Catholic School Fires Math Teacher for Expressing Atheistic Views

What About Academic Freedom?

A math teacher who said in an online survey that she did not believe in God has been fired by an Iowa Catholic school after her views were discovered on her Facebook profile and after officials found she had posted a comment at an atheist website.

Last August the teacher, 27-year-old Abby Nurre, who had just been hired to teach eight-grade math at St. Edmond School in Fort Dodge, checked “no” in a Facebook survey about whether she believed in God, heaven and angels. Then in November she posted a link to a news article about federal funding of research on prayer in an online discussion forum run by atheists.

In December, five weeks after that posting, a student brought printouts of the websites to school officials, and Nurre was fired. The Catholic school, backed by the bishops of Iowa, also sought to deny Nurre unemployment benefits, which prompted a court hearing that concluded in her favor this week. She will still not be able to return to St. Edmond School, however.

“Each one of our teachers signs a contract when they are hired and one of the first things on the contract is the condition that they have to uphold our faith and teachings,” Kristie Arlt, director of communication for the Diocese of Sioux City, which covers Fort Dodge, told Politics Daily. Arlt said it did not matter that she taught math and not religion or a subject directly related to faith or morals.

“We have wonderful teachers who are not Catholics — some are Lutherans — but they cannot willingly and publicly take a stand against the Catholic faith. So this should not have been a surprise to her [Nurre].”…

“There were printouts of the Facebook page and of that Nexus group that the kids actually had,” he said. “When students in a Catholic school are running around the school with this survey and it says, ‘Do you believe in God?’ and it says, ‘No,’ well, that’s in conflict with what we are teaching.”

http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/05/28/catholic-school-fires-math-teacher-who-may-not-believe-in-god/print/

The Week, June 11, 2010, p. 6

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36 thoughts on “Catholic School Fires Math Teacher for Expressing Atheistic Views

  1. While I don’t agree with their doctrines or their efforts to use civil governments and power to advance their agenda, at least the Catholic Church stands for something. It seems to know that there’s just no point in having a church school that doesn’t support the stated ideals and goals of the organization…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com




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  2. Once again, perhaps [we] might learn something from the [Catholics]. If nothing else, this proves that a faith institution has every right to expect its employees to loyally and enthusiastically uphold the principles for which it stands.

    This talk of “academic freedom” is really strange, when you think about it. It’s like a husband or a wife claiming they lack the “freedom” to cheat on each other. Of course they have such freedom, but those who are genuinely in love freely and joyfully choose a different course. If, however, the opposite course is chosen, they are still free, but there are consequences.

    Thus it should be for employment within God’s church.

    God bless!

    Pastor Kevin Paulson




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  3. Pastor Paulsen, The words “uphold our faith and teachings” means something different to “progressive” adventists. It means “reinterpreting” our beliefs to conform to the modern world’s view of whatever we are discussing.

    But, you are correct, even the Catholics are “miles ahead” of LSU in defending their faith in their own institutions.




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  4. It would be nice if SDA colleges and universities hired only committed SDA professors, but some of you seem unaware that it is often very, very difficult to find a suitable SDA candidate with a PhD degree for an open teaching position, which is why non-SDAs or marginal SDAs are often hired on a contractual or salary basis. The same thing happens in SDA health care institutions–why would you expect SDA institutions of higher learning to be any different? Especially when the remuneration is lower than what most SDA academies and primary schools pay their teachers, and much, much lower than what SDA health care workers, including nurses, get paid. Why bother to get a PhD degree?

    That is why we need more SDAs who are willing to teach in SDA institutions of higher education–and why we need to foster an educational environment more attractive to SDAs who are dedicated to the mission of the SDA church. We have not done enough–not nearly enough–to encourage young, dedicated SDA intellectuals to become professors in our colleges and universities. I’m quite certain that much less than 1% of science majors in SDA institutions aspire to become a professor in a SDA institution of higher education. If we could get it to more than 1% there would be a much larger pool of potential candidates, but that would require a major change in the church’s culture.

