What is (Still) Happening at Cedarville University?

Cedarville

Bill Trollinger of the Righting America blog and the University of Dayton has been closely following what is going on at Cedarville, a conservative Christian university in Ohio. Get up to speed herehere, and here.

But their is apparently a lot more to this story.

Here is Trollinger:

Of course, Cedarville desperately wants to get past the scandal, wants to get back to the place of being seen as a school that is “safe” for its fundamentalist constituency. Toward that end it has hired public relations “guru” Mark DeMoss, who in the past has worked to refurbish tainted evangelical “brands’ such as Willow Creek Community Church, Franklin Graham, and Mark Driscoll.  More than this, they have also hired Husch Blackwell LLP to conduct its “internal” and “independent” investigation into the hiring of Anthony Moore, an investigation that will culminate in a report to the Board of Trustees. 

As this scandal unfolds, more and more people affiliated with Cedarville have been telling their stories.  Here is one:

In 2018 Paige Patterson – one of the leaders of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention – was fired as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (TX). Among the reasons he was fired is that it had come out that – as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (NC) – he had advised at least one rape victim (Megan Lively) not to report the assault to the police, but, instead, forgive the assailant.  But Lively has now come forward to report that Thomas White – who at the time was director of student life at Southeastern, and who is a Patterson protégé – was directly involved in the effort to keep her quiet about the rape. More than this, she was required to meet with Joy White – Thomas White’s wife, Southeastern graduate student, and now Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Cedarville – as part of the “disciplinary plan” imposed on her after she reported the rape.

Read Trollinger’s entire post here.

Yet another reminder that not all Christian colleges are the same.

Jerry Falwell Jr: *The Chronicle of Higher Education* Interview

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, just gave an interview to Jack Stripling of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The first part of the interview covers ground we have already covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. The second part of the interview is pretty revealing. Stripling annotates some of Falwell Jr.’s answers in brackets.

Here is a taste:

Are you going in to your office?

I don’t have as many meetings as I used to, but whenever I do need to have one, yes, I’ll go in and have one.

Do you wear a mask?

No.

Do you ever wear one?

No.

Why not?

I don’t get close enough to anybody to need one. I got the antibody test, and I have not had Covid-19.

[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”]

You got the antibody test because you felt you had symptoms, or you were just wondering if you’d won the Covid lottery and might be immune?

I was just curious. I kept hearing so much hype about it; I just wanted to see how real the threat was.

The fact that you didn’t have the antibodies, does that make you think that the threat is exaggerated?

No, I’m just glad to see it wasn’t bad enough around here that I’d caught it.

[Of 31,140 reported coronavirus cases in Virginia, 74 are in Lynchburg, where Liberty’s main campus is.]…

When do you think you will have to make a decision about the fall?

Whenever I want to. Whenever I decide that the powers-that-be have concluded that it’s safe to open, then I’ll make the call. But not until then; I don’t have to. There’s no pressure.

We’re giving faculty their contracts, but we are making them contingent on enrollment levels. And there’s a chance a lot of kids won’t come back because parents are scared to send them back. So we’re going to keep our options open.

[Liberty professors do not have tenure, except in the law school, where accreditation requires it. The university has a $1.6 billion endowment, and it boasts an enrollment of 100,000 online students.]…

Have you had any direct conversations with President Trump since this pandemic began?

Yeah, he called yesterday. I was sitting in the car, and the phone number popped up and I didn’t recognize it and I answered it: “Jerry,” the president said.

I can’t tell you what he said, but it was just a friendly conversation.

I told him about what we were planning to do with The New York Times about the trespassing charges, and he said, “I hear that people are dying at Liberty. Now I hear there’s zero cases. He said, “Why don’t they correct it?” I said, “Good question.”

What did he think of how you were handling The New York Times?

I never say what the president says to me.

You just did!

Not really.

Fair enough. In your Fox interview, you were floating the idea that North Korea and China might have created the virus. There’s been criticism that there’s just no evidence for this, that this is conspiratorial thinking. Was it appropriate to voice that out loud?

Afterward, everybody else started saying the same thing. I was ahead of the game on that one.

It’s funny: A lot of Ivy League schools have connections to that Wuhan lab. I don’t know if you’ve heard that. I don’t know if they’re working over there. I just read last week there’s some connection between Ivy League schools and that Wuhan lab. I don’t know if that means anything.

If I didn’t know better, I would think you were planting a seed that Ivy League universities are part of some conspiracy to release the coronavirus. Is that what you’re saying?

No, no, no. I was just surprised to read that they were involved with that lab.

This is the exact kind of stuff that people complain about with you: Just floating the ‘isn’t this curious?’ type of thing. Now you’ve added Ivy League universities to the list, as if they’re part of some problem.

That was published in the mainstream media. They did it to raise suspicion. I didn’t. I was just telling you what they said.

[Scientists have said they doubt the new coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan. But the theory remains resonant in political circles. In response to follow-up questions about Ivy League connections to the Wuhan lab, Falwell provided an article from Bloomberg about a Harvard University chemistry professor who had been arrested in a crackdown on intellectual-property theft sponsored by China. There is no evidence that Charles M. Leiber, the professor, had anything to do with the novel coronavirus, despite social-media posts suggesting otherwise, FactCheck.org reported in FebruaryThe Chronicle provided Falwell with a link to FactCheck.org’s reporting on Leiber. “Interesting,” Falwell replied].

How would you feel if you opened Liberty and you had a student or faculty member who got really sick, or even died? Would you feel tremendous guilt?

That’s why I said I’m going to exercise extreme caution before making decisions. You weigh all the factors, and you make the risk known, and it’s their choice whether to come. I don’t see how that’s any different than going on a ski slope in the state of Virginia.

But I wouldn’t open school and say we recommend you come if this thing’s still going like it is now. You’re welcome to come, but please realize that we can’t control what we can’t control.

I wouldn’t care how many showed up and how many didn’t. A lot of schools would.

Because you have so much money.

If you want to put it that way [laughing]. I didn’t say that; you did.

You’ve kind of been saying it.

We don’t have the financial pressures that a lot of schools have.

Read the entire interview here. It may be behind a paywall.

A Liberty University Divinity School Professor Responds to the Closing of the Philosophy Department

Liberty_University_Flames_stadium,_Lynchburg,_VA_IMG_4118

David Baggett taught philosophy and theology at Liberty University for fourteen years. In Fall 2020, he will join the faculty at Houston Baptist University. In a recent piece at “The Worldview Bulletin Newsletter,” Baggett responds to Liberty’s recent decision to eliminate its philosophy department.

Here is a taste:

So let’s get back to eliminating the philosophy department. Business lingo was used in Liberty’s decision—specters of efficiency, adding value, and negative enrollment trends—but it all raises prior questions that ought to be asked. If a program isn’t a money-maker for the university, how relevant is that to its value? Is its value reducible to monetary terms? If the university overall wants to be financially solvent—and what university doesn’t?—does that rightly suggest that each department has to pull its own weight financially? What if history and English eventually suffer the same fate? Can a school legitimately claim to be a university at all without a philosophy program? Or an English or history department? This is no unprincipled slippery slope concern; the parity in reasoning seems inescapable. At what point does the intrinsic value of studying poetry or history, philosophy or literature, simply demand that a university privilege something other than the bottom line?

Liberty’s rationale also includes mention of other Christian colleges streamlining their humanities programs, and it is probably true that this was a financial necessity for some or many of those colleges. But what about Liberty? It has an endowment of over 1.5 billion dollars. Wouldn’t this have been an ideal time to be countercultural and lead the way, rather than capitulating and following the lead of institutions far less financially blessed? The argument that this was a financial duty bears critical scrutiny only by revealing some troubling value commitments on which the decision was based. It was apparently deemed more valuable to safeguard and keep growing those hefty resources than use them to preserve a philosophy department. Actions reveal character and values.   

Read the entire piece here.

 

Liberty University’s Statement on the Elimination of Its Philosophy Department

Liberty

Get up to speed here.

Here is the official press release from Liberty University:

Liberty University is pleased that it is very efficient and effective in the delivery of education in a God-honoring way and in a way that adds value to our students. In 2012, Liberty made a deliberate decision to appropriately align our B.A. in Philosophy program, moving it from our School of Divinity to our College of Arts & Sciences. Upon moving the program, we began to evaluate declining trends in degree-seeking philosophy students across the United States. We also evaluated trends of other Christian colleges that were streamlining their humanities programs and others that completely dissolved philosophy programs due to these negative enrollment trends. 

As a result, in 2015, we dissolved our M.A. in Philosophy program due to waning enrollment. At that time, we began evaluating our B.A. in Philosophy Program and working hard to achieve increased enrollments. This effort did not bear fruit.  Due to the lack of interest, over several years, in a B.A. in Philosophy, we began in the fall of 2019 to collapse the program and to stop accepting new students as we had less than 20 students enrolled and five faculty to service them. 

Despite the anxieties associated with the tough decision to collapse the B.A. in Philosophy program, we work hard at Liberty to take care of our people. As such, the professors impacted by the collapse of the program have been offered generous severance packages and are immediately eligible for rehire in any area that they are qualified for at the university, as well. And those teaching in online modalities maintain the opportunity to continue their service in good faith. 

In parallel to this academic decision, President Jerry Falwell wisely decided to solidify the tenets of basic Christian life and thought within Liberty’s general education curriculum to ensure Liberty in no way moved from its sound focus on theology, apologetics, and philosophy. To that end, a team of some of Liberty’s best theologians, apologists and philosophers convened to ensure that Liberty continued to integrate and expound upon its curriculum with a deeper focus on theology, apologetics and philosophy. It is vitally important that our students clearly understand the deity of Christ. The end result, according to Dr. Gary Habermas, renowned philosopher and apologist, was “one of the most exciting developments he has been involved in during his time at Liberty.”

This decision should lead to greater interest in theology, apologetics, and philosophy, thereby creating the potential for the launch of a future B.S. in Philosophy. 

Liberty University Dumps Its Philosophy Department

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

Here is Liberty University philosophy professor Mark Foreman at his Facebook page:

Liberty University has chosen to completely dissolve the philosophy department. As of June 30 I am unemployed.

After several of his FB friends offered consolation, Foreman wrote:

Thanks for your comments folks. No, we had no notice that this was coming. We all got letters telling us we were nonrenewed the last couple of days. There is no retirement program…And I don’t know what my plans are yet. Still reeling from the news.

Foreman says that the entire department (7 faculty members) has been “laid off.” (All of them appear to be full professors).  Liberty does not have tenure.

This speaks volumes about Liberty University’s commitment to Christian thinking and the liberal arts. But it doesn’t surprise me.

Last year Insider Higher Ed reported that Liberty has been losing students.  It made multiple faculty cuts in June, including the termination of eleven divinity school faculty. Read all about that here.

One of the members of the philosophy department, Gary Habermas, is a leading Christian apologist known widely in conservative evangelical circles. He is 69-years old.

ADDENDUM (May 12, 10:45am):

According to Mark Foreman’s Facebook page, it appears that Gary Habermas has a primary appointment in the John Rawlings School of Divinity.  I assume this means he will be staying at Liberty. Foreman also noted that Sean Turchin, who handles the online philosophy programs at Liberty, has been retained. This means that five professors have lost jobs.

Also, upon closer examination, it appears Turchin is an assistant professor.

This post from a Liberty University student summarizes things well:

ADDENDUM #2 (May 12, 1:55pm):

This comes from Foreman’s FB page:

I believe a follow up is necessary to my announcement yesterday concering [sic] my seperation [sic] form Liberty University and I need to make sure everyone understands this. A number of folks have made some sharp and critical statements about LU. That has not come from me. I am saddened about the decsion [sic] the university has made but I hold no ill-feelings or grudges against the university. My 30 years on the faculty have been rewarding and satisfying. I have loved my students and colleagues and have been treated well by the administration. I only wish for continued success for the school. Nobody should read anything negative about the university or its administration from my comments.

In addition, Foreman declined a request to talk with a Chronicle of Higher Education reporter who reached out on his FB page.

Calvin University Loosens Religious Requirements for Faculty

Calvin U

Both of my daughters attend Calvin University. The university recruited my oldest daughter to play for its national-championship caliber NCAA Division III volleyball program, but ultimately her decision was based on Calvin’s reputation for Christian learning. She will graduate in May after completing a double major in history and psychology.  My youngest daughter is finishing her freshman year at Calvin. She is majoring in politics. She initially did not want to follow her sister to Calvin, but after visiting a lot of first-rate Christian colleges, she concluded that Calvin was the best fit for her. (Both of my daughters seriously considered Messiah College, but chose Calvin because they did not want to go to college a few miles from home).

Calvin is a confessional school. It is connected to the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The school’s Reformed faith informs its educational mission. My daughters were not raised in the Christian Reformed Church, nor would they consider themselves “Calvinists” or “Reformed.” But I suggested that they look at Calvin because of the kind of academic rigor that has long been associated with the Reformed faith.

