Harding and the Atteberry Case


Dr. James L. Atteberry, chairman of the Department of English at Harding College, a "distinguished" faculty member last year, and author of the school's semi-official history, quietly resigned under pressure May 26. His resignation was accepted June 3 by the school's 21-member board, which then apologized for having violated procedures for dismissing a professor on tenure.

The board had demanded Atteberry's resignation on April 9, following an April 7 meeting where the English professor was questioned for more than an hour about his views on academic freedom, liberal arts education, social drinking, and use of instrumental music in worship.

A formal statement of charges was not handed Atteberry until May 14, he said. The statement charged him with a "sarcastic, hypercritical attitude toward other faculty members and programs. " This attitude, the statement said, "has contributed greatly to a factionalism that exists on the Harding campus."

Dr. Atteberry said the charges appeared to be a complete about-face from the gist of the questioning he underwent April 7. The issue then was a speech entitled "the' Freedom of Scholarship" which he delivered at the school's 1968 pre-session faculty conference. He had delivered the speech at the invitation "of Dr. Joseph E. Pryor, Harding dean.

The speech gave a view of truth as absolute and sought to demonstrate that this is the view of truth taken' by traditional bases of knowledge. He then proceeded to suggest what effects this concept of truth should have on man's attitude toward and participation in scholarship.

"Having accepted the concept of truth as absolute, one's quest for truth then becomes tentative-his knowledge is relative although his goals are absolute," he said. "Man is freed to assume his appropriate status. With this concept of truth the scientist is demoted-he becomes not one who knows, but one who seeks. . . The theologian becomes the searcher with the flock-not the dictator to the flock. Scholars must cooperate, not dominate. Nations must pool intellectual resources, not compete with each other for mastery. "

At the April 7 board meeting, Dr. Atteberry's speech was attacked by Dr. James D. Bales, professor in Christian Doctrine. In a 14-page paper, Dr. Bales named Atteberry as "the central problem" among forces which Bales said threatened the college with "apostasy." If Dr. Atteberry's "principles" were allowed to stand, Bales said" teachers and students would be adversely affected. "Men. . . have not sacrificed for Harding in order that she might become an institution with such teachers and students," Bales said. "The founders and supporters of the College have believed that truth is attainable, that all is not tentative, that one finds some answers as well as questions, that extreme freedom should not be allowed at the school, and that one should be militant in support of truth and righteousness. "

Three other members of the Bible Department appeared before the board April 7. They were Dr. William Joe Hacker Jr., chairman; and Jerry Lee Jones and Jimmy R. Allen assistant professors. Dr. Atteberry said that only four of the 14 members of the board present April 7 said they had read his address. One of them, Atteberry said, volunteered that the thoughts expressed were


1. Harding abruptly asks Atteberry to quit, hinting at apostasy:

2. He refuses.

3. Harding makes formal charges, not over 'apostasy,' but 'sarcasm'

4. Atteberry resigns 'on principle'

5. Harding apologizes for violating due process.

6. Harding's 'distinguished professor' goes to Pepperdine.

too complex for his understanding and that he would have to be excused from passing judgment on its meaning. In a statement handed Dr. Atteberry June 4, the board admitted to error in requesting Atteberry's resignation in the manner it did. "The board was not cognizant of the procedures for dismissing a professor on tenure and readily admits that it erred in the terminology, that is, 'to terminate Dr. Atteberry's services,' and apologizes for' its mistake," the statement said. It added that, on learning that the faculty-student handbook promised Dr. Atteberry a hearing before the board's executive committee, the board set May 22, which was later canceled, and then June 2 for a hearing. Atteberry's resignation on May 26 made the hearing moot.

The statement said the board "has made no other charges against Dr. Atteberry" and that it approved his resignation. The board wished him "well in his professional and personal life." After reading the statement, Atteberry said that because the "complete lack of justification for any charges brought against me" and because of damage to his reputation, he felt he was due "a complete statement of exoneration.-


"The board statement is more favorable than I had been led to expect, and I appreciate its tenor; he said. "It is not, however, all together satisfactory. " ". . . It was the procedures, not the terminology, of the board on April 7 which constituted the greatest offense; he said. "Those procedures impossibly prejudiced any subsequent proceeding against me. Second, even if the faculty--staff handbook had not prescribed procedures to be followed in dismissal cases, the procedures of April 7 were inexcusable. I remain convinced that if this matter had been handled in a Christian manner and in conformity to commonly accepted notions of fairness and due process, none of the difficulties which now face me and which now face Harding College would have materialized. "

Atteberry said he considered the statement that the board had no other charges against him "as a repudiation of the initial reasons for dismissal which the president of the college (Dr. Clifton L. Ganus Jr.) conveyed to me on April 9..."

Atteberry said he resigned because of "principle" and on the advice of several members of the board and other friends. ". . . There is nothing to be gained and something to be lost to them, to me, and to the institution in a continuation of the turmoil engendered by this situation," he said.

The professor said he has accepted a position with Pepperdine College, Los Angeles. This was confirmed by Dr. Howard White, Pepperdine dean, who said Atteberry would be a full professor of English beginning this fall.

Atteberry has indicated that he expects "about six" other Harding College faculty members to accept contracts at Pepperdine this fall and perhaps as many as a dozen more by the fall of [970.

One Harding faculty member who resigned immediately on learning of the board's decision on Dr. Atteberry, was Joel E. Anderson Jr., an instructor in political science who is on leave at Ann Arbor, Mich. In a letter to the board, Anderson charged that the April 7 decision was "an outrage and should be reversed."

Anderson characterized Atteberry as "a marvelous human being. . . deeply committed to the ideals of Harding College and to Christian education." He said "no one has ever accused (Atteberry) of moral turpitude. His superior academic competency is widely acknowledged. His loyalty and commitment have been demonstrated by his sixteen years of faithful service to Harding College. . . The suggestions that he is now unfit to teach at Harding College are so incredible as to be ludicrous. "

With his letter Anderson sent a detailed analysis of Dr. Bales' critique of Atteberry's speech in which, among other points, he alleged that an article written by Dr. Bales and printed in the Gospel Advocate of Jan. 23 established that Dr. Bales "himself, believes that one cannot prove anything absolutely (since all knowledge is based upon faith) and therefore all human knowledge is tentative.

In part, Anderson quoted Bales as saying: "It is important to remember, when someone denies God while affirming science, that scientists themselves agree that they cannot prove anything with such complete finality that no objections nor problems can be raised. "

The "distinguished faculty member" honor which Dr. Atteberry received last year carried with it a $1,000 award. On May 26, Dr. Atteberry received a bronze plaque from the Harding chapter of Al pbi Chi, the scholastic honorary society, expressing appreciation for his contribution to the local chapter and to the college. In 1964, the Petit Jean, the college's yearbook, was dedicated to him. At the request of Dr. George Benson, former Harding president; and Dr. Ganus, Dr. Atteberry wrote the story of Harding College, which was published by the Harding College Press in 1966. In the preface, Dr. Atteberry wrote: "If (this account) makes Harding College more precious to those who have long loved her and if it added new friends to her already wide circle of loyal supporters, its purpose has been richly fulfilled.'

Dr. Atteberry joined the Harding faculty in 1953. He expects to remain through the summer, be said.

- Dudley Lynch


Before God, there is neither Greek nor barbarian, neither. rich nor poor, and the slave is as good as his master, for by birth all men are free; they are citizens of tbe universal commonwealth which embraces all the world, brethren of one family, and children of God. -Lord Acton

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