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A retrospective/prospective piece by a Wheaton alum about the outgoing administration and the future of the leading Christian college. About the Author

Andrew Chignell is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Cornell. He graduated from Wheaton in 1996 with degrees in Philosophy, Theology, and Literature. His parents both did graduate work at Wheaton, and his father taught there for 25 years. One of his brothers received a B.A. from Wheaton in 1999. His youngest brother is currently a junior in the Wheaton Conservatory of Music.

1. Read the Story

Whither Wheaton? The Evangelical Flagship Charts a New Course
Published in SoMA Review on January 13th, 2010**

2. Read the Story Behind the Story

“Whither Wheaton?” was invited by John Wilson, the editor of Books and Culture, in the summer of 2009. The topic is obviously a delicate one… Read More

“Whither Wheaton?” was invited by John Wilson, the editor of Books and Culture, in the summer of 2009.

The topic is obviously a delicate one, and though I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois and graduated from the College in 1996, I had been away for a while, and so I wanted to be sure to do the research required to make it a solid piece. In the end I consulted around forty people, only some of whom were willing to be quoted by name.

When I submitted a draft to Books and Culture in mid-September 2009, Wilson accepted it enthusiastically. We made some revisions together, and he mentioned that he’d decided to put in on the cover of the November/December issue. His in-house artist designed a beautiful cover for the issue: it depicts a nautical device of some sort, I think (does anyone know what this is called? a strange sort of sextant, maybe?) that was once used (in addition to a compass, obviously) for navigational purposes. The design was inspired (I think) by the talk of Wheaton in the article as the “flagship” evangelical institution.  [CORRECTION: John Wilson just wrote and told me that it's a plumb line!  Philosophers obviously cannot be expected to tell their plumb lines from their sextants.]

The article made it all the way to the proofs stage (here it is in Books and Culture format). But a day or so before the issue went to the press, Harold Smith, the CEO of Christianity Today International (which owns Books and Culture) unexpectedly stepped in and told Wilson that he would not let it run. Wilson had to scramble to change the contents of the issue, though the original cover art remained (minus “Whither Wheaton?”). In his phone call to me, Wilson said that this sort of editorial control had never been exercised in the fourteen-year history of Books and Culture.

I tried to contact Harold Smith directly in an effort to understand his motivations. Smith agreed to talk to me, and we had a good conversation. At that time, and in a subsequent email, he laid out eight specific things that he said needed to be addressed before the piece was publishable in Books and Culture. He also promised that he would let the piece run in the January/February issue if those eight items were addressed.

After this conversation, I withdrew the piece from consideration elsewhere and began to work (in consultation with Wilson) on revisions. These involved, among other things, asking President Litfin for comment, fact-checking a few items, changing a few phrases, and so forth. Small things, really, as you can see if you compare the original draft to the current one. I was happy to make the changes in order to have the piece published in a magazine that is sympathetic to evangelicalism; I didn’t want the piece to seem like a critique from “outside,” if possible.

I resubmitted the piece a few weeks later in the hopes that Smith would alert me if there were any further concerns. I didn’t hear anything for about a month. Then, a week or so before the issue was due to the press, Smith raised new concerns to Wilson, over and above the eight that he had detailed earlier. I then worked to address these concerns, and in consultation with Wilson got the piece into the form that you see at SoMA Review now.

Smith and Wilson met at least two times the week that the January/February 2010 issue was going to press, and at the end of the second meeting Smith indicated that he was prepared to let the piece run. That was on a Thursday.

The following Monday, Smith called Wilson in and told him that the piece was irrevocably dead. In a note to me, Smith expressed sympathy but gave no explanation, except to say that “new hurdles” had arisen. He did promise that no one from Wheaton College had directly intervened.

Because this second epicycle took so long, it looked unlikely that I would be able to get the piece out before the presidential search at Wheaton was concluded. I’m very grateful to John Spalding at SoMA Review for providing an outlet at the eleventh hour, and hope that at least some of the readers who might have come across the piece in Books and Culture will find it online.

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