Canada Christian College will not be a university. Or will it?
The Reverend Dr. Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies (CCC), has been publicly portrayed as a controversial figure, to put it mildly.
For the last quarter century Charles has also been my friend. We’ve had some terrific discussions, and disagreements, about differing approaches to the public square as well as about some finer points of theology. We managed to do so without losing track of the essentials at the heart of our shared faith, friendship, and interest in the well-being of the nation at every political level―federal, provincial, municipal, and school boards.
Charles’ public critics don’t know him personally. They haven’t made the effort, although I know from experience that his door is open. Self-styled opponents have opted not to discuss or debate the content of his publicly stated positions, instead choosing the convenient expediency of using provocative and insulting labels intended to quiet his voice.
Support traditional marriage between one woman and one man for religious reasons? Concerned about nudity and simulated sex acts at Pride parades? Question diverse sexuality being taught to third-graders? Homophobe. Critical of the Canadian presence of Islamist extremists? Islamophobe. Aspire to have a public conversation about these issues? Bigot.
Despite antagonistic portraits rendered using paint-by-number invectives, McVety has refused to bow to political correctness or to stay cancelled by those who have attempted to do so. He remains prepared to engage conversations on culturally sensitive policy matters in public, as well as in private.
Over the last twenty-seven years or so of his leadership at CCC, the campus has moved from a warehouse-like facility in the west end of Toronto to a five-story building just off the Don Valley Parkway, then in 2018 to its expansive and now state-of-the-art facilities on the shore of Lake Ontario in Whitby. The faculty has likewise developed from pastors volunteering to academics educated around the world (and at CCC), some also teaching in other Ontario colleges and universities. And, yes, there are still adjunct instructors who lead congregations.
During studies at Canada Christian College, my teachers were men and women from a variety of life experiences and a diversity of ethnic backgrounds. My classmates similarly had diverse ethnic origins in Africa, Asia, South Asia, South America, Europe and North America.
Opposition members in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario erupted with furor last October when CCC was included in Bill 213 with a list of institutions seeking additional degree granting status from the province. Schedule 2 proposed amending the Act Respecting Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies, renaming the school as a university, and authorizing the school to confer B.A. and B.Sc. degrees in addition to fourteen degrees already on offer; bachelors, masters, and doctoral level degrees in sacred music, theology, and Christian counselling.
Objections were not to the expansive state-of-the-art campus in Whitby, the quality of educators or education at the College, or the beneficial societal influence of now more than 7,000 graduates since the school’s founding in 1967. Opposition MPPs objected to the public image of CCC’s president, an image off-coloured by policy adversaries in politics and media.
As stated in my submission to the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on General Government, at issue “is not political or media opinions concerning Dr. McVety’s public policy pronouncements or his personal participation in the political sphere, which involvement is not uncommon for college and university professors, staff or administrators. At issue…is the ability of Canada Christian College to meet established requirements to provide the degree programs proposed.”
However, last fall’s controversy was not just about Charles McVety.
Questions have been raised about the neutrality of the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB).
Personal cell phone numbers and the McVety’s home address were made public, along with other confidential documents and information that was provided as required by the application process. The result of the leak(s) included threats of violence and media coverage about personal information. In January 2021 the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario assessed the breach as a violation of the The Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. James Brown, CEO of PEQAB, issued a written apology and committed to implement corrective and preventive measures.
In late May, headlines, particularly in the Toronto Star, and social media posts from prominent Ontario politicians and others, again denounced Charles McVety as a person. They expressed delight at additional confidential information improperly made public, disclosure of the recommendation to the Minister of Colleges and Universities.
One critic, the Reverend Dr. Cheri DiNovo, a former NDP MPP, uncharitably tweeted: “YES!!! BREAKING May 21: Canadian Christian College has been denied university status by the post secondary assessment board overriding @fordnation A win for #LGBTQ2S #LGBTQ”.
Replies to DiNovo’s tweet largely demonstrated animosity and vilification directed toward McVety; although CCC, Trinity Western University, and Christian postsecondary institutions in general garnered unkind words. One respondent asked the pertinent question as to whether the information being shared was supposed to be confidential, since it was not publicly available on either the PEQAB or Ministry of Colleges and Universities websites.
In response to this fresh round of unexpectedly public information, CCC representatives shared that the College has challenged the decision to both PEQAB and the Minister. The challenge notes that deficiencies stated as the reason for declining the change in degree granting status were based on a draft submission, one encouraged by PEQAB CEO Brown for his comments as part of a preliminary review. According to CCC, those deficiencies were addressed in the final written submission to PEQAB.
The public spokespeople for the university initiative have been the next generation of leadership at CCC. New academic dean Michael Reardon expressed concern the PEQAB process may be biased against accreditation. The public leaks of personal contact information in October were disconcerting. Additionally, Reardon noted that following introduction of Bill 213 and before PEQAB’s review process started, an October 31 Toronto Star article quoted an anonymous PEQAB representative saying approval would make PEQAB look bad and “if they want to be a university, it’s going to be tough.”
It is hoped CCC’s request for reconsideration based on the final documentation submitted to PEQAB in May will result in arriving at an amicable resolution. If not, the option of judicial review means another Christian postsecondary institution could be headed for the courtroom. The PEQAB board meets next Tuesday, July 20.
While I pray my friend will experience favour with God and people―as I did (and do) for friends involved with Trinity Western University’s ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed application to establish a law school―my expectation for Canada Christian College as a postsecondary institution in this process is not favour but fairness, as I had hoped for TWU.
Fair treatment, unbiased and objective, ought to be the standard.
Impartiality is the reasonable expectation for PEQAB, and from the Government of Ontario that early declared its commitment to abide by the recommendation at the conclusion of the ‘objective’ assessment process. That process has not concluded. The final submission has not been reviewed, so the final recommendation has not been delivered. When it is, I’m certain that one way or another we’ll hear about it.