Calvin has always placed strict requirements on its faculty. Faculty needed to affirm Reformed creedal statements, attend Christian Reformed churches (or similar Reformed congregations), and send their kids to Christian Reformed schools in the Grand Rapids area.

But it appears that things are changing at Calvin. Here is a taste of Juliana Knot’s piece at Chimes, the Calvin University student newspaper:

Calvin faculty are no longer required to be members of the Christian Reformed Church and to send their children to Christian day schools. Faculty senate voted to approve the change on April 21, and the board of trustees approved this unanimously on May 8.

Faculty are now able to attend “a Calvin University-supporting Protestant congregation” in addition to a CRC congregation or a church in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC. This church must be a Protestant congregation that affirms the three creeds of unity (Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and Apostles’ Creed), as well as accept that the faculty member attending there affirms the Reformed creeds (the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dordt).

The new policy states that faculty will be expected to articulate an understanding and affirmation of “essential Reformed Christian theological ideas” as part of their tenure and five-year tenure review. Calvin will enter into “strategic partnerships” with the churches that faculty attend, both non-CRC and CRC.

Mirroring the stance of the CRC, Calvin is no longer mandating that faculty send their children to Christian day schools, but is still encouraging them to do so. The report to faculty senate stated that professors applying for tenure will be expected “to articulate a Reformed Christian view of education and to describe how they actively support Christian education.”

Read the rest here.

Cedarville University Board of Trustees Places President Thomas White on Administrative Leave

Cedarvo;;e

Get up to speed here.

Here is the Board’s May 1, 2020 press release:

The Board of Trustees at Cedarville University was recently made aware of additional information related to Dr. Anthony Moore’s past that led to the termination of his employment by our president, Dr. Thomas White, on Thursday, April 23, 2020. The board is incredibly grieved over this new information and the questions it raises. This matter was our priority at our spring Trustee meeting. We understand the gravity of this situation, and we covet your continued prayers.

The trustees have endorsed and ordered the following three courses of action:

  1. We are hiring an independent firm to conduct an internal investigation to ensure nothing inappropriate involving Dr. Moore took place on our campus or with any of our students elsewhere. This firm will report to the board, and the board will then report the findings to the Cedarville University community at-large.
  2. We are retaining an independent firm to conduct an audit of the entire process surrounding the hiring of Dr. Moore. This will include a thorough review of all relevant communication involving Dr. White and Dr. Moore, the trustees, The Village Church, employment references, etc. The firm will report its findings to the board.
  3. We have placed Dr. White on administrative leave during these investigations and have appointed Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Loren Reno as acting president of Cedarville University. Gen. Reno currently serves as senior advisor, office of the president, and was formerly vice president for academics at Cedarville. Dr. White has pledged his full support of both internal reviews being conducted and will make himself available to respond to either inquiry as requested. Dr. White will also fulfill his commitment to participate in the Senior Celebration online event on Saturday to honor the class of 2020.

As our Cedarville University community processes this situation, we pray we would do so with humility, grace, mercy, integrity, civility, and respect. Above all, we pray God would be honored by our deliberations and actions.

HT: Andy Rowell

Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida Cuts the Positions of 34 Professors

SoutheasternIt’s happening.

Small colleges, many of them Christian colleges, are making significant cuts in order to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Southeastern University is the largest Assembly of God educational institution in the United States. According to the school’s Wikipedia page, the school has 7,000 students.

Here is Southeastern theology professor Chris Green:

And here is a local news story:

LAKELAND — Southeastern University is cutting the positions of 34 professors as it prepares for the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The positions stretch across academic departments, SEU spokeswoman Dana Davis said Tuesday.

The university’s administration posted an update Monday describing steps the school is taking to address the expected financial toll of the pandemic and resulting restrictions.

“This undoubtedly will be the most difficult challenge in the history of our university, but make no mistake, we will adjust … we will adapt … and we will innovate so that we continue to equip students to discover their purpose and place in this world,” the statement said.

Davis said nearly all of the cuts will affect locally based faculty. Southeastern also operates about 150 extension sites around the world.

“They’re beloved members of our community, and it’s very, very difficult,” Davis said. “The whole community’s kind of mourning just the impact for these faculty members.”

Read the rest here.

 

What is Going on (Again) at Cedarville University?

Cedarville

More stuff is going on at the conservative evangelical (fundamentalist?) Christian school. We’ve been covering Cedarville for several years now. Here are some of the titles of our posts:

April 24, 2014: “What is Going on at Cedarville University?” (A story about an underground student newspaper that was squashed by the administration).

April 26, 2017: “What is Going on at Cedarville University?” (A story about Cedarville’s new “Philippians 4:8 curriculum reforms).

April 29, 2017: “Cedarville University President Responds” (backlash related to the Philippians 4:8 curriculum).

May 1, 2017: “Cedarville University Proposes Concealed Carry Policy.”

November 28, 2017: “More Thoughts on Cedarville’s ‘Biblically Consistent Curriculum

May 31, 2018: “Will Cedarville University Remove Paige Patterson From its Board of Trustees?

June 1, 2018: “Paige Patterson Resigns from the Cedarville University Board of Trustees.”

For a full calendar of the Cedarville shenanigans, check out Bill Trollinger‘s piece at his blog Righting America.

The primary focus of Trollinger’s piece is the most recent scandal at Cedarville. I will let him explain:

It turns out that just a few months after Cedarville implemented its Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy – the centerpiece of the school’s fundamentalist crackdown –  the school hired Anthony Moore (an old friend of White’s from Southwestern Biblical Seminary, and also a Paige Patterson protégé) to serve as a Multicultural Recruiter and Biblical Research Fellow at Cedarville. Within fifteen months or so of his hire, the Board of Trustees agreed to give Moore faculty rank within the Biblical and Theological Studies Department, and in January 2019 his titles expanded to include “Special Advisor to the President for Kingdom Diversity.” More than this, Moore was an assistant coach of the Cedarville basketball team (and coached local soccer teams). This spring he taught a course at Cedarville on “Counseling and Mentoring Men.”

In short, it did not take Dr. Moore long to become a central figure at Cedarville University. But there was a problem.

It turns out that in his previous job – as campus pastor of The Village Church (TVC) in Fort Worth, Texas – Moore had secretly videotaped a male youth pastor showering in Moore’s home on multiple occasions. More than this, Moore emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abused the victim for almost a decade. While the videotaping could have brought a two-year jail sentence in Texas, the victim chose not to press charges.

