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September 5, 2023

DEI Policies & Academic Excellence

This year, the Supreme Court ruled that the admissions programs of University of North Carolina and Harvard College violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause, which requires a fair standard for all citizens. This ruling highlights that many colleges have erroneously emphasized the race of college applicants by using Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies like affirmative action. Affirmative action would view an applicant’s race as a critical part of the application and would give greater priority to those of different races in order to bring diversity to a college.

New Saint Andrews College, however, does not rely on unfair practices like DEI and affirmative action. Instead, the college’s mission is "Graduating leaders who shape culture living faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ." Dr. Ben Merkle, president of NSA, has summarized the goal of the college as the Great Commission that Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” That goal is no small mission. In reality, Jesus’ mission is a high standard for everybody, no matter who they are or where they come from. 

“I think you have to be very cautious when somebody is advocating for something like diversity for diversity’s sake,” Dr. Merkle said in a recent interview. He was talking about the popular way that postsecondary schools use DEI policies to increase their diversity in student numbers. He explained that those policies mean colleges are attempting to fill a quota so they can say they have a diverse population of students. He added, “I think that is patronizing to people who are in a minority position because they become tokens that are being used to fill a quota rather than being evaluated for the actual meaningfulness of their contribution.”

NSA works to maintain a fair but rigorous standard of excellence in all parts of the college, especially in admissions. The college looks for students who are committed to sound doctrine, personal holiness, cultural reformation, and academic integrity. Applicants are evaluated based on their transcripts, standardized test scores, and academic samples, as well as pastoral and academic evaluations. The admissions committee evaluates an applicant’s entire portfolio, looking for a balanced life, service to others, involvement in church and local communities, and an appreciation of humor and the arts.

In maintaining a high standard of excellence, NSA wants to recognize real value and accomplishments in students, professors, and other academic professionals. This desire does not eliminate diversity in the student body at NSA, as the college has accepted and graduated students from various ethnic backgrounds. This standard of excellence means that when students graduate from NSA, they have achieved something of real value. 

"I think that is patronizing to people who are in a minority position because they become tokens that are being used to fill a quota rather than being evaluated for the actual meaningfulness of their contribution.”

Acknowledging that some people are better at a particular calling does not undermine others but recognizes and celebrates the diverse gifts each person has been given. Acknowledging that some are better academically reflects the true nature of a community where people have different skills and abilities. A community with different gifts means it is healthy and thriving because people can share their unique gifts and build each other up.

Dr. Merkle also discussed how it is popular to complain that the curriculum of a liberal arts program, which features great books of the past, is not diverse enough. Dr. Merkle acknowledged that some crucial works can be overlooked and must be recovered. He said, “I think it is always healthy to keep your eyes open and look for that diamond in the rough that has been missed.” He added, “But when you notice it and grab it, that is because it is a diamond in the rough. Because there is something really fantastic there.” 

This means there needs to be a standard to judge a book from the past. What is essential to study, and why is that? NSA’s program of study focuses on great works because they comprise the fabric of culture and society. By studying these works, students gain a large narrative of humanity’s most significant ideas and the way these ideas have shaped civilization. The college also recognizes these thinkers as cultural leaders and seeks to build upon their work.

Dr. Merkle commented on how some liberal arts colleges are expanding their reading list based on DEI policies. He said, “When we look to expand our book list or anything like that, the thing that needs to motivate us is looking for treasures that we missed before. And when somebody is doing that, I think that is a great thing.” Dr. Merkle then cautioned about wanting to add books to the list primarily to fulfill a desire for diversity. That desire would lower the standard of excellence and rigor. The important thing is that the work is good, Dr. Merkle explained, “not because it ticked a box or filled a quota.” 

NSA maintains rigorous standards because it desires to graduate leaders who shape culture. Leaders stand out and are above others. In a time when many are doing mediocre work, NSA is looking for the best. This standard of excellence makes it meaningful when students are accepted into the program and then graduate from it four years later. Graduating from New Saint Andrews College means that students have achieved something valuable that everyone can recognize.