Courage in the Face of Persecution: Robert Oscar Lopez Resigns Tenured Position
"I found myself in a place where I had to abandon Christ or abandon CSUN."
This week Robert Oscar Lopez, formerly professor of English and Classics at California State University, Northridge, announced that he would no longer be teaching at CSUN, for the sake of his soul. His announcement came after years of harassment from his colleagues and LGBT activists.
Lopez talked to The Stream about his experience and why he believes tenure is spiritually dangerous for Christians.
The Stream: Most professors work and pray that one day they might reach tenure. You had tenure at a public university, but tenure did not protect your academic freedom – or even your freedom to think differently and be a part of the school community.
Why didn’t tenure protect you – and how does the process of getting tenure “harm people spiritually”?
Robert Oscar Lopez: Technically speaking, tenure is not simply a gift or privilege given to individuals. It is an entire system. To become admitted you have to be subjected to intense peer inspection.
When you accept a tenure-track position it is like a law firm, where part of the agreement is that the institution can choose to terminate you after 5–6 years and has no obligation to employ you. You can go for as long as six years not knowing how much your peers hate you. The standards are so subjective and ever-shifting, it is fair to say that it’s run by the whims of people at the very top. And because a certain portion of academic jobs are tenure-track while others aren’t, the system becomes incredibly inefficient, with exorbitant resources going to support tenure-track faculty who may end up being dismissed summarily, and virtually no support — not even subsistence-level pay — going to the adjunct faculty who are usually locally recruited and doing the bulk of teaching.
Because tenure is a massive system, not merely an individual status, when you get tenure you accept the discipline and eccentricities of the whole system.
As a tenured professor I was constantly being watched and documented by others, without knowing when or why they might suddenly accuse me of something. I wasn’t protected because so much of my life was submerged in a peer-reviewed system with massive uncertainty about what standards would be applied to me.
While they couldn’t block my tenure legally because I’d made the requirements, they ended up harassing me at every turn with false accusations and veiled threats. I was accused of inciting racist screams at the 2012 graduation, then accused of being lewd and having erections while teaching in 2013, then accused of not giving students a rubric in 2014, accused of disappearing for two weeks without telling my chair in 2014, and accused of forcing students to attend a conference against their will in 2014.
Each of these accusations was false and I proved them false, but to defend myself took so much time and documentation, it really drives you insane and makes it impossible to do your work.
Then in 2015, the accusations escalated, with students claiming I took them to an anti-gay conference like a KKK rally, passed out hate-filled brochures, insulted someone’s ovaries, lied about funding, tried to stop students from “reporting” me for sexism, and withheld an award against a feminist student for her views. The accusations started getting more numerous, vaguer, and more based on hearsay that I couldn’t disprove no matter how much documentation I kept.
In the case of these charges about the Reagan Library, the university imposed confidentiality rules that would not allow me to submit video of the conference speeches so I could disprove the false charges the accuser made about what was said at the conference!
Finally, in the spring of 2016, it was as if the university went past the point of no return, accusing me of being a CIA spy and of not doing my assigned work on a personnel committee. On the personnel committee I actually did five personnel files in less time than the others, who did four or three each, but it was their word against mine because I was not allowed to tape record or document our long 2–5 hour meetings.
Also, how do you prove that you aren’t a CIA spy?
Then I realized a colleague had sent me emails with booby-trap links to homosexual pornography, and that, had I clicked on them, those emails would have placed cookies on my work computer. I frantically tried to scan my computer to see if any such tricks had placed anything scary on my PC, but the university said they would not provide a forensic expert to review the computer with me there.
People had gone into my office unannounced when I had called in sick, and I realized at any time they could frame me for anything and I might end up in more serious trouble than tenure was worth. I realized at some point that my fear of losing tenure was forcing me to play their games by their illogical rules, and I risked becoming as crazy as they were. Also, I began to fear that I might be so overwhelmed that I might actually fumble, or I might get accused of something that would be impossible to disprove.
The Stream: You made a point of saying that tenure kept you from relying on God, and kept you far from God. You wrote that you “could not have your relationship with Jesus Christ and this job simultaneously.” Can you explain how that was?
Robert Oscar Lopez: In the Bible it says, “much learning is a weariness of the flesh.” The universities descended from holy orders full of scholars trying to get close to God. If you take God out of the equation, then there is no validity at all to large institutions taking up acres of land, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, just devoted to amassing more and more knowledge.
