C. John Sommerville has offered some helpful insights into the changes that have occurred in universities in the last century and concludes that much has been lost in terms of relevance. In his book 'The Decline of the Secular University' Professor Sommerville considers the rapid growth in universities around the world and consequent changes. There has been growth in student numbers and staff, increasing wealth, an explosion of courses and increasingly specialised schools. He ponders why at the same time there seems to have been a parallel loss of influence in some areas. In particular, he questions the ability of universities and their staff to provide true leadership in society. He comments:
If universities are exercising cultural leadership, why do they seem more attentive to pop culture than to the high culture they were nurtured in? If universities are offering scientific leadership, why do they mainly hire their labs out to government and business, with the goal being patents? If they are offering social leadership, why don't professors dominate the talk shows that try to embody our "public opinion"? Is it true, as we often hear, that universities have become trade schools, offering the credentials that students prefer to a rounded education? Why are they only maintaining booths in the intellectual marketplace rather than providing leadership of any kind?While I believe that Sommerville exaggerates the situation, tends to smooth out the complexity that exists and speaks very much from an American perspective, his central thesis is worth consideration. In essence he claims that "the secular university is increasingly marginal to American society and, second, that this is a result of its secularism". And he goes further, to suggest that the questions that should be central to the university's mission have a religious dimension that no longer can be addressed. The exclusion of religion or its domestication into increasingly rare theology departments and church-founded residential colleges has left universities with an inability to answer questions that matter.
Hilary Putnam, Nobel economist Amartya Sen and Frances Fukuyama who have questioned the ability of philosophers, scientists and economists to separate fact and value. Any Christian who is part of the academy needs to be prepared to engage in discussion and debate, rather than simply allowing concepts like belief, values, ethics and truth to be marginalised.