But in January 2017 Matt Chandler, TVC lead pastor, announced in a statement to all TVC campuses that Moore had been fired for “grievous immoral actions against another adult member that disqualify him as an elder and staff member.”

Nevertheless, within a few months Moore was hired by his old friend, Thomas White, to work at Cedarville. 

It is obvious that White and the Cedarville administration and the Cedarville Board of Trustees did not come close to practicing due diligence. Not close. And that’s a serious indictment.

But it’s worse. It turns out that TVC Fort Worth had “thoroughly informed Dr. White and Cedarville University about the details of Anthony’s dismissal and our belief that Anthony was not fit for ministry of any kind.” A wise word.

But not to President White or the Cedarville Board. They knew better.

Read the entire piece here.

The Challenge of Christian Liberal Arts in This Pandemic and Beyond

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Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota will cut thirty faculty positions this week. Today, at Messiah College, we learned about how the administration will cut seven million dollars from our budget over the course of the next five years. I don’t feel comfortable sharing details, but, as you can imagine, it has been rough. And Bethel and Messiah are not alone.

Over at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman, history professor Chris Gehrz reflects on this reality, and the future of Christian higher education, in the context of Eastertide. Here is a taste of his post, “‘Nothing for your journey’: The Future of Christian Liberal Arts“:

Whether the future takes me far from Bethel, or finds me still walking its hallways, I know I’m being challenged to “take nothing for” my journey. Whether I stay at Bethel or leave that “house of God” for the welcome of another, I need to shake off my dependency on whatever promises predictability, stability, and security and go forth in the name and power of the one to whom we bear witness.

(Big talk. We’ll see if I can live up to it.)

But Bethel and almost all of its religious competitors also need to welcome the same kind of unburdening. As much as Christian individuals, Christian institutions need to take much less for their journeys.

For example, while I’m glad that our students can choose from so many options — not just academic programs, but the extracurriculars and amenities that history conditions us to associate with a college experience, it’s possible that we’ve been so focused on what students want that we’re not giving them what they truly need. (Or making them pay too much for the package.)

But still more importantly, I can’t shake the feeling that preserving the status quo of Christian higher education has required that we linger in houses whose welcome was always conditional or incomplete.

I’ve often argued that the humanities prepare students for gainful employment, but it’s possible that we ought to be less responsive to economic forces that deepen inequality and diminish dignity. I’ve often praised my discipline for cultivating prudent, empathetic citizens, but it’s possible that we need to speak out more strongly against political authorities that abuse their power and neglect their responsibilities.

Most often of all, I’ve rejoiced that Christian scholars like me get to participate in God’s mission as part of the larger Body of Christ, but it’s possible that we need to ask harder questions of Christian denominations and churches whose support has always been tempered by their suspicion of free inquiry and expression.

All that seems impossible right now. How will we draw students if we don’t treat them as customers, or if we antagonize their pastors? How will we attract private donors or public funding if we criticize the wealthy and powerful? It’s much more likely that our educational institutions will make more compromises, not fewer.

And so my greatest fear right now is not that Bethel will close, but that it will try to stay open by drifting further from its core mission as a liberal arts college that bears witness to Jesus Christ: seeking the truth found in him, transforming students in his likeness, and spreading his kingdom.

Read the entire post here.

Falwell Jr. to Reporters: Get Off My Lawn!

Liberty Campus

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, wants two journalists arrested for trespassing on campus property.  Here is a taste of Caitlin Oprysko’s piece at Politico:

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said on Wednesday that arrest warrants had been issued for journalists from The New York Times and ProPublica after both outlets published articles critical of his decision to partially reopen Liberty’s campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Photocopies of the two warrants published on the website of Todd Starnes, a conservative radio host, charge that Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer for the Times, and Alec MacGillis, a ProPublica reporter, committed misdemeanor trespassing on the Lynchburg, Va., campus of the college while working on their articles.

Falwell and Liberty, one of the most high-profile evangelical schools in the country, have come under fire for welcoming students back to campus after the school’s spring break despite the pandemic, while nearly every other college in the country has ordered students off campus.

In an interview on Starnes’ show, Falwell ripped a New York Times report that nearly a dozen students were experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The Times cited “the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service,” who said three students so far had been tested for coronavirus, with at least one student, who lives off campus, testing positive.

Read the rest here.

“Nearly a dozen” Liberty University students are “sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19…”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

This was inevitable.  Here is a taste of Elizabeth Williamson’s reporting at The New York Times:

As Liberty University’s spring break was drawing to a close this month, Jerry Falwell Jr., its president, spoke with the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service about the rampaging coronavirus.

“We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,” Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Mr. Falwell. But he did not urge him to close the school. “I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, ‘This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do,’” Dr. Eppes said in an interview.

So Mr. Falwell — a staunch ally of President Trump and an influential voice in the evangelical world — reopened the university last week, igniting a firestorm, epidemiologically and otherwise. As of Friday, Dr. Eppes said, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. Another eight were told to self-isolate.

“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview on Sunday when confronted with the numbers. He added that any student returning now to campus would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“I can’t be sure what’s going on with individuals who are not being tested but who are advised to self-isolate,” said Kerry Gateley, the health director of the Central Virginia Health District, which covers Lynchburg. “I would assume that if clinicians were concerned enough about the possibility of Covid-19 disease to urge self-isolation that appropriate screening and testing would be arranged.”

Of the 1,900 students who initially returned last week to campus, Mr. Falwell said more than 800 had left. But he said he had “no idea” how many students had returned to off-campus housing.

“If I were them, I’d be more nervous,” he added, because they live in more crowded conditions.

For critical weeks in January and February, the nation’s far right dismissed the seriousness of the pandemic. Mr. Falwell derided it as an “overreaction” driven by liberal desires to damage Mr. Trump.

Read the rest here.

ADDENDUM: Liberty University disputes the veracity of this story.

Liberty University English Professor: “Please Stop Jerry Falwell Jr. Before It’s Too Late!”

Liberty U

If you are looking for dissenters on the campus of Liberty University, the English Department might be a good place to start. Earlier this year, the department’s most public figure, Karen Swallow Prior, announced that she is leaving Liberty University, citing, among other things, “new regulations and policies that make me less freer to practice [her] art.”

Now Marybeth Baggett, Associate Professor of English, is demanding that Falwell Jr. close the campus to protect students and employees from the coronavirus.