    If you’re genuinely concerned about what is happening at LSU, have you ever encouraged a young, talented, inquisitive and dedicated SDA student to become a professor in an SDA institution? If not, please do so–and please do not withdraw your support for SDA education!




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  5. Eddie,
    You raise an extremely valid and relevant concern. What is the pay range of SDA university professors as compared to other non-Adventist university professors? What is the salary of teachers with doctoral degrees as compared with health-care professionals with doctoral degrees in our institutions? Why is it that our universities are so expensive yet don’t pay our professors a competitive wage commensurate with the financial sacrifice it takes to get a PhD from our universities? What can we do to support and promote the career and calling of SDA university professorship within our churches and schools.

    I hazard a guess that Sean Pittman would probably make an excellent SDA university science professor. Would he loose half his income to become one?




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  6. Dear Ron:

    “Progressive” Adventists are seeking to “reinterpret” our faith in the same way the golden calf worshipers, Jeroboam, Jezebel, and Herodias tried to “reinterpret” the faith God committed to His ancient people. There really is nothing new in any of this. Apostasy has been with us since the Garden of Eden, and the excuses we hear now are no different from those offered by Cain, Aaron, and Saul in former times. As the wise man says, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).

    May the Lord find us faithful!

    God bless!

    Pastor Kevin Paulson




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  7. Eddie,

    What a refreshing post! Virtually all of the students I have run into who have an interest in biology want to go on to study medicine. Our schools have become little more than medicine mills and yet we still can’t fully staff our hostipals with Adventsits! I’ve read how Adventist biologists have become a scarce commodity. I personally can’t think of any undergraduate friends who wants to become a college biology professor. I fear the profession has become so villified int he church that anyone having the mind to become one would choose anything else at this point.




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  8. @Victor

    What is the pay range of SDA university professors as compared to other non-Adventist university professors? What is the salary of teachers with doctoral degrees as compared with health-care professionals with doctoral degrees in our institutions? Why is it that our universities are so expensive yet don’t pay our professors a competitive wage commensurate with the financial sacrifice it takes to get a PhD from our universities? What can we do to support and promote the career and calling of SDA university professorship within our churches and schools.

    Victor,

    These are very important and compelling questions. Their answers depend on a couple of things. First, when you ask “What is the pay range of SDA university professors as compared to other non-Adventist university professors?”, do you mean non-SDA professors vs. SDA professors at the same institution (in which case, both are on the same scale), or do you mean professors at SDA institutions of a certain rank vs. professors at non-SDA institutions of a certain rank (i.e. Assistant Professor of Biology at University X vs. Assistant Professor of Biology at University Y)? In the latter case, SDA professors generally make much less; at some institutions less than half.

    Regarding professors with earned doctorates in the university setting vs. Adventist medical professionals with earned doctorates, there are a number of differences. Professors will generally have a fixed salary based on a fixed scale with defined minimums and maximums. Medical professionals, particularly those with their own practices, do not work on a fixed scale. They can work as much or as little as they need and so the potential range for remuneration is wide so it is not easy to compare the two general professions. Also, when in training to become either a professor or doctor a PhD, while expensive, is not nearly as costly as an MD or DDS.

    As for “Why is it that our universities are so expensive yet don’t pay our professors a competitive wage commensurate with the financial sacrifice it takes to get a PhD from our universities?”, there are two points to consider. First, all private schools are expensive because they do not draw public funds for the majority of operating costs. Some private universities have generous scholarship supports due to their very large endowment funds. SDA universities do not typically have these, so operating costs are based primarily on tuition. To keep tuitions lower, salaries are kept lower (this is an oversimplification I know, but useful as an overview). Secondly, there are few SDA universities that offer doctoral/terminal degrees outside of the medical professions. We generally offer them in theology, education, and a few scattered fields, but we do not offer them in the wide variety that you would find in any state university system. For example, my PhD is in Musicology, a research degree from the University of California Riverside. There is no place in the SDA system where I could get such a degree, largely because we are primarily teaching institutions and not research institutions (with some important exceptions). If you look at the faculties of all of our North American universities, you will see that almost none of the professors’ terminal degrees are from Adventist institutions. I can not think of even one at LSU (though I am sure they exist). In my own department, they were earned at UCLA, USC, Yale, UNT, Columbia, etc.

