To Teach or Not to Teach

Not long ago a drama professor named Jarad Sakren was fired from Arizona State University. It seems his classroom behavior was so outrageous that even a morally permissive, "anything goes" campus could no longer stomach it. What was Dr. Sakren's crime? He was teaching the plays of William Shakespeare. This is just the latest example of just how intolerant the tolerance crowd really is—and of how much damage they're doing to academia. Dr. Sakren was hired by ASU four years ago to establish a world-class actor-training program. His credentials were impeccable: He'd previously taught at Juilliard School and at Yale, and had trained student actors who rose to stardom, like Kelly McGillis and Val Kilmer. Sakren's classroom approach is to have students learn their craft by working with the masterpieces of drama, especially the works of Shakespeare. But Shakespeare—in case you had forgotten—is a dead white European male. Sakren's feminist colleagues were offended by his use of what they termed a "sexist European canon." They wanted Sakren to give the bard the boot and teach plays by postmodern feminist and ethnic playwrights—plays like “Betty the Yeti,” an "eco-fable" about a wicked logger who sleeps with a Sasquatch and is transformed into an environmentalist. Sakren refused, so the ASU faculty voted to ditch him. Sakren's students were outraged, and they've rallied to his support—even feminist students. Former protégés like actress Annette Benning are speaking out in his support. But Sakren's appeal of his dismissal went nowhere, and now he's suing the school, charging racial discrimination. He contends he lost his job because both he and Shakespeare are of European descent. Well, it's a bizarre case of what you might call "reverse censorship." Christians, you see, are often accused of rejecting works of art for ideological reasons rather than judging their aesthetic merits. But today it's the academic establishment that is doing the censoring. As English professor Ed Veith puts it, they are ignoring aesthetics and—like the old Soviet censors—are evaluating authors on ideological grounds. Today's secular universities are more concerned with political correctness than educating students. As Veith explains, the result is a trashing of the greatest masterpieces of Western civilization: a dismantling of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, those three absolutes of Classical thought. Instead, they are teaching that there is no truth that we can know, no standard of goodness. And beauty? Well, it's an illusion forged by an oppressive culture. But as Veith notes, "If the intellectual establishment is casting away truth, goodness, and beauty—along with the great achievements of Western civilization... Christian colleges would do well to take them up." And Veith is right. If secular colleges continue to rid themselves of the classics, then Christian colleges must take it upon themselves to preserve culture's great works. In doing so, they will echo the actions of the monks of the Dark Ages who, in the midst of cultural chaos, preserved the great works of Western civilization. The next time you hear someone accusing Christian academics of being intolerant and narrow minded, tell them about the college professor who was fired for teaching the works of the greatest playwright who ever lived. And if you happen to be a college dean—you just might consider offering Dr. Sakren a job.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary