Among the more pressing and less technical of my interests as of late is that of navigating the professional academic environment. Especially now, as I craft my way through a four-year master's degree, it occurs to me that I must soon be capable of entering an appropriate doctoral program and later leveraging such into a job offer within academia. At first glace, the uninitiated may think, "Well, isn't that what a doctorate is for? Getting a job in academia?" Yet let me assure you: It isn't that simple.

And now, for a brief history of American colleges!

The two main branches of colonial American colleges were both founded for the training and certification of clergy. While we may dream that the emphasis sat squarely on the former of those goals, there is evidence to suggest that certification was the driving factor, while the training required for such certification was still, of course, rigorous. There were effectively three stages of education in general. The most common and most basic was the private or public schoolhouse tutoring which covered reading and writing in the common tongue. Next, akin to what we may think of as high school or secondary school, they called Latin school. The grammatical and linguistic focus therein is hard to miss– not only did you learn grammar, rhetoric, and arithmetic, but also Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Whereas the basic education may have trained you in English well enough to deal with ledgers and poems, Latin school taught you to write ledgers and poems in four different languages. Third and final, our focus is on the college or tertiary level of education. Here, specifically in the first branch of American colleges, one would learn yet more advanced forms of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, as well as geometry, astronomy, ancient history, metaphysics, ethics, and natural science, all of which was taught in Latin. Not to mention, you would also be trained for and eventually granted certification for clerical work.

Early American colleges of the first branch is comprised of well-known names such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, King's, Queen's, William & Mary, the College of New Jersey (Princeton), the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania), and the College of Rhode Island (Brown). It's an impressive list. You may ask– does the description above adequately describe the mode of instruction in all of these universities? The short answer is: Yes. A longer answer would find variations of various kinds at different locations, and especially note the changes which occurred over time. Dartmouth, for example, wasn't founded until 1769, over 130 years after Harvard. While our modern and postmodern tendency may be to think of this time period as culturally monolithic, that view is borne out of ignorance. In fact, it is difficult to stress just how much the American culture changed (and varied regionally!) during this time.

The second branch of American colleges captures the undying spirit of the western frontier: The Log College. While the especially studious may note a slight overlap  between my above list and those colleges which are among the legacy of the log college, (perhaps only in Princeton and Queens) the groups are generally distinct. The function of the original and subsequent log colleges was to be a theological seminaries for training up Presbyterian clergy. Organized by William Tennent in 1727, the Log College filled a gap in denominational education, and played an important role in the First Great Awakening. While tracking the influence of the log colleges is beyond the scope of this article, suffice to say that many colleges can track their heritage back to these cabins. It is also worth noting that the log college tradition was more holistic, in a sense, than the university method. As a resident at a log college, you would be discipled by the owner, farm their land, and live on-site. It was a lifestyle.

It is a debatable question to ask if there are other founding branches in American academia. Well, I believe with some surety that there were no other college movements in the colonial era (let's say, 1607 up to 1760, and Dartmouth was a latecomer). In light of this, it seems as if the vast majority of colleges can be viewed in light of these two branches, or models, and in some way do find their heritage therein, even if we see new models in the current day. The only exceptions would be insignificant in this context.

Two models which do not immediately follow the two branches discussed thus far are the lower-upper college, (ok, we can call it community college) and the modern seminary. The community college stems from a slightly later movement which introduced professional degrees and training at the university level. Their purpose is certainly not colonial, but rather, stems from the need of specialization as the society and economy grew more complicated– that is to say, this model does still stem from the first branch of American colleges, but was introduced after the colonial era. The modern seminary, however, is somewhat more enigmatic. While there is no question that those original university and log college origins can still be clearly traced into the 1800s, which will forever be marked by the flurry of global missions work based in America, there remains the question: What happened next?

In order to understand the modern seminary, we must first view the progression of the early universities beyond their colonial origins. It's a long story with a short summary: As the world grew more modern, these schools grew more secular. While 1760 and on was an age of Biblistic rationalism and common sense, 1880 marks the beginning of the modern era, wherein rationalism and science were gradually elevated to the highest epistemological pedestal. Concurrently, traditional Christianity faced an inimitable foe from within– Liberal Christianity sought to resolve the apparent dissonances between the teaching of the church, and the teaching of science. Let's not talk about the postmodern era, as it is too-much a forgone conclusion from the modern movement (Jonathan Edwards, for example, saw the trends towards modernity and warned against the postmodern results), and should be viewed (in our distant future, I believe it will be) as the same time as the modern.