    I encourage my students to become the next generation of SDA scholars (though speaking of generations is strictly tongue-in-cheek, as many of my students are less than ten years younger than I) by encouraging them to attend graduate school at excellent research institutions, and then come back and share their newly-honed talents and expertise with subsequent generations of SDA students. It speaks well to the quality of our programs that our students (though I speak only for music) are well-prepared and do extremely well in graduate school. I hope that helps to answer the questions; I apologize for the length of the response.

    Pax,

    David Kendall, PhD
    Adjunct Professor of Music
    La Sierra University




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  9. @Victor Marshall:

    I hazard a guess that Sean Pitman would probably make an excellent SDA university science professor. Would he loose half his income to become one?

    Thanks for the compliment : )

    I also sympathize with teachers in the SDA educational system. Our teachers are often underpaid relative to their peers in secular universities (the same is often true for pastors). I think it would be a fine effort for our church to figure out how to increase the salaries of our teachers. Yet, I do not think that this should be done at the sacrifice of supporting the Pillars of the SDA Faith. Such a cost would simply be too high regardless of the success one might have on the financial front. It would be better to close down our schools rather than have them undermine the very reason for our having them in the first place – to support what the SDA Church stands for.

    In this particular regard I think we have a lot to learn from other church organizations – to include the Catholic Church. I know it must be shocking for some to consider that we could learn anything from the Catholic Church, but at least they stand for something and don’t mind saying so…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com




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  10. David answered the question better than I could have. From what I understand, a decade or so ago the SDA colleges and universities separated their wages from the denominational wage scale, ostensibly so that they could pay higher wages to attract better quality professors. As a consequence, wages are set by each institution’s board of trustees but, because of financial constraints, pay raises tend to fall behind those doled out by the denomination. To give an example, Pacific Union College currently pays its professors something like 20-25% LESS than the primary and secondary school teachers on the same campus. So why would anybody in their right mind want to teach there? Can you imagine the impact on the morale of faculty? What kind of a message does that send to students?

    At the very least, PUC professors should be paid the SAME as primary and secondary school teachers, and it’s a shame they aren’t. PUC is probably the most extreme example, but remuneration varies greatly among SDA institutions. La Sierra University pays more than PUC because it has generated huge profits from real estate deals. Loma Linda University pays the most because it is a health sciences university. The other SDA institutions pay less than the California institutions but the cost of living is lower–often much lower–than in California.

    David wrote “If you look at the faculties of all of our North American universities, you will see that almost none of the professors’ terminal degrees are from Adventist institutions.” That may well be true, but not for biology professors, which are often recruited from the graduate program in earth and biological sciences at LLU. Although I read the occasional critique of LLU’s graduate programs in this forum, the program historically has been very conservative and tended to attract relatively conservative graduate students who were a fearful of attending graduate school in a secular university. For many years the graduate program was chaired by Ariel Roth and later by Leonard Brand, both staunch defenders of traditional SDA interpretations of origins. Both were very careful not to hire professors with “progressive” views of origins–even now the program is staffed with relatively conservative SDA professors. One SDA non-biology professor once suggested to me that SDA biology professors might be more conservative in their views of origins than SDA professors of any other discipline, including non-science disciplines–and I suspect he just might be right.




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  11. If I felt that I could not in good conscience teach the SDA pillars of origins in a SDA institution, and if I knew that my actions were stoking controversy for my institution, I would resign and look for a job elsewhere. That’s how I feel, and for all we know some professors at LSU may feel the same and may already be looking for job elsewhere. But if we were to follow St. Edmond School’s example and outright fire “liberal” professors at LSU–an action that appears to be endorsed by some here–WHO WOULD THEY BE REPLACED WITH?

