Is it important (or even helpful) for students to spend their first four years on their own in a Christian college environment? Is college even still relevant today? President of Grove City College, Paul McNulty is here to discuss this and other college-related concerns, from financial aid to what it looks like to run a school that refuses to give into the world’s progressive agenda.
Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.
Hello again. This is Marlin Detwiler, and you're here for the next session of Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Today we have with us Paul McNulty from Grove City College. Paul, welcome.
Thank you very much. It's good to be with you.
It is so good to have you here. I don't know if I mentioned it, but there have been a lot of students from our online school come to Grove City. In fact, I believe one year we had at least ten graduates come to school there. Are you familiar with that?
I am familiar with that. I'm not sure I know the numbers every year, but I know that when I talk to incoming freshmen and students around campus and we get into their backgrounds, Veritas comes up not infrequently. So, I greatly appreciate the fact that that's a thread that is running through our community here, and it's prepared our students very well.
That is wonderful. Tell us about Grove City College in general and then I'll ask some more questions about it. But I want to hear some general thoughts.
Grove City College sits here in western Pennsylvania, about an hour's drive north of Pittsburgh, a beautiful rural spot. We’re one of the more beautiful campuses in the country, just in terms of the physical layout and the conscientiousness of the leaders of the college over 150 years to really be intentional about the way in which the place looks so that students can actually have a home away from home where they can learn well.
But more importantly, we're a school of over 2,000 students. We are Christian, Christ-centered in our mission. We are a Christian liberal arts college, and we also have a heavy emphasis on STEM. So we are about 50/50 in terms of our students being in various liberal arts degree programs. And then about 50%, as I say, are in the STEM side of the school, a large engineering program that is very successful.
We have been around for about 150 years and I'm only the ninth president in that period of time. So there's a lot of continuity in leadership.
And only eight board chairs during that period of time, too. Yeah. So we don't take any federal funding. We're independent. We're one of the, what, dozen schools or so in the country. But we were one of the ones that kind of led the way, along with Hillsdale, to assert our independence from the federal authorities when they started tying control to student financial assistance, which was what we went to the Supreme Court to fight.
We are a school that is relatively low cost we’re roughly about half the tuition price of our competitors. And so we're really conscientious about stewardship. We don't spend a lot of money on administrative staff and, you know, sort of politically correct programs and things that, you know, build up a lot of costs for students and we don't discount.
So what we charge is our price. But we have funded financial aid and we are right now awarding our students about $10 million of financial aid each year. That's all funded through the generous support of alums and friends of the college.
That is wonderful. And I've known of all of those things. And it's been a real appeal to the broader Christian community. What is it you think is this specific appeal to classically educated kids, like the kids that come through Veritas?
Well, I think it's because our curricula is actually a pretty classical-oriented curriculum. So for example, we have a humanities core that requires our students to take 15 hours of humanities courses that cover scripture, history- all Western civilization-focused, beyond the biblical revelation course. But civilization and the arts, civilization literature. And then we have a capstone course on worldview.
And that core alone, I think, is very appealing to families that have worked hard to try to build a Christian worldview in the minds and hearts of their children. And they're looking for a place where that's going to be built upon and not deconstructed. And so that along with some really strong programs in English and history and economics, they tend to appeal to students who are classically educated.
Yeah, it's really true. There's another thing that is true of Grove City that I have heard from a number of graduates, and that is it is a college that probably on a per capita basis provides more spouses than any other college in America. The idea that when you go there, it's a very likely place, statistically speaking, that you're going to meet your spouse there. I'd like to hear you talk about that a little bit.
Well, guilty as charged because I met my spouse here and so my wife and I were married for 40 to 42 years almost. And we met here at Grove City and in fact, a board chair, he and his wife met at Grove City College. So it is true we call it ring by spring. And I guess it's because, you know, we're an entirely residential college.
