to distance itself from the baggage associated with the word – makes sense in light of academic leadership’s lukewarm defense. of the conservative intellectual tradition.
Perhaps reservations among top administrators explain the lack of personnel turnover at GCC over the summer. All of the character cast members who introduced CRT to the school will be returning: Don Optiz (Chaplain who oversaw a series of Awakening Chapel Talks), Justin Jose (Director of the Office of Education and Initiatives multicultural), Christopher Merrick (Residential director who gave a CRT-lite chapel talk and disparaged Grove City on a student-run podcast), and professors in the Department of Education who endorsed and taught CRT-infused courses . It is difficult to reconcile this reality with the board’s directive that McNulty deal with situations where staff are not aligned with the college’s mission. Two of these cases are particularly noteworthy.
The first renewed the contract of psychology professor Warren Throckmorton. Last week, Throckmorton announced he would retire from Grove City at the end of the 2022-23 academic year in a Tweeter which aroused the sympathy of prominent evangelical elders lefties. His misalignment with the school was evident as early as 2017, but was again highlighted via his many blogs and Tweeter in favor of CRT and his numerous media appearances during which he belittled the parents’ anti-CRT campaign. In the crudest case, he attempted to shame GCC board chairman Edward Breen in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.
It is unclear if Throckmorton chose to retire or is retired by the administration of GCC. Either way, a competent administration should have realized the risk inherent in Throckmorton’s return this fall. With nothing to lose, he could become toxic and play the role of ringleader for other disgruntled pro-CRTs. Early reports suggest that is exactly how he intends to behave.
According to a current GCC student who commented on the condition of anonymity, Throckmorton announced on the first day of class that he would spend his senior year voicing his disagreements about the CRT with other like-minded professors on campus.
The second example is the astonishing case of Cedric Lewis, previously a guest speaker in the school’s entrepreneurship program and somewhat of an entrepreneur himself, with apparent business interests in a hemorrhoid treatment company, according to his Twitter bio. Lewis helped design and teach a one-sided pop-CRT course for the Grove City Department of Education. After the council released its report, Lewis took to Twitter to say his historystating that the board had shown a disturbing bias and that their talks – which were conducted by a committee including two sitting federal judges – “would not pass the smell test in a legal setting” .
Lewis has also given interviews to Religion News Service, Inside Higher Ed, The Young Turks, and a Grove City alum turned progressive activist and tarot reader. While Lewis was busy belittling the board and its investigation to anyone willing to listen, it emerged that he had been disbarred in Florida for failing to cooperate with an investigation into whether he had mismanaged client funds. To the surprise of many, the GCC Business Law Instructor had personally experienced the business side of law.
For the reformist administrator, allowing Lewis’ part-time contract to expire should have been a low-hanging fruit. However, according to the Grove City website, not only was Lewis brought back to campus this fall, but he was promoted as Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship. What is the message ? If you accuse the GCC administration loudly enough of being evil, closed-minded conservatives, they will forgive all your trespasses and give you what you want.
All of this leads to one conclusion: despite the council’s moral clarity and strong leadership, the Grove City administration has failed to live up to its responsibilities. In retrospect, it was unwise to imagine that the campus leaders who oversaw and covered up GCC’s initial mission drift might have been able to lead the college straight. If the board is to maintain Grove City’s extraordinary legacy and expand it into the future, it must find new trustees who understand what needs to be done and have the courage to do it.
Josh Abbotoy is the executive director of American Reformer. He is also the managing director of New Founding. A seasoned private equity lawyer by training, Josh is the grateful beneficiary of Christian education, having been homeschooled and later earning his BA (History) from Union University and MA (Medieval and Byzantine Studies) from the Catholic University of America before earning his JD from Harvard Law School. He is a member of University Park Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and divides his time between Texas and the hills of Middle Tennessee.