Dr Robert Cargill’s Response to Emanuel’s Dr Blower’s Critique of Chris Rollston

On the previously mentioned essay (in comments) Cargill writes (extensively, and yet I’m compelled to replicate it all)

Dr. Blowers,

As an alum of, and former adjunct professor at a Restoration school (Pepperdine), and as a colleague of Dr. Rollston’s, I have taken an interest in this developing story, one that increasingly looks like an attempt by the administration at Emmanuel Christian Seminary to terminate a tenured professor at the urging of a professor of church history, who just happens to be the son of a wonderful and well-loved regent of both Emmanuel and Milligan College. (That would be you.)

So as one who was raised in the Churches of Christ, and as one who now proudly teaches Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, and who is heavily involved in the Digital Humanities, I have taken additional interest in this story because so much of it has taken place in the form of YOUR public comments in the online realm, such as Facebook and blogs.

HOWEVER, as a member of the academy, and as a scholar and a professor engaged in the academic enterprise, it is every bit my, and ALL scholars’ business to know whether or not a supposed institution of higher learning is abiding by fundamental academic principles like tenure.

Do you not realize that your repeated (non-)responses of “it’s just our internal business” and “you don’t have all the information” makes the recent events at Emmanuel appear all the more scandalous, as these are the typical responses of an organization that is attempting to cover up and distract from something that goes against all rules of professionalism and academic propriety?

If Emmanuel has terminated a tenured professional, and one that is as respected as Dr. Rollston, for doing his job – offering an interpretation of scripture based upon his expertise, but one which you, as a Professor of Restoration history, happen to disagree with, and for which you have publicly chastised him – then there will be such a professional and public outcry against Emmanuel that whatever is left of their credibility will instantly be flushed away and the only individuals who will support the institution, and the only students who will attend the college are the far-right leaning, bordering-on-fundamentalist conservative Stone-Campbell sectarians who regularly champion anti-intellectual causes and badmouth any form of critical biblical scholarship. Are you TRYING to make Emmanuel look even MORE anti-intellectual than Glenn Beck University?

And do also you not realize that while you may establish yourself as the big fish in the small bowl and as one not to be trifled with at Emmanuel, you will have concomitantly so tarnished your own academic reputation that your only remaining colleagues will be those who will join you in spitting on the concept of tenure and who insist that a college’s professors MUST CONFORM to a predetermined dogma of identical thought and conclusions, rather than understanding a college as a place where students can observe highly trained individuals of DIFFERING thoughts and opinions DEBATE and DISAGREE in a PROFESSIONAL and safe environment?

If what is rumored to be happening at Emmanuel is actually happening, you may very well have single-handedly brought about the beginning of the end of Emmanuel Christian Seminary. Do you not think that other faculty who may quietly disagree with you are not already updating their resumes and applying to teach elsewhere – anywhere? Do you think that what will be left of your colleagues will ever feel safe if the results of their research must conform to predetermined conclusions as a condition of employment? What kind of REAL research will that ever produce? Will they ever feel safe if they know there is not only a possibility, but an ESTABLISHED PRECEDENT of one of their own policing their thoughts and research, and handing them over to the administration for disciplinary action whenever you feel they have not spoken ‘the truth’?

And do you think any potential donor is going to throw more money after bad money to bail out a college that insists that everyone arrive at the same conclusion? Will students want to attend, and will alums want to financially support a college that so readily discards one of its most beloved professors?

Allow me also to draw attention to the quite skilled apologetic, yet logically fallacious responses you have given recently in the public sphere. For instance, I cannot help but note that you put scare quotes around the term “heresy trial” in your earlier response to me. Now, I acknowledge that we are in a political season, but Mr. Caruso is correct in his comment above: you appear to be engaged in an exercise of semantics, and are repeatedly denying your own straw man argument in a game of apologetic parry and riposte.

I didn’t ask you if there was a “heresy trial” going on at Emmanuel. I asked you if an institution of higher learning (Emmanuel) has begun a disciplinary hearing against a tenured professor (Dr. Rollston) based at least in part upon his Huffington Post article, and whether said disciplinary action came about as a result of any referral from you to the Emmanuel administration.

To this, you respond with the answers I’d expect from an organization in the midst of a scandal – answers like, “You don’t know all the facts”, and “you don’t even know us”, and “it’s none of your business”.

In my opinion, your claim that the disciplinary investigation of a tenured professor based upon your interpretation and critique of an article he wrote is “none of my business” is nothing more than a tacit affirmation that there IS, in fact, a disciplinary hearing underway, that you are complicit in it, and that you wish everyone would JUST PLEASE STOP ASKING ABOUT IT, as it makes you look highly unprofessional and makes Emmanuel look like a bunch of fundamentalist religious sectarians suffering in the midst of a moderate-to-severe financial crisis, which has resulted in the recent change of the name of the institution from “Emmanuel School of Religion” to “Emmanuel Christian Seminary” in the hopes of perhaps appealing to more conservative donors, who might not like some of the professional, “critical” scholarship one might expect from a generically named “School of Religion”, and who would much prefer the doctrinally conforming apologetics we’ve come to expect from southern Bible colleges and like-minded “Christian Seminaries”.

Perhaps the idea of terminating a tenured professor in an endowed chair looks appealing on paper, as it will save a financially strapped college some money while as a bonus, can rid itself of a scholar who doesn’t align with your particular definition of what a traditional Stone-Campbell conservative theology ought to look like.

Of course, I concede that this is just my opinion and sheer speculation. I may be way off, and as you’ve repeatedly suggested, I appear to know nothing about what’s going on there.

There is no such thing as “an extremely limited knowledge of what is going on” in ANY Restoration school, especially when a college is engaged in bypassing the hard-won academic institution of tenure, for which even professors who disagree with the particular speech being made will rally to defend a professor’s right to say it – EVEN AT a private Christian seminary where some actually believe that silly federal laws don’t apply.

(Again, please feel free to correct me if I’ve misstated anything. If you think I have “rushed to judgment” in any way, shape, manner, or form, please disabuse me: where in my initial 4 questions above have I misstated or misspoken?)

One last thing: I admire how you have repeatedly made the distinction that you have praised Dr. Rollston “in public.” But is this not also the very definition of duplicity? You keep repeating that you’ve praised Dr. Rollston in public, while having already apologized for trashing him in public, and for publicly stating that you’ve encouraged disciplinary action against him in private. In fact, your repeated highlighting of the fact that you’ve ALSO praised Dr. Rollston in public only underscores your duplicity as a colleague who has handed him over for disciplinary action at an institution where your father served as a regent. You concede your own duplicity.

Your own continued comments in the public realm betray the seemingly scandalous activity at Emmanuel: scare quotes, non sequiturs, red herrings, circular reasoning, admissions and apologies – all of this betrays to the learned that something is going on at Emmanuel. Something ugly. Something academically unprofessional. Perhaps the possible termination of a tenured faculty member because a well-connected colleague didn’t like what he wrote.

If this is the case, I can completely understand why you would not want to answer any questions about it. It makes you and Emmanuel look very, very bad.

And let me assure you that members of the academy will not stand idly by and hold the coats of those who wish to academically stone Dr. Rollston along with the concept of academic tenure.


Bob Cargill

His last sentence – along with everything else – is 100% on the money.  Amen, and amen.  I once more appeal to the more reasonable people at ECS to speak out, publicly, in support of Dr. Rollston and I likewise urge all of our academic colleagues to do the same.  This matters.