Last week, some of you may recall, Falwell Jr. moved nearly all Liberty instruction online, but he gave students the option of returning to campus after Spring Break ends today.

Baggett has turned to Religion News Service to make her case. A taste:

I have no animus toward Jerry Falwell Jr. He simply should not have a monopoly on this decision. I think he is dangerously wrong here and seems unable or unwilling to recognize it. For that reason, the decision must be taken out of his hands. I speak up for his benefit as well, since his current plan is courting a disaster for which he would be primarily to blame.

Yes, Liberty’s students are mostly young, at low risk for serious complications from the virus. But the administration’s decision to remain in regular operation affects many more than simply the young and healthy among us.

Many students, faculty, and staff have health conditions that would make COVID-19 difficult to fight. And of course, Liberty is not a bubble where the virus would be contained. Instead, its population comes into regular contact with those in the Lynchburg community, putting their health and lives at risk as well.

It is unconscionable that the leadership of the university is fully implementing Falwell’s politically motivated and rash policy that unnecessarily risks an unmanageable outbreak here in Lynchburg.

I have heard from many at the university who have health issues or loved ones with health issues and are distressed about the leadership’s insensitivity and profligacy with impunity. These folks can speak up only on pain of risking their careers.

This leaves me wondering what university leadership has to gain in leveraging people’s livelihoods against their speaking the truth. I simply cannot square this oppression of reasonable dissent with the biblical dicta the university professes.

I am deeply grieved that Jerry Falwell Jr’s control of Liberty University is so complete that not one person in leadership is speaking up as the loyal opposition on behalf of the vulnerable that Falwell’s impudent and imprudent decisions have put at risk, both at Liberty and in Lynchburg.

The leadership’s willingness to enable Falwell’s self-professed politically motivated decision bespeaks a spirit of fear, or worse, that shames the mission they ostensibly pursue. I beg the deans, senior leadership, and board members to think more long-term. They are compelled by what is genuinely best for the university to act, to say nothing of their altruistic obligations as Christians.

These leaders may think they are helping the institution, but in fact, they are sowing the seeds for its devastation.

Read the entire piece here.

Yesterday on Facebook, Baggett urged other members of the Liberty University community, including faculty, to speak-up.  A taste of her post:

…Yet many Liberty faculty and staff hold back from expressing their concern publicly for fear of repercussions. And so the real and valid concerns folks have about the situation are suppressed. For that reason, I am posting this thread to solicit private messages which I will post here anonymously as comments.

Those in the Liberty or Lynchburg community who will be affected by the administration’s decisions to keep the campus open, please send those to me. I will hold your name in confidence, but will share your comment here.

My sense is that there are many who would like to speak up; I hope this will provide them an opportunity to have their voice heard.

On Twitter, Baggett asked for help in amplifying her message.  In that spirit, here are some of the Facebook responses she has received:

FB message: I am actually at more risk than most to contract the illness, because of the nature of my work. My employer *can’t* close, and half my work time is spent in a room shared by entire project team that includes several consultants who fly home and back on weekends. They’re very high-risk transfer vectors, which means I’m very likely to get exposed, and from there, my wife is *also* likely to be exposed. My wife works for Liberty in her own project team for a job that could easily be done remotely, and many of the people she works with are professors who are old enough to be severely compromised by the virus. LU doesn’t seem all that concerned about the effect they’d have by transferring viruses outward, so they might benefit from knowing how vulnerable they are to viral transfers inward to their own ranks.

FB message: I think it is safe to say that the culture of fear is alive and well at LU, which may be why there has been a silence from the faculty and staff. I am a current employee and worked in various departments within LU for almost a decade now. My current role is work-from-home so I am grateful for that. However, my heart hurts and is so concerned for my friends and co-workers who are on-campus. I work with seasoned employees who are (at least in this pandemic), considered elderly or higher risk. Many more staff/faculty members take care of and even live with their elderly parents/grandparents. Those who are mothers/fathers of small children are a concern as a well. This is about safety. It is not like deciding a cancellation due to weather, but we are playing with the lives of others and risking further spread of the virus. This is scary to me that staff and faculty safety have seldom been regarded as being a priority. I have a young child as well and my parents and husband are considered high risk, so why endanger the people of Lynchburg in general (and surrounding areas) by ignoring the suggestions from the government, CDC? This is completely irresponsible and faculty/staff keep the school running. They should be a priority and feel valued, not just the students. It is shameful and those in leadership need to be willing to hear the praise AND concerns from their employees without instilling fear in the hearts of the staff for having an opinion. In this case, an opinion to close, which will save lives!

Personal message: What is most frustrating to me is the seeming lack of care for the Lynchburg community. I have seen of my local, non-Liberty friends and businesses in the past several weeks doing good work help mitigate the spread of the virus. Liberty, by contrast, is having its employees to return to work and keeping campus open. If it’s Christian, it ought to be better, right? At this point, if an outbreak happens in Lynchburg, Liberty will be if not totally at fault at least a large contributing factor. Creating a situation where students are given permission to return to campus en masse is irresponsible and unethical and does nothing to care for the least of these in our campus community and in our City.

FB Message: There’s simply no reason for faculty and staff to come to campus if we can do exactly what we need to do under these straitened circumstances via Microsoft Teams video conferencing with students. I find it completely unacceptable that we’re being asked to make the impossible choice between following the orders of the administration for the sake of our jobs and personal/family health. I’ve always loved the classroom environment, but I’m dreading having to go back Monday. Wakes me up at night with panic.

FB Message: Where is the School of Divinity in all this? Thought they were supposed to be the rudder? Those days seem to be over.  [JF: This link might provide an answer to this question].

FB message: I think allowing the person who runs the university to make such a selfish and dangerous decision is partially on the faculty. What if none of the faculty showed up on Monday but still taught their online classes and did everything else they were supposed to do? What are they going to do? They can’t fire everyone. The university can’t run without faculty. Now is the time to unify and take a stand if ever there was one. A stand that will not cause harm to the university but will show they care about the community, even if their president does not.

FB message: Liberty has always been vocally pro-life, until now. Putting faculty, staff, and students needlessly at risk is just the opposite, not to mention the physically vulnerable like the aged and sick. Falwell literally laughed at the reckless disregard of life found in young people without calling them to account and trying to inspire them to think about more than themselves. But perhaps it would be hard for him to teach such a thing when he lacks any such vision himself.