So for four years, students live in our dormitories. 2000 students. So it's a significant sized community, but it's a community that's very tight because we don't have off-campus housing and people aren’t very transactional coming and going. They're really engaged. And as a result, relationships get built. And I think more and more students appreciate that this is a place where you're going to find kindred spirits, people who are seeing the world the same way.
And I know in my own case, my wife and I have had a wonderful journey together. We've faced real difficulties in our lives. But because we were united in our faith and in our love for each other that grew from here. We've faced them together and it's made our marriage stronger and stronger. So I do think there's something to say for that.
I will say, though, that for the students who are leaving here without having found their spouse, we want to make sure they don't feel like their life is over! And the reality is that they'll go on and in God's sweet providence, they'll meet someone and everything will be fine. I have two daughters who came to Grove City. They did not get engaged to Grovers while they were here, and they're both happily married with children and God is good. So it's nice.
Now you're just sounding defensive! Ha!
I'm sounding like a father and a pastor of students who have different reactions to these things.
Oh, that's great. Well, it has probably never been the case in our lifetime that we have had colleges have the kinds of challenges that they have been attending to. And when I speak of colleges attending to them in general, of course I'm talking colleges, broadly speaking, for all colleges in America. And I mean, I am old enough to remember the turmoil of the sixties in colleges.
I wasn't old enough to have been there for it. I graduated college in 78. My sister graduated college in about 74, 73, something like that. And so her high school years, she graduated high school in 1969. I kind of got a chance to watch things happen. Sexual revolution and Vietnam and other things, mostly through my older sisters being more in the middle of it than me.
And that was a time that we are prone to forget or not really realize how significant it was. But I don't think it's as significant as some of the things going on today. And what I'm referring to, of course, is discussions around gender, discussions around racism and racial issues, and woke culture categories in general. I'm curious if you think we've come to a new high watermark in troubling trouble at college.
Well, I do think there's something to your theory there. And while we know that there are cycles within history and by God's wonderful providence, there are, you know, rebirth and renewal and so forth, I do think we are at a point that's different because primarily what you described of the sixties was a battle within modernity. In other words, we were in a period of time where truth was at least seen as objective, and therefore people were pushing against that and they were being countercultural.
But the culture historically accepted the idea that there is a creator God, and that he has revealed himself and there is truth. There is true truth. Today, we are far removed from that. Today we are living and it's an overused term, but it's true. We're in a post-truth time. And so what we see in scholars at these institutions are people who reject the notion of absolutes and any sort of transcendent voice or authority, creative work.
And therefore, they're prepared to challenge all sorts of understandings, all sorts of settled ideas, because those ideas from their perspective are just constructs. They're not really rooted in something that is a God-controlled movement of history that has significance and objective reality to it. And that difference is huge. And it means that they're prepared to, you know, again, this whole idea of “my truth”, I mean, that would've been nonsense if you said that a decade ago. And today it's actually common language to refer to truth in an entirely relativistic sense.
Yeah. You know, the conversation isn't new, but it's taken a new form of acceptance and expectation like it has never been in my lifetime anyway. Let's, let's bear down on some of these topics a little bit specifically and then maybe come back at a higher level and ask you to prognosticate about the near term future. How are you handling at Grove City, gender issues?
What does your statement of faith say? What does your what are your practices and how are you interacting with the student population to say, this is who we are and you're welcome to be here if you're not like that. But you got to operate according to what we assume is one of the ways you operate.
That's right. Well, we have a clear articulation of what we stand for in terms of our Christian identity, our fidelity to God's word, our long history of that. So anyone who comes to work here or study here is well aware of the fact that we're explicit about who we are and what we're trying to accomplish. So that's the foundation that an institution has to have.
We don't require students to sign a statement of faith. We've stayed away from that over our long decades because we're not sure if that actually accomplishes a whole lot. And we instead try to set up our community in such a way that we can live by our explicit statement of what we believe. So we don't have, for example, any official groups on campus that are affirming the LGBTQ agenda.
