Exactly one year ago today I wrote a post about Liberty University’s quest to become an academic powerhouse. Here is a taste of that post:
If Liberty wants to be a world-class university, it will need to be more open to Christian scholars who do not subscribe to the conservative brand of evangelical religion that Liberty currently peddles. This would not only include moderate and liberal evangelicals, but mainline Protestants and Catholics. I don’t see that happening any time soon. Second, Liberty will need to hire research faculty and support them in their work. Liberty does not have to give up its commitment to teaching in order to do this, but it will need to start funneling money into its academic programs. It will need to provide some kind of tenure system for faculty, establish well-funded endowed chairs, and lighten the heavy teaching loads that faculty currently experience. This is a huge financial commitment. It also requires, as I noted above, loosening the doctrinal restrictions at the university so that they can attract this kind of quality faculty. Third, Liberty will need to do something about what appears to be the autocratic hand of Jerry Falwell Jr. When I was doing research for my recent post on Falwell and guns, I was amazed at how many Liberty faculty and students I contacted were unwilling to talk (even off the record) about their distaste for Falwell’s remarks on this issue. I can’t say for sure why they were unwilling to talk. Perhaps it was out of loyalty to the institution. Or maybe it was out of a fear of losing their jobs. Such a culture needs to change if Falwell is serious about Liberty becoming the evangelical Notre Dame. My advice to Liberty University would be stop worrying about Division I football, lobbing grenades into the ongoing culture war, and monitoring the views of its faculty, and start shoring up the quality and diversity (within the limits at a Christian university) of its academic programs. When this happens I just might believe Falwell Jr. when he says that “we’re not a church, we’re not a business, we’re not a political organization,..we’re a university.” Now the next “evangelical Notre Dame” (if I understand this phrase correctly, the folks at Liberty have a vision that goes beyond just football) has announced that it will be constructing a one million dollar campus shooting range. That’s right. They are not using the million dollars to attract and secure world-class faculty or create endowed chairs or reduce the teaching loads of the faculty in order to free them up to do more research. They are using it to build a shooting range.