They both stand in front of an amassed congregation, trying their best to impart what they believe to be vital information into the minds of people whose levels of interest in what they’re saying vary greatly. There seems to be more than a few similarities between preachers and professors.
One key difference, however, is that while religious figures may freely speak their minds to their congregations, professors must leave their opinions at the doors of their classrooms for the sake of objectivity and to satisfy university policy.
But, although university faculty must check their personal beliefs while they teach, those beliefs and opinions are just as vital to who they are as the beliefs of any non-faculty.
With this in mind, several Miami professors are seeking to create a space where they may engage in open conversation with students and other faculty about their personal beliefs, specifically regarding Christianity.
The result of their efforts is the upcoming week long event aptly named “Faculty Who Believe.” Over the course of several days, various Miami professors will hold discussions about how their religious beliefs shape them, not as professors, but as people with lives outside of the classroom.
The discussions will be held from 12-12:45 p.m. on March 26-29 in Armstrong 1066 (with the exception of Monday’s talk, which was in Armstrong 2080), and a gathering will be held to celebrate Good Friday on March 30 at the Sesquicentennial Chapel across from Armstrong.
Topics will range from the specifics of Christianity to why people convert, to a general panel that will be open for questions.
Speakers include Tim Cameron, professor and chair of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at Miami, Elizabeth Troy, an entrepreneurship instructor, and Bryan Smucker, associate professor of statistics.
Dennis Dudley, faculty adviser to Miami’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and organizer of the event, said that he wanted to give faculty an outlet to express themselves.
“Sometimes in academia, Christianity is viewed very negatively,” Dudley said. “People sometimes think that faith disqualifies you as an academic. We want to change that perspective and show people that people of faith are often those who strive to learn the most.”
The faculty set to speak at the event come from a variety of backgrounds and specialize in an array of subjects, from engineering to education.
“We’re really trying to humanize professors and show people that outside of the classroom, they have lives and motivations,” said Bryan Smucker, Associate Professor of Statistics at Miami. “That they’re complex too.” Smucker is slated to speak on Thursday as part of the event.
According to Dudley, “Faculty Who Believe” is the most cooperative event regarding Christianity that Miami has ever seen. Alongside the independent groups of religious faculty who came together to organize the event, “Faculty Who Believe” is also being sponsored by several more formal organizations.
These sponsors include Oxford-based Bridge Church, Miami’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Cru, Faith and Fitness, and the Oxford branch of the Navigators.
Through this cooperation, the faculty participating hope to open a conversation with their fellow Miamians and challenge the perceptions of what it means to be a religious faculty member.
“There are several things we hope to achieve,” said Tim Cameron, Professor and Chair of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Miami. “We do want to show people that through our beliefs, there is hope for this world. Hope, joy and peace. But we also want to challenge stereotypes … A truthful representation of Christianity is most important.”
The goal of “Faculty Who Believe” is to break down the walls between professors and students, and enable all who are interested to engage in a conversation free from the constraints of the classroom.