Now, students are because we are 2000 plus students, students can get together and talk about what they want to talk about.
But there's a big difference in our campus life between being an official organization and being able to do the things that an official organization can do. And just students who are seeking to gather together and have conversations. And so we watch it closely in terms of how that might be circumvented. And we try to manage it as best we can and still at the same time allow for pathways for conversation among adult people who are in all different sort of places in their lives.
We recognize that and they're going to have to have conversations just like our students are going to have everywhere they go in the world beyond campus life. But if we come across, of course, an issue that is challenging our commitments as a Christian organization, then we have a whole series of steps we can take with our Student Life office to address that.
And we try to address that in a loving way, but one that stays very committed to our core principles. And I'm a lawyer, so I use language sometimes, and we deal with it on a case-by-case basis. But that's actually just biblical wisdom for the idea that there are facts and circumstances associated with every situation. You've got to know them. You've got to handle them according to that situation and what's wise in it.
Is there any difference as to how you handle some of the contemporary charged areas of the racial discussion?
The difference is in the sense that the sexual ethics issues get into more basic things about the student organization and so forth. But when dealing with the subject of race, there is certainly an important concern associated with critical race theory. And we've had our own issues there in the past year that we've had to address.
When there is a question raised about whether or not someone is supporting that or in some way or another speaking to that, and our board and myself and others have been clear about where we want to make sure we draw the line there. And we're not promoting a Marxist doctrine as CRT is. At the same time, as I said all along here, there is a difference between the deconstructing work that so many institutions are doing and preparing students.
And so in the right contexts, within the confines of a classroom where professors are with students throughout the week and throughout the semester. And they're able to provide materials that they can read and then discuss together. That's the context we want the controversial, difficult ideas to be hashed out so that students understand them and they're not leaving here and for the first time learning about something and then wondering why didn’t my college even prepare me to critique that or understand the flaws in that particular theory?
Yeah, that's really good. The woke culture in general gets after the college community in a pretty aggressive way. Have you experienced it much? Are there some concrete examples of how you've had to deal directly with those challenges?
Well, I mean, the idea of woke culture is a broad term, you know.
Feel free to tighten it up.
Here's the challenge for all Christian organizations. As believers, we recognize that we don't all look at issues exactly the same. Now. We look at we should look at in a Christian college, the biblical foundation, the same. And if you have a problem with, for example, the authority of Scripture, if you have a problem with the supremacy of Christ and these core tenets, then this isn't the place to be teaching or working, because that's not who we are.
But as we work at applying those two issues, we're going to have occasionally differences of how we see things and what we have to do in order to try to be countercultural today. It is defined by loving and constructive and civil ways to have those conversations while at the same time not promoting something that is a false idea. And that takes wisdom and it takes constant care and attention to what we're doing and an appreciation for the thoughtfulness that's required to, you know, lead students well.
And so, yes, we have from time to time ideas that someone might say, “Well, that's a woke idea.” And then the question is well, is it? And if so, what's going on there and what do we need to address? And we may have to address it. And we're not you know, again, I tell people, when you're a campus community of 450 employees, 150 plus faculty and 2000 plus students, you're not going to hit par on every hole.
You're going to have to figure out how you're going to do as well as you can and stick with it to try to maintain a real biblical fidelity. And that's and that's some and that's what we're about. And I'm very confident that by God's grace, we have a strong commitment to it.
Yeah, just as a broad statement observing, I've only been on campus once, came to meet with the administration. Oh goodness, this goes back probably ten or 12 years. And it was a wonderful visit, a wonderful campus. But my observations of Grove City are generally through people that have been there and not directly for me. But the thing that I'm impressed with, especially in the year 2023, which is when we're recording this, is the stability and the unwavering commitment to the tenets that began the school 150 years ago.
