Professors’ Experience Teaching At A Christian University

While students attending a Christian university receive a different experience from those attending non-religiously affiliated schools, professors also have different experiences teaching at Christian colleges than non-Christian colleges. Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) professor of media and film studies James Wicks had opportunities to deepen his faith by teaching in a faith-centered community like PLNU.

“I had a colleague I look to as a mentor who has retired from Point Loma, but when he was here, we would always read one Christian book together during the school year,” said Wicks. “We would get lunch together, and I’d just ask him questions about faith, so that was really helpful to me.”

Wicks applied to teach at PLNU right after he finished his doctorate degree at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He said coming into a Christian environment at PLNU helped him see how diverse Christian thought can be. This inspired him to take a deeper look at his own faith.

“When I was in grad school, I could say I was Christian and that would categorize me,” he said. “But when you are at Point Loma and you say you are a Christian, then there are so many perspectives on so many kinds of social issues and theological issues. It has really encouraged me to go through my faith more with a microscope and see where I fit in with different responses.”

Wicks also explained that his experience at UCSD and PLNU differ in terms of what he shared in the classroom. He said he can be more transparent at PLNU.

“When I was teaching at UCSD, I typically wouldn’t describe my faith in the classroom because I didn’t want to create some kind of expectation that students had to write to that belief,” Wicks said. “I feel like at Point Loma I can express that and students are already aware they can write with that belief or their own point of view. I feel in that way I have a little bit more academic freedom because I can be genuine about that.”

Jeff Birdsell, professor of organizational communications, shared a similar experience from when he was an assistant instructor at the University of Texas.

“I had responsibility for two or three classes at the University of Texas, so I don’t have that much experience in the classroom at a non-Christian university,” Birdsell said. “But I have heard the horror stories of like, ‘You can’t share your faith, and if you mention Jesus they’ll fire you,’ you know. I’ve heard these kinds of urban legends and apocryphal tales.” 

Birdsell also expressed his joy in having the ability to talk about Christian topics freely at PLNU, particularly ones that he needs reminding about himself. 

“I get a chance to say things to students that I need to hear, especially in advising,” Birdsell said. “I talk to students a lot about remembering the birds who don’t sow or reap and the Lord takes care of them, and we bounce between the wisdom of Proverbs and the existential crisis of Ecclesiastes, so I’m doing that in the office going like, ‘Hey, I needed to hear that too,’ and that has just been glorious.”