    As I mentioned before, there are very few individuals who aspire to become a science professor in a SDA institution, and not all are suitable candidates. THE CRISIS AT LSU WON’T BE SOLVED BY MERELY FIRING PROFESSORS! First, the underlying causes of the crisis must be addressed, which is going to require a long period of introspection, study, discussion and culture-changing decisions. Many of you are highly educated SDAs who have read and thought a lot about science, yet few of you chose to become a science professor–why? Why is it that so few young SDAs aspire to become science professors?

    For years there have been repeated calls by some at LLU and elsewhere to close the expensive graduate program in earth and biological sciences at LLU, yet it appears to be the single major source of “conservative” SDA biology professors–and our best hope for training prospective graduates to replace the “liberal” professors that you are clamoring to get rid of. If you’re going to find relatively conservative SDA professors to teach in SDA institutions, LLU’s graduate program must be supported and strengthened. Furthermore, the science progranms in other SDA institutions must also be supported and strengthened. But supporting these programs won’t do any good if you continue to urge your children to become a pastor, doctor, dentist or nurse instead of a science professor. SDA higher education is a mission field that has been neglected as “mission” for far too long.




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  12. All this talk about Sean becoming an SDA Biology Prof is a total smokescreen to avoid talking about the real issue. If Sean wants to do that, great. But, I suspect he doesn’t, and doesn’t need to to have a great affect on changing problems within our SDA Church.




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  13. David & Eddie et al,
    Thanks very much for the detailed information. this fills in alot of the puzzle pieces for me.
    Thanks again,
    Victor




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  14. All this talk about Sean becoming an SDA Biology Prof is a total smokescreen to avoid talking about the real issue. If Sean wants to do that, great.But, I suspect he doesn’t, and doesn’t need to to have a great affect on changing problems within our SDA Church.  

    Please Ron,
    I only mentioned it half serious in passing, in one sentence, in the midst of the really serious context of a discussion about the state of SDA professorships. Sean took it as a compliment and that was the end of it. Where do you get “all this talk” and “smokescreen.”
    I do think you’re doing better of late though Ron. I don’t see as many edits on your posts.




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  15. Sean Pitman wrote

    @Victor Marshall: It would be better to close down our schools rather than have them undermine the very reason for our having them in the first place – to support what the SDA Church stands for. Sean Pitmanhttp://www.DetectingDesign.com  (Quote)

    Sean, I agree that the schools need to support the church and I believe LSU does so. There biolgists need to be supportive and I have been told they are respectful. But let’s say one is not supportive and is fired but because of low pay or lack of suitable applicants (as Eddie points out the reality of our situation) they are forced to hire a Baptist or a Catholic biologist who believes in theistic evolution. Would you really insist on shutting the entire school down and punish the music, phys ed, psychology, nursing, english, chemistry and other majors because you believe this teacher would undermine the church? I hope your view is not this extreem.




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  16. Please Ron,
    I only mentioned it half serious in passing, in one sentence, in the midst of the really serious context of a discussion about the state of SDA professorships. Sean took it as a compliment and that was the end of it. Where do you get “all this talk” and “smokescreen.”
    I do think you’re doing better of late though Ron. I don’t see as many edits on your posts.  

    Thanks Victor, I know the “half serious” talk is only “chit-chat.” However, we do need to focus on the real issues here, and not go off topic too often. The debate about details of evolution and how they might support one theory or the other is another “smokescreen” issue.

    BTW, my posts are still HIGHLY edited, censored and deleted!




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  17. Ron, perhaps you should quit your work, retrain, and become a biology professor. Rather than demand a solution why don’t you become the solution. You and Sean could both take this approach. You could be kissin’ colleagues!




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  18. So Ron, good buddy, isn’t your mantra of criticizing SDA leadership and California SDAs merely a “smokescreen”? How is criticism ever going to resolve the crisis? What exactly do you think is the “real issue” here and how it should be resolved?