FB message: I’ve got an asthma sufferer in my home, but I haven’t asked to stay home yet. I’m working up the courage because we are supposed to reach out individually to request exemption, which means that I have to stick my neck out and maybe pop up on the administrative radar. When contracts are up for renewal, I don’t want to people to think “well, so and so didn’t want to come in.” And then, what if my course evaluations take a dip because of all of this? It’s frustrating that as faculty we are asked to be (and I’m happy to be) understanding, compassionate, extend grace and the benefit of the doubt, etc. —especially at this time—and yet we are not given the same treatment, in addition to the constant checks for compliance for things we didn’t completely understand, while migrating course content online, and training in a new technology… all of which culminated in a handful of administrators being added into faculty LMS to monitor all communication to students, also for compliance, which comes off less as “we’re going to make sure we support you so we can get through this the best we can” and more like “we’re gonna make sure you do this, now.”

FB message: The decisions the institution is making about staff and faculty are incredibly stupid. My particular job can easily transfer to work from home (as shown every time there is a snow day) and yet when I didn’t feel comfortable going in to work yesterday because I was running a low grade fever (though I felt fine in general) I was told I would have to take paid time off because current policy isn’t allowing us to work from home. My entire office has spoken about how utterly incompetent Liberty’s response has been during this time but there’s no avenue to express these complaints. I’ve never seen morale as low as this and it could so easily be fixed by just having us work from home. I’m desperately tired of working for a University that clearly cares so little about their staff and faculty.

FB message: It is positively terrifying to think about pushing back against the administration on this, as they are watching us and could punish us and our families (if we lose our job and our income, it hurts our families too) for expressing even cautious dissent. And yet, having that many people come to work (when we can do the same work at home) is potentially dangerous. The fact that students are required to move their stuff out of the dorms within a few days is also dangerous. I don’t understand why we are being asked to do this, and it is hard to know where to draw the line. I woke up last night and had to pray through anxiety on this. God, help them change their hearts.

FB message: In the 12 years that have passed since my husband and I graduated LU, we’ve been ashamed to say we’re Alum- but never as much as we are now. We need reasoning behind the decision to bring students back. We need to know how this isn’t a risk to students, faculty and the people of Lynchburg. We need to know WHY in the middle of a pandemic, Liberty University believes their dorms should be full and their faculty should put their own families at risk. The answers to these questions need to be based in statistics and science. Jerry Jr: are you using Liberty and Lynchburg as an experiment? What are you thinking?

FB message: It is time for the board of Liberty University to ask for Jerry Falwell Jrs. resignation. His latest actions, as well as, several of his actions over the past three years have not be in line with with the mission of the university or indicative Christian faithfulness. The time is now to take a stand and not allow him to do more damage to the community, Liberty, and the name of Jesus.

FB message: I’m finding it difficult to articulate the frustration and helplessness that I am feeling as a Liberty employee who is still expected to report to work. My role at the university is one in which I am constantly in contact with students, staff, and faculty members of all ages. The projected number of students returning to campus is sobering. At this point it feels as though transmission from returning students to “essential” university staff and faculty members is unavoidable. This whole situation is emotionally draining. I am being told that I should be thankful that we are remaining open because so many others have lost their jobs during this time. However, I cannot simply rejoice because our continued operations mean putting our entire community at risk.

FB message: As someone who falls squarely in the at-risk category for serious and potentially deadly health consequences should I contract the COVID-19 virus, I’m fearful of going into work on Monday with the thousands of faculty, staff and students who will be on campus. I’m also fearful, however, of not having my one-year contract renewed if I make the choice to work from home. I keep praying that the governor will issue a stay-at-home order like the governors of some other states are doing.

Liberty University is a very unhealthy place. Now it appears Jerry Falwell Jr. and his leadership team might expose the campus to the coronavirus.

ADDENDUM (Sunday, March 22, 2020 at 7:24pm) : It has come to my attention that Baggett has less to risk than most Liberty faculty members. According to a March 3, 2020 post on her Facebook page, she has accepted a new job teaching English and “literary apologetics”  at Houston Baptist University.

Parent Questions Falwell’s Decision to Keep Liberty University Open. Falwell Calls Him a “dummy”

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

As we have noted at this blog, Jerry Falwell Jr. had decided to keep Liberty University open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier today on Twitter, a parent of three Liberty University students questioned Falwell’s decision.

Falwell Jr. blocked me on Twitter a long time ago. Here is the rest of the exchange, compliments of Washington Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s feed:

Falwell Jr. Corona

And then this:

 

Brittain has changed his Twitter bio to “Husband, dad to three awesome sons, insurance exec, firearms dealer and now, “dummy.” Just ask @jerryfalwelljr.”

I don’t know of any presidents of secular colleges who would treat a parent in this way.  Falwell Jr. is the president of a Christian college.

Again, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Not All Liberty University Students Are Happy With Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Decision to Keep the School Open During This Pandemic

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Yesterday I wrote about Liberty University’s decision to stay open during the Coronavirus crisis. President Jerry Falwell Jr. recently suggested that Kim Jong Un and the Chinese plotted to spread the virus on American shores as a way to punish Donald Trump.  Read our post here.

Yesterday, Joe Heim of The Washington Post did some additional reporting on Falwell Jr.’s decision to keep Liberty University open.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Liberty has taken some steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, it canceled attendance at its weekly convocation of students that brings together about 6,000 students to listen to a speaker. The event was streamed online. Earlier this week, it announced that all of its international study programs for spring and summer were terminated and called back Liberty students studying in Rome.

By announcing that the university’s 16,000 students would return to class on campus, Liberty is an outlier among Virginia’s universities. Almost all of the commonwealth’s prominent colleges and universities have announced that classes will move online only.

Falwell’s announcement that in-person classes would resume following spring break did not sit well with some students at the Christian evangelical university in Lynchburg.

“I think it’s gross,” said Elizabeth Lake, 22, a senior math major. “We’re supposed to be taking preventative action, and he’s not doing that because of his political views.”

Lake said she didn’t have any issue with Falwell’s support of Trump but thought he was making a poor decision to keep the school operating as normal.

“Students are going to be coming back from spring break from all over and who knows if they’re going to bring this back with them,” she said. “He’s not taking into consideration all of the Liberty students and the people who live in Lynchburg.”

Scott Lamb, a spokesman for Falwell, declined an interview request.

Joe Keller, 18, a freshman sports management major, said he was “pretty upset” with the school’s decision.

“If I get coronavirus, I can probably beat it, but I don’t want to get in contact with older professors who might catch it from me. I don’t want to be in crowded dorms where it’s spreading all over,” he said. “This decision really endangers the students and staff.”

Read the rest here.

