What is a Christian University?
What is a Christian University?
When Dr. Natasha Duquette received an email asking if she would be interested in a leadership role at Tyndale University College, she knew that it was God’s plan. The email, asking if she would like to return to her “old stomping grounds” in Toronto, Ontario, immediately piqued her interest. The words “Tyndale in Toronto” brought with them good memories of studying for her master’s degree in English at the University of Toronto and of driving from Queen’s University to hear author Philip Yancey speak at Tyndale.
So she began to research the university, wondering what it was like now, 20 years since her last visit. Dr. Duquette looked up Dr. Brian Stiller, who was president of Tyndale from 1996 to 2009, and was struck by his humility and his zeal for Christian education. Like him, Dr. Duquette has always had a heart for Canada and for the continued legacy of Christian education in Canada. Convinced that God was calling her to come to Tyndale, she accepted the eventual job offer and began her new roles as Associate Dean and Associate Professor of English in August 2014.
As an academic, Dr. Duquette began teaching at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and then at Taylor University College in Edmonton, Alberta. She then worked at Biola University in La Mirada, California, for over five years as Associate Professor and Chair of English. Nearly 10 years of teaching at Taylor and Biola taught Dr. Duquette what a Christian university could be. However, Dr. Duquette explains, there is not just one way to be a Christian university. “You cannot import one model and transpose it. You have to be sensitive to your national context and to what city you happen to be in.
“Taylor, Biola and Tyndale all have very different expressions of Christian academia, which all have their strengths and fallibilities, just like human beings,” she says. But there are similarities: “The Christian university, at its best, is a community of learning and knowledge production.”
Knowledge production, or culture making and research, is an incredibly important ingredient in what makes a Christian university successful. “If we’re not also producing knowledge, or producing culture, as well as learning, we run the risk of just consuming the secular culture and reproducing it,” Dr. Duquette explains. “So we have to be a community of learning. This involves students, faculty and staff engaging in lifelong learning. We have to be a community of knowledge production: students, faculty and staff producing knowledge at the same time. We must be a community of learning and creativity wherein each member is free to express the fullness of his or her faith while loving God and his or her neighbour with heart, soul, strength and mind. This needs to be done with sensitivity to context.”
Dr. Duquette spoke on the importance of academic excellence and the need for a Christian university like Tyndale to offer multiple majors and comprehensive programs. For a Christian university, faith and academics are equally important. “A Christian university has to make sure students are strong in their discipline and strong in their faith so that they can speak to the world,” she says. “A Christian university must equip the students spiritually, and really equip them in their discipline. That way, they will be able to go out and hold their own in their professions. We would do our students a disservice if we did not fully equip them professionally while also affirming them as Christians.”
Dr. Duquette believes that by shaping students to excel in their careers and in their faith, Tyndale allows students to shine even in the secular context. “They cannot ignore you if you stay highly competent,” she says. Dr. Duquette herself has done this. She has published three books, with a new monograph scheduled to come out in 2015, and multiple papers on 18th- and 19th-century literature, aesthetic theory and art. Her current research is about 18th-century women who cleverly and courageously interjected their female perspectives into biblical studies using poetry, hymns, devotional handbooks for children and more. She is interested in historical figures who connect denominations and connect fields of study.
Dr. Duquette is excited about Tyndale. The university’s placement in Canada’s most diverse city and its multidenominational nature offers many new opportunities for the future. “I have the sense that I will be working hard but also that it will be meaningful,” Dr. Duquette says. “I know that God has called me to be here.”