‘First Things’…First?

In the November issue of First Things, the monthly compendium of all things religion started by the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus in 1990, the editors surveyed and ranked more than a hundred American universities and colleges by religious life and hospitality to religion on campus.   The journal used a combination of publicly available information and “student polling and systematic conversations with students, graduates, faculty, and chaplains” to arrive at the rankings and descriptions contained within the thirty-six-page article.  First Things has a small circulation but is held in remarkably high regard by those interested in social conservatism and the interaction between religion and society in the modern West.

So how did our College come across in this month’s exhaustive and objective analysis of the religious condition?  Not well.  No, one could go so far as to say that the young men and women of First Things think very poorly of us indeed.  The editors were kind enough to include a colorful listing of the top 5 “Schools in Decline, Filled With Gloom,” wherein our very own College on the Hill ranks third, sandwiched between the depravity of Gonzaga and the hedonism of Azusa Pacific University.  This particular rating is never explained in the article proper, but the authors go to great lengths to assure their readers of a conscientious methodology.

I hesitate to give too much more space to what was obviously only a very cursory glance at Dartmouth’s culture, but like any good Christian publication, First Things has sagely placed their authoritative analysis behind a pay wall.  Dartmouth is “an Ivy League university that insists on calling itself a college.”  Conservative students and alums are given credit for resisting “the dominance of postmodern academic liberalism,” but the “one student” cited bemoans the libertarian nature of the “conservative faction” here (as an aside, I’m almost positive I’ve met this one anonymous student.  Life of the party, I assure you).  The final word on the very brief subject: “A religious student will get some peer support in efforts to resist political correctness, but not much in the way of Christian fellowship.”

Now, why this should warrant a ranking of “In Decline, Filled With Gloom,” I couldn’t say.  Nor can I speak to the anonymous student’s lack of fulfillment amongst his libertarian peers.  But having been to lectures and dinners at Aquinas House with campus Catholics, Shabbat dinners with the Chabadniks, and innumerable scenes of fellowship in our College’s fine fraternal organizations, this critic can lay your fears to rest.  It may not be as sunny and pious as those colleges that pay for advertisements on the pages of First Things, but we in Hanover have not sunk into despair quite yet. 

— William Aubin