Messiah College, the Christian college where I teach, will move to online courses until Easter.

The University of Lynchburg, which is located in the same city as Liberty University, has moved all classes online.

Esau McCaulley, a professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts college in the Chicago suburbs, is the author of a New York Times piece titled “The Christian Response to the Coronavirus: Stay Home.”  Here is a taste:

…the most effective ways of stopping the spread of the virus is by social distancing (avoiding large gatherings) and good personal hygiene (washing our hands). The data suggests that what the world needs now is not our physical presence, but our absence.

This does not seem like the stuff of legend. What did the church do in the year of our Lord 2020 when sickness swept our land? We met in smaller groups, washed our hands and prayed. Unglamorous as this is, it may be the shape of faithfulness in our time.

There is a lesson here for a diminished church. It is not that the church should go away forever, but that heroic virtue comes in small actions as much as in large ones. We live in an age of self-assertion, where everyone is yelling, “Pay attention to me because I am the only one who can help.” But part of the Christian message is that God comes to us in ways that defy our expectations. The all-powerful empties himself of power to become a child. Jesus as king does not conquer his enemies through violence, he converts them to his cause by meeting violence with sacrificial love.

Read the entire piece here.

Not all Christian colleges are the same.

Grace College Adds Bowling

Bowling

I don’t know why I was attracted to this story in a local Indiana newspaper. Perhaps it was because I recently taught this text. Whatever the case, I think it’s cool that Grace College, a Christian college in Winona Lake, Indiana, now has a bowling team!  Congrats!

Here is the press release:

WINONA LAKE – Grace College is pleased to announce the addition of men’s and women’s bowling to the sports lineup.

Bowling will remain a club sport for the first year with an eye to progress toward varsity status in 2021.

Grace’s Director of Athletics Chad Briscoe also announced the hiring of the program’s first full-time head coach, Rob McDonald, who will direct the men’s and women’s programs.

McDonald is a mainstay in the area for bowling. He has helped coach at Warsaw since 2013, including serving as the head coach of the girls’ team since 2015.

“We look forward to Coach McDonald leading our bowling programs at Grace. He has a tremendous passion for Christian excellence and desire to impact lives through bowling,” Briscoe said. “His experience and extensive background coaching a successful high school program will serve him well as he recruits and establishes the culture of our program.”

While coaching the Tigers, McDonald has led Warsaw to two sectional championships and a conference title in 2013-14. The Tigers have reached the semi-state level twice (2013-14, 2016-17).

On an individual level, McDonald has proven to guide student-athletes to state-wide success. During each of the past five seasons, a Tiger has qualified for semi-state, including two bowlers in 2016-17.

“I am excited for this opportunity, not only to help Grace enter the bowling realm, but even more to help spread God’s love through the sport of bowling. I am humbled by the opportunity to share my knowledge of the sport,” McDonald said. “This is an exciting new chapter in my career as a bowling coach, and I am proud to be taking this step with Grace College.”

Grace is poised to become the fifth Crossroads League school to add varsity bowling. The sport is one of the fastest-growing in the country.

Bowling was recognized as an NAIA championships sport for the first time in 2019-20. There are currently over 100 men’s and women’s teams competing at the NAIA level.

It marks the second sport Grace has added recently, joining the newly-launched esports program led by Andrew Palladino.

Teaching John Henry Newman’s “What is a University?”

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University College, Dublin

Yesterday in Created and Called for Community we read an excerpt from John Henry Newman‘s “What is a University,” a chapter in his 1852 book The Idea of a University.  Newman wrote this book while serving as rector of Catholic University of Ireland. (today it is known as University College Dublin), a school that he helped found.

We started our conversation, as we always do, by sourcing the document. Who was Newman? Several students found it interesting that Newman was not welcomed to teach at Oxford University, an Anglican institution of higher learning, after he converted to Catholicism.  This was a great opportunity to think about previous course readings.  As we learned from Randy Basinger’s recorded lecture last week, Christian colleges and universities often place boundaries on faculty and students. These boundaries are usually defined by belief and behavior rooted in the particular school’s mission and understanding of Christian faith. In 19th-century England, Oxford was a Protestant institution. I pointed out that Oxford was not as inclusive as present-day Messiah College, a Christian college that hires Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox believers.  As we noted last week, other Christian colleges such as Wheaton College, Gordon College, or Calvin University do not hire Catholic professors.  If Newman were teaching at one of these colleges at the time he converted to Catholicism, he would need to leave.

We also thought together about Newman’s “What is a University?” in its 19th-century context. Students quickly noted that Newman was writing in a world where only men attended university.  His understanding of “diversity” was limited when compared to our modern understanding of “diversity.” For Newman, diversity meant different kinds of white men.

At this point I paused and explained how I might teach this document differently in a history course.  I imagined teaching Newman’s ideas in a course on 19th-century British history.  In such a course my primary goal would be to get students to think about what Newman’s essay teaches us about his world.  But in CCC, my primary goal is less about getting my students to understand the “foreign country” of 19th-century Great Britain and more about trying to get them to think about whether Newman has anything to offer our understanding of Christian higher education today.

This discussion allowed me to reinforce an important lesson about studying at a college (like Messiah College) with a robust general education program informed by the liberal arts.  Each discipline in the curriculum offers students a different way of thinking about the world.  I used global poverty to illustrate my point. In a political science class, for example, students might address global poverty by thinking about ways of alleviating it through public policy.  In a history class, students might reflect on the roots of global poverty or the kind of choices humans have made in the past that have resulted in global poverty. In a psychology class, students might reflect on the relationship between global poverty and mental health.  In a literature class, students might read stories of global poverty–fiction and non-fiction–that trigger their moral imaginations.  In an environmental studies class students might think about the links between climate change and global poverty.  And so on….  This is the kind of “connectedness” that Ernest L. Boyer described in his essay on Messiah College.

It was now time to dive into the text.  I started the conversation by asking the question in Newman’s title: “What is a University?” Some students were drawn to Newman’s claim that a university is “a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse….” I asked them to suggest some ways in which “thought” is communicated and circulated at a university.  Students, of course, mentioned their professors imparting knowledge in formal class settings.  But I wanted them to think beyond the classroom.  We talked about the word “circulate.”  How do ideas circulate on a college campus? Like bees released from the hive, ideas should be buzzing constantly around the campus.  They should fly out of the classroom door and fill the sidewalks, cafeteria, and dorms–constantly circulating through conversation and discussion.

