Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Locking It Down at Cedarville | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Cedarville University President Thomas White. Photo courtesy of MinistryWatch.com

A few days ago an incoming senior at Cedarville University wrote a letter to the local Xenia Gazette, explaining why she “disenrolled from Cedarville”:

I received an email from Cedarville University’s board of trustees in late June. It was addressed to Cedarville students, announcing that the board would allow Dr. Thomas White to remain [as] president of the university after they discovered he’d hired an alleged sex offender.

I cried when I read that email.

This young woman goes on to point out that not only did White knowingly hire a sex offender, not only did he neglect to inform faculty and staff that he was hiring someone who on multiple occasions secretly videotaped a younger male colleague in the shower, but the president also allowed this individual to serve as “a recruiter, basketball coach, field trip chaperone, and professor of theology at Cedarville.”

As she eloquently concluded her letter to the editor:

In allowing White to remain, the [Board of Trustees] failed to treat sexual abuse with the same gravity that Scripture does. If they had sought Scripture, they would have fired White for his poor judgment. They would have communicated that White’s actions were inexcusable and that they were committed to protecting victims.

I don’t pretend to be a perfect Christian. I fail daily. But I know Scripture demands I protect those who cannot protect themselves. That’s why I left Cedarville: I cannot support a Christian institution whose president and board are ignoring the Scriptures they profess to obey.

She is not alone in her dismay. In response to the decision to retain White as president, two trustees resigned in protest, and a prominent supporter of the school issued a public letter in which he observed that “even our declining culture takes such abusive leadership and the mishandling of sexual offenses more seriously than the Trustees of Cedarville University.” And in a survey of nearly 550 Cedarville stakeholders, 87% affirmed that the “trustees should reconsider their decision to reinstate White.” 

That is not happening. This is Cedarville. The school has gone the other direction, shutting down all dissent within the school, to the point – so I am told – of firing a long-time nursing professor for criticizing the president. Moreover, the gaslighting continues, with the Vice President of Academics sending out a memo that – despite all the evidence to the contrary – Cedarville University and its Counseling Center have not done anything wrong in its treatment of those who have been sexually harassed and abused.   

The school’s accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), is apparently missing in action. I have to ask: What is the point of universities going through all the work that accreditation requires, if all that is going on at Cedarville is deemed to be ok? Or maybe the question is better put this way: If Cedarville can be accredited, then what would it take for a school not to be accredited? 

Perhaps it is the case that, in the Age of Trump, what keeps Cedarville from being held accountable by the HLC is the university administration’s support for right-wing politics. As reported by the intrepid Todd Wilhelm, not only did White disband the Democratic student organization, but – along with a Republican student organization – the university has officially sanctioned a Cedarville University chapter of Turning Point USA.

Turning Point – which is funded by wealthy conservatives – proclaims that its mission is “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” But as reported by Media Matters, the organization “has a long history of involvement in racist [and anti-Semitic] incidents.” 

It appears that the Cedarville version of Turning Point is very much in keeping with the national organization. Not only has the chapter vice president called on his fellow students to “heed not the sweet lies of Black Lives Matter nor the ‘social justice’ that preceded them,” but, in the wake of the recent Kenosha protests in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, he posted on Instagram the following:

In 2020, American patriot Kyle Rittenhouse was asked what it felt like to take human life, “I wouldn’t know, I’ve only killed communists.”

Turning Point USA – fine at Cedarville. College Democrats – not fine at Cedarville. Also not fine: “Students Against Sexual Abuse,” a proposed organization that was rejected because – as also reported by Wilhelm – it was deemed that “sexual abuse is an extremely hard topic that must be handled with extreme care.” 

To be sure, efforts to lock down Cedarville are well underway. And yet there are those who, holding onto the teachings of Jesus, find themselves crying about what Cedarville has become and feeling obliged to take their leave as students and even as board members. 

In other words, while the lockdown may shore up White’s position and power along with the power and position of other upper administrators and board members, there are those who have loved Cedarville enough to take notice and to take a stand (quite eloquently) that, while the institution claims obedience to Scripture, it falls far short of Jesus’ command that “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me” (MT 25: 45).