Continuing with my oversimplifications suitable to this length and format of writing: American Christianity didn't die, however, even as it was gradually eradicated from those universities which were founded for specific purpose of promoting ministers therein. New, specialized, often denominational schools would arise under the old title of seminary in order to continue the faithful march of training missionaries and pastors. These seminaries were fundamentally founded to be more conservative - more traditional - than their counterparts in the divinity colleges with more substantial heritages. There is a great irony here, that the conservatives had to form new institutions. It is worth considering the unintuitiveness of this in an attempt to understand the nature of liberalism and conservativism.

This concludes my brief history of American colleges.

In the above story, one of my key take-aways is to note the degree of difficulty which was required to become a certified clergyman. This difficulty varied little by denomination and location. You applied to college, having already mastered Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and English. Imagine having to publish research papers in high school in order to have a college consider you as a candidate– that's the difficulty level. The individuals who entered pastoral and missional positions were virtually all brilliant! They were the intellectuals, and did not let their intellect go to waste. The entire purpose was to serve God with their entire persons– those persons who had unutilized mental capabilities could serve God better by going to university and becoming a pastor, or more integral member in their societies. As the life of Jonathan Edwards shows us, there is immense good that a man can do when he applies his whole (massive) intellect to the service of God and the church.

Yet another take-away, equally to-the-point of this post, is that the old branches of American academia are expected to reject the new academic endeavors of those from modern seminaries to the extent that those modern seminaries are not up-to-date with the old progress. This suggests adequate reason for the more liberal humanities establishment universities to view critically those from modern seminaries, considering their applications to rejoin the old system with due skepticism. I revel in the convoluted irony.

This skepticism is justified to the extent that the applicant's work is representative of the new institutions founding cause– the reestablishment of traditional Christian understanding by founding a new branch of academia. That founding cause intrinsically caused a separate corpus of academic work to be formed. To the extent that the applicant's work fits in the new corpus, the guards of the old corpus should indeed be very concerned that the applicant is uncapable or unwilling to contribute to the progression of the old corpus, in spite of their application, which is a supplication to the contrary.

Yet the applicant has an equally difficult time publishing material which fits in the old corpus while they study in the new seminary institutions to the extent that those institutions remain uncorrupted in their founding mission, even if the applicant's final goal is to bridge the gap between the new and the old by attending both. In other words, anyone looking to go into professional academia should be very careful about what they publish according to the institution that they are in, and the institutions they desire to be a part of in the future.

To return to an earlier point, I contest that the degrees you obtain are far less important than the research that you write if you are trying to be in academia, especially if you are trying to be influential in academia. The reason for this is that degrees - accreditations -  can be acquired from different branches of academia. In spite of the branches' shared heritage, the different branches do not communicate well with one another, and typically feel no need to do so. In an analogous way, we easily acknowledge that STEM fields do not often interact with the humanities, and vice versa. The Presbyterian graduate from the Log College would no more be welcome to become a faculty member at Harvard than the Master of Theology from DTS would be accepted as a humanities or philosophy faculty at a community college. It just doesn't fit, in spite of the academic accreditation. On the contrary, if the Presbyterian writes papers interacting positively with those from Harvard, or if the Master of Theology publishes research in secular humanities journals, then doors will perhaps open.

The steps one takes in their early academic career are perilous. Without an adept guide and profound foresight, the burgeoning academician is likely to be disappointed at their prospects, having unwittingly destroyed the paths ahead of them. While accreditation may seem like a fine answer and helpful friend, the lessons of history have stationed themselves to overcome such lofty ideals. Not only has the degree of difficulty at the highest tier of academia remained dauntingly inimitable, the separation between academic institutions poses as an insurmountable foe for those who seek to reclaim the unification of the intellect and the heart in the good ordering of God's creation.