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Fired Cedarville prof wins initial appeal

CEDARVILLE, Ohio (BP)–A faculty panel investigating the termination of a professor at Cedarville (Ohio) University has concluded, on a split vote, in favor of the professor.

In July 2007, two tenured professors in Cedarville’s biblical studies department, David Hoffeditz and David Mappes, were notified that their contracts for the upcoming school year were being terminated. While Mappes chose not to appeal the action, Hoffeditz took the decision to a faculty grievance panel.

In early March, the faculty panel released its findings, and the report was leaked to The Chronicle of Higher Education. In a March 7 article, the journal reported that the panel cited “administrative missteps” as part of its rationale for supporting Hoffeditz.

The faculty panel said it “understands the university position to be that Dr. Hoffeditz insisted that his colleagues adhere to doctrinal positions that are not in the [university’s] doctrinal statement,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

To explain the terminations, the university posted a lengthy statement on its website that said, in part: “For some time now, departmental and university attention has been distracted and energy diverted from work that is central to our mission -– equipping students for lifelong leadership and service through an education marked by excellence and grounded in biblical truth. University administrators, with the full support of the board of trustees, have been involved in a process to return the department of biblical education to its heritage of collegiality and academic dialogue. After carefully and diligently following university processes and procedures, it became necessary to take action in order to restore a healthy team spirit and to refocus our attention and energies on our mission.”

Cedarville spokesman John Davis declined to discuss details of the situation, citing the ongoing grievance process.

The issue involves a debate over the degree to which Christians can be certain in their knowledge of truth. A statement adopted by university trustees in August 2006 says:

“At the turn of the 21st century, both the truth of Scripture and objective truth in general are being questioned. Individuals in society are sometimes skeptical of the ability to know anything about the world or the Bible. These issues have risen to such a level that they cannot be ignored and have prompted Cedarville University to affirm our position on truth and its knowability with a statement that places the institution firmly within the bounds of historic Christian orthodoxy.”

Hoffeditz and Mappes considered themselves theologically more conservative on the issue than their peers in the department, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education article.

Theological conservatism is not at risk in Cedarville’s Bible department, Davis told Baptist Press.

“The issues at hand cannot be categorized in ‘liberal versus conservative’ terms. There are no theological ‘liberals’ at Cedarville University,” he said. “Every Cedarville University faculty member is theologically ‘conservative.’ The university’s commitments to the inerrancy of Scripture, to our historic doctrinal statement and to our conservative theological heritage have not changed.”

The university’s doctrinal statement is posted online at www.cedarville.edu.

The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio voted in 2002 to recommend Cedarville to the state’s Southern Baptists, and the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, with which Cedarville had historically been related, voted in 2006 to sever ties with the university because of perceived liberalism in the SBC.

Cedarville University does not receive any funds through the Cooperative Program, the unified budget of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The American Association of University Professors is looking into concerns about academic freedom at the school.

“What complicates this case is that we are dealing with a church-related institution which makes quite explicit limitations on academic freedom,” AAUP spokesman B. Robert Kreiser told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “The question here is whether the institution acted within those stated limitations.”

Cedarville University “encourages academic inquiry within an atmosphere of Christian love, trust and dialogue,” Davis told Baptist Press. “The faculty handbook provides clear guidelines that support and encourage academic freedom and uphold the university’s mission as a Christ-centered university.”

The grievance panel’s findings will be moved forward according to guidelines governing the grievance process, beginning with President William E. Brown, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary who has been at Cedarville’s helm since June 2003, Davis said.

“Per the Faculty Handbook, the grievance panel’s recommendation has been given to the president for his consideration,” Davis said. “The next step in the process is for the president to relay his recommendation, along with that of the grievance panel, to the academic committee of the board. The final decision rests with the board of trustees.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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