The entire enterprise is inherently vainglorious, an attachment to the things of this world.
You cannot serve two masters at once, and when you are tenured, you have agreed for life to serve a master who is not God. While it isn’t physically brutal, it is in a sense signing away your freedom.
And so it is natural that secular universities are not only deprived of God but contradict the whole Bible, which states that you should never invest so much into anything that is not Jesus Christ. God asks Job where Job was when the stars and all of physical reality were created. It is God’s province to be all-knowing and wise, and man’s province to study the things of this world in order to know Christ and serve Him.
When Isaac is being taken to Mount Moriah, and he asks Abraham where the sacrifice is, Abraham tells Isaac, “the Lord will provide.” Abraham does not say, “On Mount Moriah a tenure committee will provide.”
I realized that after only three years, I was allowing myself to succumb to fear and vanity, worrying that people might believe lies about me, instead of simply trusting that God will take care of those who cherish Him.
The Stream: What would you say to young PhDs who might be reading this? Is tenure going to be worth anything to them?
Robert Oscar Lopez: You have to view tenure as something you don’t need and that won’t change your life. If you get it, fine. But you must remember that God judges you, not peers, on the things where it matters. Do excellent work because, as it says in Colossians, everything we do, we do to glorify God.
But tenure is literally worthless. You don’t need it and it comes with many spiritual risks.
The Stream: I was surprised by the tone of your announcement. Where I expected righteous anger and resentment over how you were treated for your beliefs, instead you express what I think is joy, like here:
I am not quitting tenure because I lost the will to fight. I am quitting it because I found the will to live. The job security offered by tenure is not really security, because you are not safe when you are kept by tenure so far from God. I tried to honor God by doing all I could, within the academy, to get young people excited about literature, where they could see the beauty and virtue made possible by God’s love.
You don’t seem to be cursing the darkness so much as parting ways with it. Frankly, I’m impressed. I also wonder if you’re advocating for separating out Christian higher education; if we don’t send Christian professors and students to state schools, are we abandoning those who need the light of Christ there?
Robert Oscar Lopez: I am not sure if this is the right way to answer you, but here goes: I do feel that I was called to CSUN by God. As universities go, CSUN is in exceptional spiritual danger; the very campus is rife with deceptions and corruptions both physical and spiritual.
I do not regret having gone there, served eight years, and left. There are good people there, as there were in Nineveh if not in Sodom. When we are called, as I feel I was, we must go. We must not flee like Jonah. We must face what is out there.
The devil is powerful in the world and his ways are complex, cunning, and unpredictable. It is worth learning them and fighting them.
I do not think it is feasible to separate all Christians from campuses like CSUN, because many Christians are poor and need state-funded colleges to educate themselves. So we cannot abandon the students there who need some Christian mentors.
At the same time, there is a point where Nineveh either changes or decides to remain in its fallen state. I spoke up and brought my proposals to CSUN through every channel known to me. I only left when I saw that even the Christian students were no longer in a position to be helped by me.
I had spoken my views and was branded. It grieved me to leave behind the Christian students, but I really believe, in my heart, that I did all that God wanted me to do at CSUN, and I was no longer the right person to minister there.
The Stream: Have we reached the point where public institutions require us to silo off into our Christian corners?
Robert Oscar Lopez: If you have means and if Christian communities can gather resources, I think investing in Christian education and getting out of state education is a good idea. So yes.
The Stream: Would you advocate for other Christian professors to abandon the academy?
Robert Oscar Lopez: Each Christian professor has to decide for himself. The same week that I quit, a Christian graduate of Westmont, a professor at UCLA, was shot and killed.
God calls us to minister when God calls us. It takes a lot of prayer to know what to do. I found myself in a place where I had to abandon Christ or abandon CSUN. My dean and her allies in the College of Humanities were never going to let me be true to Christ and work at that school in any way that benefited Christians or Christianity. So I felt called to leave. It is individual.
The Stream: It sounds like you’re going to keep writing. What’s next for you? How can those who care about academic freedom and your work on children’s advocacy support you?
Robert Oscar Lopez: Prayer is so important. I will continue writing. Please follow me at English Manif and on SoundCloud (the CogWatch series) so that if I get to a point where I actually may need financial support, I can spread the word.
For now, I have some leads and am certain God will provide for me.