For The Record 9

Goshen College no longer requires a certain percentage of its faculty to identify as Mennonite.

Previously, policy stated that 80 percent of Goshen’s professors must be Mennonite, while the entire faculty has to be a member at a Christian church. The obligation for all faculty to be Christian remains intact.

Goshen College president Jim Brenneman has said this change puts further emphasis on Goshen’s five core values: Christ-centered, passionate-learners, servant-leaders, compassionate-peacemakers and global-citizens. A portion of the hiring process will now ask job candidates to respond to questions about the core values using examples from their lives.

One reason given for the change is the difficulty in defining a professor’s Mennonite identity; it’s challenging to pin down a definition of a Mennonite. How do we classify a candidate raised Mennonite, but no longer attending a Mennonite congregation? What about non-Mennonite candidates influenced by Mennonite theologians like John Howard Yoder or Stanley Hauerwas? Does their theology make them Mennonite? These are not easy questions to answer.

With this change, Goshen no longer needs to make those judgment calls. The school no longer has to hold itself to a numbers game of how many Mennonites or non-Mennonites it can hire. Job positions are now fully open to all candidates that fit within the school’s core values.

John D. Roth says in an article in this week’s Record that “composition of faculty is absolutely crucial to a school’s identity.” He is completely right on this point.

Concern that the school may begin to lose its traditional Mennonite background is understandable. There is a risk that, in the future, the presence of Mennonites teaching at Goshen could seriously dwindle. The school is no longer required to have any Mennonite professors at all. With that said, this does not mean Goshen will stop nurturing its students through a supporting faith community. This is where the core values need to serve their function.

No, the core values do not specifically tie the college to a denomination, but they do embody important beliefs for Anabaptist-Mennonites. Goshen’s five core values should stand for the essence of a Mennonite education and a personal Anabaptist-Mennonite faith.

Roth argues further that Goshen needs “explicit filters” beyond those core values. However, does requiring a certain amount of people claiming the label “Mennonite”  really secure more faithful faculty?

In many ways, a candidate from an Anabaptist-Mennonite faith background will still have an advantage when answering questions about their values. With this new policy, the hiring decision, as it should, comes down to values and faith—not a candidate’s ability to fit within a certain label.

Overall, the larger question here is the importance of a name—Mennonite. Does the specific label matter? If so, why does it matter? We need to answer this question as a campus.

If Goshen administrators, its faculty and its students dedicate themselves to living out the core values, Goshen will continue to be a college of Christian faith, supporting community and academic growth. Isn’t that what is most important anyway?

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Written by Ben Sutter

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