Although Chancellor Jack Hawkins’ New Year’s message, his “reminder,” has created rather heated conversations across many channels, the dialogues have yet to raise a beneficial, intelligent discourse.
“My concern is that we might miss a teachable moment if we polarize and retreat to defensive or offensive tactics when we have the opportunity to broaden our thoughts and practices as an academic community,” said a faculty member from the College of Arts and Sciences.
Many students, especially atheists, find the chancellor’s recommended video offensive and inconsiderate.
“I think it was highly inappropriate for the chancellor to have sent the message because Troy is a public university which boasts a diverse student population,” said
Kevin Reaves, a senior computer science major from Greenville, Troy University Secular Student Alliance president. “It implies that without religion, you won’t follow laws and be a good person.”
Several faculty and staff members across Troy colleges also raised objections to the claim in the video.
“There is no evidence suggesting that violent crime in religious countries is down,” said biology professor Michael Stewart. “The world seems to be burning right now in multiple areas linked to religion or power-grabbing hiding behind religion.”
Phillip Mixon, an economics professor, adviser of TUSSA, said he disagrees with the message’s underlying theory that there is no morality without God.
“I don’t do bad things because I’m a moral person in and of myself, not because of my religion,” he said.
Other faculty members, whose expertise covers religion, human conditions and human behaviors, said morality, specifically in the sense of law obedience, is influenced by a variety of factors. There are proofs that religion is not the only element shaping morality through the course of history.
“There are many different possible reasons why people choose to follow laws in a society,” said a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “In some places, an organized religion may be important to the majority of the population. However, in societies such as China and Japan, religion may not be so important.”
Several professors pointed out Japan, a secular state, has a very low crime rate. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, the homicide rate in Mexico, a country deeply influenced by Catholicism, is 36 times higher than in Japan.
“Other sources that contribute to moral senses are ideology and philosophy,” the professor said. For example, Marxism is an institution providing moral guidance with focus on class conflict and inequality.
“People follow the rules because they work,” said Laura Burmeister, a social sciences professor. “People voluntarily follow rules to keep society stable and harmonious.”
“In countries where religion is not a dominant factor, social ties define human relationships, value and morality,” another professor in the College of Arts and Sciences said. People understand their place and their expected roles from social hierarchy. A moral sense of what is good and bad can have its roots in family units.
“Moral sense is a mix of traditional philosophy, government, ideology and religion,” she said.
At the same time, she acknowledged that religion helps, to some extent, as a societal factor.
Although the chancellor’s message has generated valuable discussion for me, I do not find it a considerate act from a person in such a position. The manner in which the message was sent, as a “reminder,” a proclamation of truth, indeed warrants the objections.
“My greatest criticism would be in the email’s attempt to simplify something as broad as what shapes our past, present, and future practices of morality,” a professor said.
Moreover, the message failed to embrace and foster the diversity of Troy University’s population.
“He sent out a heartfelt message on what he believes,” Stewart said. “However, we, as a public university, should remember that we have students, faculty and staff coming from 70 countries encompassing different belief systems.”
Jack Dong, a senior chemistry major from China, former president of the Chinese Student Association, found the message objectionable. So did Qiyuan Yang, the current president.
A professor said the chancellor was entitled to his personal opinion, citing the academic freedom of university faculty. Yet, among the eight faculty members I talked to, who enjoy the same freedom, only three let their names be used in the paper.
These professors, who are from different religious backgrounds, still obey the social mentality “One does not cross his boss.” I find this illustrates the essential role of social ties, without religion, in governing what are considered acceptable behaviors in society.