IRVINE, CA – A select group of university presidents and other high-ranking officials from faith-based colleges and institutions gathered to explore how to foster a culture of open inquiry. The executive symposium, “Free Expression & the Faith-Based University,” was co-hosted by Concordia University Irvine, the Center for Civics Education at Concordia University Irvine, and the Bipartisan Policy Center and took place on CUI’s campus.
The convening provided an opportunity for candid, off-the-record conversations among senior leaders about nurturing civil discourse and open inquiry for Gen Z students. Recognizing the unique challenges and resources found at faith-based schools, the discussion centered on leadership strategies for college presidents and ways to craft programs, policies, and curricula that are in harmony with faith principles while promoting free expression and respectful discourse across difference.
“All higher education institutions are striving to equip students with the skills of civil discourse,” said Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, director of the BPC’s Campus Free Expression Project. “By convening these leaders, BPC is supporting their efforts as they educate the next generation of independent thinkers and engaged citizens.”
Concordia University Irvine President Michael Thomas noted, “This symposium highlighted once again for me the importance of faith-based, liberal arts colleges and universities as places that broker difficult conversations around vexing questions.” He added, “From our confessional grounding, we open our doors with confidence, charity, and hospitality to other voices. And in a world in which civility seems lacking, we lean into the important work of preparing students for their futures and their vocations by inculcating in them the habits and skills needed to engage other citizens ably and respectfully. In other words, we live out our educational philosophies by helping students learn how to love their neighbors as they love themselves.”
Presidents shared their leadership experiences, setting the stage for in-depth discussions among attendees and encouraging them to share best practices, raise concerns, and collaboratively develop actionable strategies that resonate with their unique academic and faith-driven missions.
BPC Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression member the Rev. Dr. John A. Nunes helped to bring the symposium partners together and participated in the symposium. “On the Task Force, we all understood that a successful free expression strategy must be grounded in a school’s unique mission,” said Nunes. “It was a blessing to hear how Christian college leaders are teaching students how their credal commitments prepare them to engage in civil discourse and productive conversations.”
Faculty and administrators from the following educational institutions participated in the symposium:
- Azusa Pacific University
- Biola University
- Center for Civics Education at Concordia University Irvine
- Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy
- Concordia University Chicago
- Concordia University Irvine
- Council of Independent Colleges
- King University
- Lutheran Hour Ministries
- Pacifica Christian High School
- Pepperdine University
- University of Dallas
- University of Tulsa
- Warner Pacific University
- Wheaton College
- Wisconsin Lutheran College