An idea on the way ahead: Gwynne Davies

Reading the various contributions in The Idea of a Christian University has focussed our minds on how much thinking has been carried out in this field. It is however interesting to note that apart from one contributor almost all others have written from the perspective(s) of Theology/Biblical Studies and Education, so that it inevitably falls within their area of academic responsibility. That is not a criticism of them but rather of us who operate outside those disciplines for perhaps not making our own position clearer. We are grateful to them for communicating their experiences over the years. For many of them there is the feeling of frustration over the need to tone down the essential Gospel message to conform to the ideological pressures exerted in a modern secular university.

During my first few months as an engineering undergraduate I was invited to take tea with the principal J.S.Fulton as indeed were all freshers in turn. We also had to present to a group of four a prepared essay on one of two titles offered, in my case I chose The Function of a University. This was partly based on the fact that the annual Reith Radio Lecture for that year was on that topic. My grandfather, who had quite a benign influence on me also took the weekly Listener in which the talk was also published, so he just posted it on to me, and I had a useful source of material for my essay. Now we both went to University, Dadcu - as I called him. to the University of Life in the early 20th century and myself to the University of Wales, being the first in my family As a coal mine farrier his educational experience was largely social, cultural, religious and partly political, as an active member of a thriving non - conformist chapel in the upper Rhondda Valley. He had the self discipline to develop his soul and mind in the self taught way. As a child I was surrounded by his books; a multi volume veterinary encyclopaedia on the horse; a complete set of the Century Bible Commentaries, a beautiful leather bound copy of the Welsh language edition of Taith y Pererin (Pilgrim's Progress) and some of the other Bunyan works from the Libanus Chapel Library which I've recently had rebound and treasure greatly; and of course the two volume War Memoirs of David Lloyd George. He may indeed have been one of a whole host of colliers who gave a penny a week to establish the University of Wales of which I was to be a beneficiary, and he would have been aware of the educational contribution of the Miners Welfare Halls to the mining community. Recently while clearing out my deceased mother's effects I discovered a Sanitary Inspector's Certificate which Dadcu had received and which carried the signature of one of the examiners Henry Adams F.I.C.E. Lo and behold, it was the same person whose bequest had enabled me to win with colleagues the Henry Adams Bronze Medal of the Institution of Structural Engineers for a paper published in the Structural Engineer. Wouldn't we have had a lot to talk about had he survived. Not only did Dadcu have knowledge and skills appropriate to his need but he also had character and the ability to apply knowledge in a wise way. I mention this to remind us that the right kind of community can produce that special informal university type of experience, which may or may not be replicated in a formal organisation, and we must treasure and nurture it, in whatever form it may arise.

Since Victorian times Universities have been involved in at least three major activities:-

1)      Preserving and recording previous knowledge in the form of artefacts, art and books in their own Museums and Galleries and Libraries.

2)      Digging out new nuggets, or re-presenting old information in a new light  called RESEARCH today.

3)      Making the information available from the above in courses to students and to the public at large called TEACHING.

It is probably true that universities still largely interpret their mission in these terms today, but there has been a tidal movement in the way they do so:-

a)      The development of the desk and lap-top computer has revolutionised the means of communication and cheap access to a whole range of sources of information through the web. This is changing the nature of libraries, laboratories, lectures and the availability of lecture content, but also brings worries about plagiarism in what is now a mass market.

b)     It is this revolution which enables government to work towards an increase of university type education to around 50% of the young adult population to ensure that up-skilling can take place in the potential workforce.

c)      Increased numbers have of course necessitated a re-appraisal of how to finance this through fee charging, maintenance and government loans.

      Research funds are obtained through private clients or through European directed funds. Often such projects need teams in various    countries to bid and work on these schemes.                     

d)   The social structure and interaction of staff and consequently their                     relationship particularly at lecturer staff level has changed so that          lunch   breaks are reduced from a communal experience to that of eating        sandwiches in isolation in front of a plasma screen. Perhaps we shouldn't          laugh too much at the requirement of attending dinners at Oxbridge to           qualify for the transitional BA/MA. Relationships are important, and where           these are poor between colleagues they will also in            due course also be       reflected between students and eventually even the           society in which they       mature and influence.

e)   Society has also changed, and is itself basically more secular and pluralistic, even though a majority would still call themselves Christian, and believe in God. Nevertheless the knowledge and understanding of the Christian Faith in Fresher students brought about by regular churchgoing is largely absent in the increased entry numbers. While this may not be an obvious problem for a secular institution it poses greater challenges for a Christian one.

LIVING WITH THE PRESENT.

God hasn't changed, neither have his intensions and conclusions for the universe and human race. Clearly there is an urgent need for Christian Academics to be involved in initiating the changes needed to allow the Gospel to prosper in the academic public square. At the present time it seems that a brick upon brick approach is appropriate in our individual situations, although always prayerful that the Holy Spirit will guide motivate and open up opportunities even at corporate level. While each academic has a responsibility with regard to the techniques used in personal evangelism, there is the additional responsibility to provide, present and debate the various Christian perspectives as an introduction to any academic course. Where this cannot perhaps be done directly as part of the actual course itself, it can be referenced as appearing on a different website and students invited to view. What is needed to provide such a front end initially is reasonable agreement by a small consensus of Christian specialists for that type of course, and that can proceed immediately for many situations. I have suggested in the Appendix some of the topics which could be introduced as an introduction to a course, say in Civil or Structural Engineering.

CONCLUSIONS.

The idea of a Christian university should be widened from that of a formal organisation to university type education to allow for different access points. Mature development of Christian input should take place (certainly initially) on a brick by brick basis. Small groups(including professionals) in contact electronically should produce a suitable Christian introduction material to a course indicating which parts are value free and which have value significance

APPENDIX.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING front end.

Synopsis of Biblical perspectives on the world we live in including:-

Concepts of uniformity; variation in materials; workmanship; flaws and imperfection; modelling; imposed distortion and external forces; risk and safety; design and construction; environment and demolition.