Written by Dr. Everett Piper
Once there was a prominent landowner who had a son. Even though the boy was quite well cared for and had everything he needed, he became restless. One day he approached his dad and said: “Father, I don’t want to wait for my inheritance. Frankly, I am suffocating living under your rules and your expectations. I want my freedom. I want my money. It is time for me to move out of the house, get my own place, and live as I want.”
Well, even though the father was understandably brokenhearted, he relented. He gave his son the freedom and the money he demanded. He let the boy decide how to use (or abuse) his inheritance. He permitted the prodigal to leave home. He gave his son his own way.
So, the son packed his bags and moved to the big city and rented an apartment. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he squandered everything he had. He had his freedom. He had his money, and he wasted it all by living his own way.
About the time he was spending his last few dollars of inheritance, a severe recession occurred. Having nothing left, the young man began living on the streets and scavenging in back alley dumpsters for food. He was so hungry he resorted to eating garbage to survive.
As the story goes, one day, this wayward son woke up. He came to his senses and said to all his vagabond friends: “All the ranch hands back home working for my father are much better off than we are. They, at least, sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I am going back home.”
Reflecting on this parable of the arrogant and wayward son causes me to think of today’s colleges and universities.
I think of higher education’s “birthright and inheritance” as seen in the original mission statements of many of our nation’s seminal institutions: Of Harvard’s Christo et Ecclesia, “For Christ and the Church,” of Princeton’s Vitam Mortuis Reddo, “I restore life to the dead,” of Yale’s expressed goal for its students “to know God in Jesus Christ and … to lead a Godly, sober life.”
I think of the academy’s prodigal path, where colleges and universities, contrary to their founding creeds, now refuse even to allow traditional Judeo-Christian ideas to be openly discussed and freely debated on their respective campuses.
I think of faculty who have been denied tenure because they dared to assume they could engage in an open exchange of ideas on matters such as human origins, climate change, identity politics, intersectionality and critical race theory.
I think of the consequences of “living our own way” and eating from the “back alley dumpsters” of safe spaces, gender-neutral pronouns, trigger warnings and micro-aggressions.
I think of the routine reports of binge drinking, date rape, sexual abuse, escalating suicide rates and the pandemic reality of STDs.
But, I also think of our father and his provisions and his teachings: of Veritas; of “Truth”; of Harvard’s early affirmation on its school shield – “If you hold to my teachings you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Finally, I think of the historical “home “of the academy and the intellectual freedom we used to have under our father’s roof as opposed to the ideological fascism we now experience at the hand of our arrogance and rebellion.
In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus tells us: “Not long after squandering his birthright, there was a bad famine in the land, and the son began to hurt. Having nothing left but his “way,” this young man began working in the fields, feeding the pigs, thinking he must do so to survive. He was so hungry he was now eating the corncobs in the pig slop.”
As a lifelong educator, I look at my academic peers in today’s colleges and universities and I can’t help but ask myself, “has our own way resulted in what we expected when we told our father we wanted to move out of his house?” Did we get what we wanted when we spent our inheritance? Is our chosen path as liberating as we hoped?
Have “our wildest dreams” led us to where we expected or have we stumbled into a nightmare, wading in fields of pig slop and eating the “corncobs” of abuse, dysfunction, selfishness and addiction? Did we get the freedom we hoped for when we left home or have we become slaves to the consequences of frivolous spending and childish irresponsibility?
One last question: Is it possible that “Dad” was smarter than we thought he was all along?
Perhaps it is time for American education to leave the corncobs behind and go home.
Dr. Everett Piper, former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is a columnist for The Washington Times and author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).