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  • College Identity Sagas: Investigating Organizational Identity, Preservation, and Diminishment at Lutheran Colleges and Universities by Eric Childers
  • Christopher C. Combie
Eric Childers. College Identity Sagas: Investigating Organizational Identity, Preservation, and Diminishment at Lutheran Colleges and Universities. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012. 272 pp. Paperback: $27. ISBN: 1610973089

In College Identity Sagas, Childers focuses on Lutheran institutions of higher education through a case study analysis. The author identified the construct “Lutheranness” (p. 8) to describe the level of conformity in a higher education climate where secularization is dominant.

The study population was the 27 colleges and universities comprising the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) higher education system, from which he selected three institutions for his case study. Through a scrutiny of university publications and governance documents over a 45-year period of each institution’s history, and interviews of current administrators, faculty, staff, and students, he examines the institutions’ conformity to Lutheranness.

Using the construct of Lutheranness, Childers classifies the degree to which each of these three institutions portrays criteria that measure an expression of Lutheran characteristics, such as church-relatedness and standards of higher education. He also measures the institution’s preservation or diminishment of religious identity. These characteristics may be the inclusion of the Lutheran faith in university publications (i.e., admissions brochures or the strategic plan), chapel services, and the integration of faith within curricular offerings, and/or the emphasis on mission work in helping the global community. Childers uses “Lutheranness” and “religious identity” interchangeably throughout the book.

Using Benne’s (2001) typology, the author identified four illustrative and objective criteria (orthodox, critical-mass, intentionally pluralist, and accidentally pluralist) to situate the respective institutions. Benne’s typology provides a means for understanding religiously affiliated institutions.

“Orthodox” characterizes institutions that hire faculty in a traditional manner—seeking the best candidate irrespective of religion. “Critical-mass” refers to the need of faith-based institutions to have a majority of adherents, with the goal of maintaining, shaping, and defining religious identity. “Intentionally pluralist” means that institutions respect their Lutheran identity by hiring a few adherents interspersed across the campus but focus on academic excellence, regardless of religion, a position that is inclusive of all. “Accidentally pluralist” institutions abandon their religious identity, adopt a secular approach, and explicitly eschew any connection to the sponsoring religious tradition.

In his methodology, Childers scored each of the 27 institutions on Benne’s typology. No ELCA institution could be classified as orthodox, so he chose a school from each of the three other categories for a cross-case analysis using purposeful selection and geographic diversity. Concordia University in Minnesota represents “critical-mass,” Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina is “intentionally pluralistic,” and Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania represents “accidentally pluralistic.” An interpretivist approach aided the author in identifying and coding themes as they emerged from the data collection.

This book uses a mixed-methods design. Childers employed a quantitative methodology (examining the 27 ELCA members) to identify which colleges to profile for the qualitative (three case studies) component. Based on the rankings from Benne’s typology, Childers selected one institution from each of the three categories and asked the following three qualitative questions to analyze what is happening at these three colleges: [End Page 408]

  1. 1. Are colleges and universities of the ELCA preserving or diminishing their Lutheran identities?

  2. 2. Do the status drivers of secularization, financial viability, and faculty professionalization affect Lutheran institutional identity at these colleges and universities?

  3. 3. If the colleges and universities are seeking to preserve their Lutheran identities, why and how are they planning this preservation?

The book expertly details the relevance of Lutheran higher education to the ELCA and to the broader academic community. It compares institutions with similar challenges and mission-specific institutions (i.e., other sectarian institutions, single-sex institutions, military colleges, and Hispanic-serving institutions/historically Black colleges and universities). These institutions have similar challenges in that they are small, private, and have encountered fiscal difficulties. They are mission-specific in that they are either denomination or religion-based or emphasize developing the minds of students of a single gender, ethnicity, or creed. Childers acknowledges that the case study design prevents it from making broad...