    Judging from the tone of your posts, I would guess you favor one of the following options: (1) goad the General Conference (through a steady stream of criticism) to fire the leaders and hire new ones who are willing to fire the liberal professors; (2) goad the current leaders (through a steady stream of criticism) into firing the liberal professors; (3) shut down LSU’s biology program; or (4) shut down LSU. If you favor the first or second options, who would you replace the professors with? How many qualified candidates do you know who are qualified to teach biology, support traditional SDA views of origins, and are actually looking for a job? Do you believe that any of the above options, if taken, will actually resolve the crisis within the church’s educational system? If you don’t believe that any of the above options will resolve the crisis, what alternative do you suggest?




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  19. So Ron, good buddy, isn’t your mantra of criticizing SDA leadership and California SDAs merely a “smokescreen”? …

    No smokescreen at all, Eddie! I have stated facts and invited those whom I have named to come “on board” to counter my facts. Much of what I have stated has been deleted, but some remain. Any takers?




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  20. This site is all about educating the SDA population about what is really going on so the they can do something about it. what can be done? The board of LSU is chose at constituency meetings. The member of the constituency can only make informed decisions when they have been exposed to what is really going on. Most of the SDA believe what Sean and others on this board believe, but don’t know what has been going on at LSU. Even clear up here in Montana, I’ve found more and more church members who are becoming aware of this issue and are voicing the desire that there needs to be a house cleaning at LSU. It will come. It is inevitable. Those at LSU are continually shooting themselves in the foot, becuase they think that everyone believes like they do. They have been able to keep a lid on things for they have controlled what got out to the SDAs. But now the lid has been blown off, and the SDA people are not going to just sit back and believe what LSU says. The Board is going to have to do something, or they will find themselves out. The Administration is going to have to do something or they are going to be out. The Biology Dept. is going to have to do something or they are going to be out.

    Most SDAs are shocked when they hear of what’s been going on. They haven’t realized that this is something that been going on for decades. But now that people have learned what’s what. Things are going to change. No question about it. Either those at LSU will change, or they will quit, or they will be fired. But things will not go on as they have been.




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  21. Allen Roy, You’re absolutely correct. LSU IS shooting themselves in the foot. And, the “word” is getting out. You’re also right in the fact that most bible-believing SDA’s are shocked about this matter.

    I have my doubts about who is going to be “out” however, since usually a “fall guy” is chosen to take the rap for all those involved. We’ll see how all involved play their cards!




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  22. Eddie and David have made some very valid points, yet I’m amazed by how many of you have readily glossed them over. You folks believe you have a very serious problem to deal with. As Eddie and David and others (including myself) keep pointing out, you can undertake “housecleaning” at LSU, but you haven’t solved your problem unless you have replaced the “errant” individuals with those who possess all the attributes you believe to be essential. But where ARE those individuals? Where ARE the “faithful” biologists? Are there only a few of you who comprehend this profound problem?

    I’m really on the periphery of this issue with limited familiarity with what’s at stake. Thus, I rely heavily on an old friend–a very “faithful” SDA biologist who wants no part of this quarrel (and therefore must remain anonymous) but seems to be well-plugged into the system. I trust his opinions on the matter. He has told me repeatedly, emphatically, and going back to last summer, that the Church has a crisis in its lack of suitable SDA biologists. The Southern Adventist University situation clearly demonstrated this, as Eddie pointed out: to replace I think it was three faculty (now I forget; I actually wrote a post on this very topic at ATODAY.COM!), they basically had to steal one faculty from another SDA college and leave the other two positions vacant. VACANT! Don’t you folks see the problem here?




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  23. So before you go and fire your faculty, maybe you really ought to be looking for suitable replacements in advance. And if you don’t have those individuals, you really should be doing more to produce them. Eddie had some good ideas; you folks really should be listening to him/her! Why is there no willingness to engage this potentially productive discussion? I hope it’s not because pointing fingers and denouncing others is a lot more fun.

    There is one other alternative: why can’t LSU or the Church’s administration ask the offending faculty to stop undermining the Church and to treat its doctrines with more respect? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they changed their approach (if they haven’t already)?




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  24. @Professor Kent:

    So before you go and fire your faculty, maybe you really ought to be looking for suitable replacements in advance.

