For all of the heat that Liberty and its founder Jerry Falwell have taken in the mainstream press, I was actually quite impressed with both the campus, the students I encountered, and the members of the history department.
I stand by this statement. I remain impressed with Liberty’s campus and the members of the history department who I met that weekend. It is easy to criticize Liberty and I do not want to “pile on.”
I am NOT, however, impressed by the news that Liberty has banned its College Democrats Club. You can get the details of this decision either in the link above or in this news story about Governor Timothy Kaine’s statement urging Liberty to restore the club to official status. I also noticed that the LU College Democrats website is “no longer available.”
What does this mean for Liberty University? The late Jerry Falwell always wanted Liberty to be able to compete nationally–in academics and sports–as a sort of Protestant fundamentalist version of Notre Dame. But it seems to me that by banning any form of political diversity on campus Liberty ceases being a a university–a place of intellectual inquiry where ideological freedom is celebrated.
Granted, Liberty has the right to define itself as a “Christian university.” I teach at a Christian college that defines itself by a general commitment to an ecumenical Christian faith defined by the Apostles Creed. (This, I should add, makes Messiah College a much more tolerant, diverse, and hospitable place than Liberty). So I understand, and am sympathetic to, Liberty’s decision to self-consciously define itself as a Christian school.
Liberty, of course, even has the right to define itself as a politically conservative Christian university. But this becomes a bit more problematic from the perspective of its identity as an institution of higher learning. Good Christians can disagree on politics and the means by which Christianity is applied to political and social life. The decision to ban Democrats from campus leads me to believe that Liberty is little more than a place of political indoctrination–a place that is unwilling to entertain any dissent or conversation with people who differ from the political views of the administration. What does the administration of Liberty University fear? Why can’t a Christian college or university be a place where students can engage in the marketplace of ideas? This, after all, is what education is all about. A Christian college or university should be a place where students can explore various viewpoints–on society, government, politics–in a safe environment that affirms their Christian convictions.
When I was at Liberty last month I also learned that the university does not have a system of tenure in place. Faculty, in other words, have no security. This leads me to wonder–are there any “in the closet” Democrats on the faculty? If so, what will happen to them if they are exposed?