Duke considers itself as one of the most “modern” and “up-and-coming” universities in the country. It boasts about its massive construction projects, its loaded coffers, its cutting-edge research and its vigorous energy. Yet there is something that has always prevented me from looking at Duke in such a manner. I think that our University is in fact very backwards and stale in an important way. The backwardness of Duke is best exemplified by the words that are written on a slab in the green next to the West Campus bus stop that reads:
“The aims of Duke University (‘University’) are to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; to advance learning in all lines of truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and truth; to promote a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the state, the nation, and the church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of this University always be administered.”
This statement is the first article of the bylaws of Duke. These bylaws exist to set the manner in which the University operates and to guide the behavior of the Board of Trustees.
Article I of the bylaws is a relic of a time when the South was truly a provincial, intolerant and miserable part of the country. It was a time during which segregation and racism were actively supported, and it was a time that exemplifies the inherent contradiction of the above statement.
For in what way can a university be more intolerant than in setting its aim to support the teaching of “Jesus Christ, Son of God.” The teachings of Jesus Christ contain assertions such as eternal damnation in hell, the existence of a god and human immortality that are certainly open to debate and should not be propagated by an “unbiased” and “diverse” academic institution such as Duke.
Additionally, the members of Duke’s community compromise a myriad of perspectives on religion and the interpretation of life. A large amount of them do not believe in any form of Christianity, let alone in Methodism. The fact that one of the aims of Duke is to spread the word of Jesus is insulting to anyone who does not believe that Jesus is the son of God. There is no way for Duke to truly promote “a sincere spirit of tolerance” as it is weighed down by its exclusively Christian past.
Furthermore, throughout the past thousand years, cutting edge research has clashed with Christianity. Historically, the Church has often killed, imprisoned and publicly humiliated scientists and free thinkers that discovered or thought of something that went against the Christian belief system.
Even now, some Christians are trying to prevent important and possibly life-saving research on stem cells. Any claim that there exists a “Christian love of freedom and truth” or a “union of knowledge and Christian religion” is highly contentious. Christianity is based on faith in the truthfulness of a book. The “truth” laid out in this book is highly subjective and certainly does not pass the rigor of academic analysis.
Faith is not a question with a conclusive solution. Therefore, it is not the role of universities to advocate a particular religion, especially one with such a controversial history of anti-academic sentiment as Christianity.
I do realize that the Christian tradition is an important part of the history of Duke and is evinced in the beautiful chapel. If even the chapel supports more than 25 religious life groups on campus, why do the bylaws support only one?
No significant changes were made the last time the bylaws were revised on May 14, 2005. I thus urge the Board of Trustees to take advantage of ARTICLE XXXV—“These Bylaws may be amended at any regular meeting of the Board of Trustees.” Change Article I, it’s about time.
Andrey Fradkin is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Friday.
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