That really is an indication, and it is commendable today to see that. And I think it really has served you well. And I think that the way that you handle that and the way that that comes into the conversation draws the kind of people that you want to come there and helps impact culture. As you know or may know, our mission is to restore culture to Christ one young heart and mind at a time.
I think you naturally take that kind of mission as well, whether you call it that or not, and really seek to be engaged with culture in an effective way, and yet recognizing that as the world changes, technology and all kinds of things change, the immutability of God creates stability and a foundation that allows a well-thought plan to begin 150 years ago to remain virtually the same today.
Well, I appreciate you saying that. And I think, yeah, there's a lot of consistency between the kind of homes where Veritas Press and curricula go into and where, you know, there's a shelter there. We sometimes call our campus a bubble. But, you know, I think in the world today, you need a time to be bubbled where you are able to learn God's truth well and really be equipped.
That's our mission statement to equip people for their callings through a Christ-centered, academically excellent, and affordable living and learning experience. And when they leave that environment, it will be for not if they haven't been really prepared and equipped for what they're going to encounter. And that's on educators today. That is an enormous challenge because they're going to encounter things that you and I did not encounter when we left our environments in the seventies.
And we have to be leaning forward more than ever to try to give them an appreciation for how difficult we'll be and how important it will be to remain faithful in the midst of all that.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Excuse me. I want to change the topic here to something else. At Veritas, we deal with many classical Christian K-12 schools and provide them with curriculum and sometimes online classes for them as well. But the overwhelming population that we deal with is the homeschool community, and/or because they're kind of a little bit the same thing, our online school students.
So when somebody is in an online school, the question that sometimes comes up is, “Am I home-schooled or am I in a school?” and the answer is, it depends on what you want because they can be either in the way they look at it. And so there's a homeschooling phenomenon. I don't know if it's growing or not that looks at trade school compared to college, looks at cost, looks at the student’s abilities and interests, and sometimes makes the judgment that the time spent and the money spent is not worth it.
They ought to just go get a job and start earning a living, so to speak. How do you address that group of people, especially considering the fact that you're a lesser-cost option than many other four-year schools?
Yeah, well, first of all, Marlin, I do think that is a growing trend. I think that because of what we've been talking about regarding wokeism and progressivism in the academy and the cost that more and more voices are being heard to say this model just doesn't seem to be making sense. And so people are looking for something that is just a better return on investment.
So I do think there's going to be more and more of a shift to “What do I need to learn in order to be able to make a living?” And what we say to that is “That's understandable. We want to help you make a living, but we also think it's more important to help make a good life. And it's not enough to just earn an income. It's about who you are.”
And here's the interesting thing about earning an income. The people that excel in the workplace are people that are prepared in a way that is beyond even the technical ability to balance the books or to operate some mechanical equipment. It's folks who can connect with other people well, be able to communicate their ideas. People who are able to bring people together and create a sense of community and collaboration. These are the people that excel, the people who are recognized as leaders. And if you look at ten years later, 15 years later, they are the bosses, they're the supervisors, they're the people that are actually still, you know, the big influencers, and I think the liberal arts education, the classical ideas are critically important as a part of the necessary equipment.
It would be like an athlete who learns how to do a certain skill but just doesn't do any strength and conditioning or anything else. And you look at a guy like Jerry Rice or someone who's lasted a long time, and what do they tell you every time? Conditioning. Conditioning. It was because I just took great care. I worked really hard in the offseason. Yeah, I catch the ball well, but more importantly, I'm an athlete. I think the idea for LeBron is, more importantly, I'm a human being, and I understand what it means to be a human being so that when I do my work, I'm doing it in a way that is going to be more successful over the long haul.
And I think people get that. I think there is going to be a sorting out, and the schools that really accomplish that work are going to be successful. And the schools that don't know what they're talking about there are going to be in real trouble.
That is wonderful! Today, we have had Paul McNulty, the president of Grove City College, with us as our guest on Veritas Vox. Thank you very much.
Thank you. It's been fun talking to you!
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