On May 8, Calvin University announced revisions to its Faculty Handbook, expanding the expectations of trustees, administrators, and faculty members. Members of Calvin’s board of trustees and faculty senate unanimously affirmed the changes, communicating that they represent a deepening of Calvin’s commitment to Reformed teaching and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Outside observers might wonder about two specific changes: faculty are encouraged to send their children to Christian schools but no longer required to do so; and church membership may now be in a CRC, a church in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC, or in a Calvin-supporting Protestant congregation.
Calvin representatives say the entire revision needs to be taken into consideration. Instead of mere compliance, faculty will submit to more thorough and specific reviews of their Reformed faith and their support of Christian education. Through the new evaluative category of Reformed Christian Commitment, faculty will be expected to show evidence of their beliefs. “The intent is to make explicit an expectation that has always been implicit and to provide resources to help the faculty meet that expectation,” said Craig Lubben, chair of Calvin’s board of trustees.
Kevin den Dulk, associate provost, said "a very rigorous program of faculty development" supports the expanded requirements. Every new faculty member takes a one-month seminar through Calvin's Kuyper Institute for Global Faculty Development and continues to access the Institute's resources and mentorship throughout their career at Calvin. The goal is to equip faculty with "a Christian world-and-life view grounded in a Reformed understanding of faith and cultural engagement," as described in Calvin's announcement about the founding of the institute in 2018.
Given that the stated purpose of Calvin University (to provide students with courses that “are of a positively Reformed character entirely in accord with the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church of North America”) remains the same, Lubben said Calvin is asking "how do we adapt to the changing culture so as to achieve the mission?" These revisions make room for faculty that come from diverse backgrounds while assuring their commitment to Reformed Christianity.
Active Congregation Engagement
From the new expectation that faculty not just be members of a specific church but be actively engaged with the Calvin-supporting congregation to which they belong, the university expects to form deeper relationships with area congregations, including many CRCs. “We seek deep, mutual partnerships with congregations eager to support and nurture our faculty and staff in the Christian faith. We hope that Calvin’s mission will bless those communities as they bless us,” President Michael Le Roy said in a Calvin news release. LeRoy also sent an open letter to pastors May 11, further explaining the new faculty expectations.
Other CRC-supported colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada have varying articulations around Reformed faith and their faculty. Two examples: Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., requires faculty to be members of “a Christian church,” to hold to the Forms of Unity, and to continue engaging in Reformed Tradition; Redeemer University, in Ancaster, Ont., asks employees to show their commitment to the values and mission of the university by active membership in a church that belongs to “the confessional heritage of the Protestant Reformation.”
Commitment to Christian Education
As for enrolling one’s school-aged children in Christian schools, Lubben said encouraging rather than enforcing follows the position of the CRCNA. (Article 71 of the Church Order.) Den Dulk said the change—to demonstrate an active commitment to Christian education—is more inclusive. “The (previous) Christian education requirement only applied to people who had K-12-aged kids. We really didn’t have a serious mechanism to understand the commitment that (all) faculty might have to our basic identity as educators in the Reformed tradition.” Calvin will still financially assist faculty members sending their children to Christian schools.
Lubben recognizes that people worry that these changes are changing Calvin’s mission incrementally. His answer: the mission doesn’t change and neither does God. The revisions will undergo assessments to ensure they further Calvin’s mission.
“Trust that even as we are growing in the types of people that we reach, and the backgrounds of the people that we reach, and even as the faculty we are attracting come from different backgrounds, we are uniting behind those core confessional beliefs that have always united us. We’re going to build on those, and Calvin is going to be, I hope, one of the leading voices in Reformed education around the world.”
Changes to the Faculty Handbook have been discussed by the board for many years. In October 2019 President Le Roy asked the board to consider revisions; the board asked for recommendations that came in February; after a roundtable discussion and conversations with faculty and administration, the board confirmed the changes May 8.
Calvin’s Covenant for Faculty Members, established by the CRC’s synod (annual general assembly) in 2012, has not changed.