    It would be nice to have suitable replacements, true. However, even if no replacements could be found, the Church cannot afford to hire those who go about deliberately and decidedly undermining the very Pillars of the SDA Faith. Even if it means that the school must be shut down, or at least individual departments shut down, the SDA Church simply cannot support those who are attacking its very reason for existence.

    You’re talking about two separate problems here. One problem has to do with what should be the policy regarding the hiring of paid representatives (teachers and pastors). The other has to do with producing qualified pastors and teachers. Both are problems faced by the SDA Church today, but these problems are not the same. The first needs to be dealt with regardless of if the second has been solved or not. Why? Because if the first is not dealt with very quickly and decidedly, there will be few if any young people coming out of our schools who believe in the fundamental pillars of the SDA faith anyway and the Church will dissolve into irrelevance.

    This is already happening given the lack of support for SDA fundamentals within our schools for decades now. Another generation of this and our Church might as well shut down as far as a unique institution with a unique Gospel message to share with the world. We’ll just meld into an organization that is indistinguishable from blah non-denominational feel-good groups. We’ll end up light the situation in Europe where most Churches are closing down and their buildings are being turned into bars, night clubs, business offices, and other secular buildings. Who needs yet another social club with a religious twist? It’s time to stand for something or get out of the game…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com




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  25. And yet our colleges and universities and Churches continue to grow…

    So do we focus on narrowing or expanding our ranks? You guys have spent many months attempting to tear down an institution and a denomination. I challenge you people to begin positive discussion. Somehow I don’t believe you want to.




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  26. Well stated Sean. Prof Kent’s idea that we should ask the faculty members to “please be a good little boy” for our Church’s sake is not going to happen. They and LSU have already “hunkered down” and are ready to fight…




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  27. Yes Sean, “another social club with a religious twist” is exactly what LSU has turned into. It appears that the LSU administration has already decided that’s what LSU will be or already IS!




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  28. You guys have spent many months attempting to tear down an institution and a denomination. I challenge you people to begin positive discussion. Somehow I don’t believe you want to.

    Maybe I’m missing the intended target of this quote. But it sounds like you are talking to the the Educate Truth moderators/staff and those who support them. I hope not, because that would be a silly accusation.




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  29. Eddie, I have been thinking about going on to earn a PhD. Do you have any suggestions? I’m not sure I want to work for our church but if I did what would be the best pathway.




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  30. Geanna, naturally I recommend Loma Linda University. But good luck finding a job in a SDA institution, because there may not be any science programs left in SDA institutions by the time you finish (I can almost hear the applause).




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  31. Geanna,

    I encourage you to go get a PhD, if you can find a good, supportive department (and some funding, hard to come by these days, at least in California), either inside of or outside of the SDA system. I found all of my graduate work to be incredibly rewarding and I strongly recommend it to my own students, though they should always be prepared to open their minds and question their assumptions, despite what others have warned about the dangers of such a route (reading infidel authors, engaging in philosophical debates in the religious sphere, etc.).

    One suggestion for working at an SDA institution is to prepare a syllabus and approach a department chair and offer to teach an introductory class, a lab or something else in an adjunct capacity. Working for the church is likewise very rewarding (but not usually in a monetary sense!), though a bit less so in the current environment. Having the privilege of helping to guide and mentor students in an Adventist Christian environment (just as I was in turn guided and mentored) is enough for me. Go for it!

    Pax,

    David Kendall, PhD
    Adjunct Professor of Music
    La Sierra University




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  32. Thank you Eddie and Dr. Kendall for your warm encouragment and thoughtful suggestions. I actually contacted someone at Loma Linda and am looking at other options as well. I honestly want to give back to the church that has given so much to me. I admire those who are willing to put up with criticism and personal insult to help and guide inquisitive minds within an Adventist Christian environment.




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  33. Maybe I’m missing the intended target of this quote. But it sounds like you are talking to the the Educate Truth moderators/staff and those who support them. I hope not, because that would be a silly accusation.  (Quote)

    You haven’t missed the target. Prof is speaking to the staff and US! He doesn’t like us exposing LSU and its humanistic philosophies. He’d better get used to it!




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