We also discussed Newman’s idea that the university is a place–a real, flesh and blood, place.  Newman writes: “The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life, which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.”  In an age of online learning, virtual reality, and the internet I wondered if my students thought Newman’s call for face-to-face learning was still relevant?  I was surprised that so many students, struggling to keep their phones out of sight as they consulted an essay published on paper, seemed to agree with him here.

Several students wanted to talk about Newman’s idea of the university as a place focused on character building. We had a good discussion here about gender.  Newman often thinks of character in masculine terms.  He wants his university to produce good 19th-century “gentlemen” with proper “carriage,” “gait,” and “gestures.” But my students also agreed that some of the character traits Newman hoped students would learn in college were still relevant today.  My students wanted an education that helped them be more courteous and conversant.  They wanted a university to help them develop “the talent of not offending,” “delicacy of thought,” “happiness of expression,” “taste and propriety,” “generosity,” “forbearance,” and “candour.” These character traits, they argued, transcend time (the 19th-century) and gender.  The students universally agreed with my claim that the modern pluralistic university is no longer very concerned about character building.

We closed class by discussing liberal arts education as a form of “catechising.” Newman writes:

Truth, a subtle, invisible, manifold spirit, is poured into the mind of the scholar by his eyes and ears, through his affections, imagination, and reason: it is poured into this mind and is sealed up there in perpetuity, by propounding and repeating it, by questioning and requestioning, by correcting and explaining, by progressive and then recurring to first principles, by all those ways which are implied in the word “catechising .” In the first ages, it was a work of a long time; months, sometimes years, were devoted to the arduous task of disabusing the mind of the incipient Christian of its pagan errors, and of moulding it upon the Christian faith.

For most of my students, “catechism” is a foreign word.  They attend evangelical churches that do not offer formal programs of catechism designed to shape the mind, heart, and soul of young women and men in the congregation.  Catechism is an invitation to spiritual formation.  Spiritual growth seldom comes through the mountain-top experience at a weekend youth retreat.  It comes instead through the daily grind of practicing the spiritual disciplines–scripture reading and memorization, prayer, fasting, and other practices that take our focus off self and put it on God and others.

This is how Newman understands the catechizing nature of a liberal arts education.  Intellectual formation comes through repetition, discipline, questioning, requestioning, correcting, explaining, and the regular appeal to “first principles.” Yes, students may get temporary intellectual “highs” as they encounter an inspiring professor or attend an undergraduate conference, but the”arduous task” of “disabusing the mind” of errors and “moudling” it in truth takes time.  It takes a lifetime.

On Monday we start the “Creation” unit.  We will begin in a very familiar place.

Another Christian College is Closing its Doors

Concordia-University-KGW-860x484

Concordia University–Portland, a Missouri-Synod Lutheran institution of higher education in Portland, Oregon, will close at the end of the Spring 2020 semester.  Here is the press release:

Concordia University – Portland’s Board of Regents has voted that the University will cease operations at the end of the Spring 2020 academic semester. The resolution was approved February 7, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. PST. The Board’s decision came after years of mounting financial challenges, and a challenging and changing educational landscape.

“After much prayer and consideration of all options to continue Concordia University – Portland’s 115-year legacy, the Board of Regents concluded that the university’s current and projected enrollment and finances make it impossible to continue its educational mission,” said Interim President Dr. Thomas Ries. “We have come to the decision this is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and partners.”

April 25, 2020 will mark the last commencement ceremony at the Concordia University – Portland campus. May 2, 2020 will mark the commencement ceremony for the graduating class of Concordia University School of Law. The Board made this decision to prioritize the well-being of students, faculty, and staff and fulfill its fiduciary obligations. In the Board’s best judgment, a thoughtful and orderly closure process offers the best possible outcome for all affected parties.

Throughout this process, students, faculty and staff will remain the top priority. The University is in active discussions with our accrediting bodies to provide our students the opportunity to continue their educational journey under the guidance of new institutions that fit their needs and can help faculty and staff transition to the next phase of their professional lives.

The Northeast Portland campus has been a part of the Portland community for more than a hundred years. Upon closure, the University will return the Northeast property to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and one of the lenders, the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. It is expected they will seek a buyer for the 24-acre campus property.

As soon as more information is known, it will be shared.

It is getting more and more difficult for small, enrollment-driven, church-related colleges to survive.

What is the Difference Between Liberty University and Messiah College?

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The covered bridge on the campus of Messiah College

Yesterday in my Created and Called for Community class at Messiah College we discussed different kinds of Christian colleges. We thought about the things a Christian college requires all faculty to affirm, the issues a Christian college “privileges” (but does not necessarily require faculty to agree with), and the issues on which a Christian college does not take an official position.  (Most of our discussion built on the work of Messiah College provost Randy Basinger).

Faculty at Messiah College must be Christians.  All faculty must affirm the Apostles Creed.  We thus have Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faculty.  Other Christian colleges require faculty to affirm more than just the Apostles Creed.  For example, faculty at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan must affirm the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. Wheaton College and Gordon College do not hire Catholics.

Messiah College privileges social and religious positions that line-up with the school’s historic Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist roots.  For example, as a college with Anabaptist roots, Messiah privileges pacifism. As a school with Anabaptist and Wesleyan roots, the college privileges the ordination of women.  But a faculty member does not have to be a pacifist or believe in the ordination of women to teach at the college.  We have faculty who are advocates of a “just war” position and we have faculty from denominations (traditional Catholics and Orthodox, conservative Presbyterians, and complementarian evangelical churches) that do not ordain women.

And there are all kinds of issues on which Messiah College does not have a position.  For example, the college does not take a position on political candidates or parties.

All of this makes for a vibrant and diverse Christian intellectual community.

During our conversation in class, a few students brought up Liberty University.  What does Liberty require of faculty?  What positions and issues does Liberty privilege? What are the issues on which the university does not take a position?

For example, last month we highlighted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership of VEXIT, a movement started by Virginia counties and localities who want to leave the Commonwealth and join the state of West Virginia. Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is not happy with proposed legislation to restrict gun rights in Virginia.

VEXIT is getting a boost from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, a think tank created to “equip courageous champions to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, to advance his kingdom and American freedom”:

The Falkirk Center is connected to Liberty University.  In a January 20, 2020 piece at the Liberty Champion, student journalist Hattie Troutman writes: “The idea for the center was presented by [co-founder Charlie Kirk] when he pitched the idea to Falwell last year. [Executive Director Ryan] Helfenbein said Falwell received the idea well, knowing that if Liberty was to be in a partnership with the center, it must be rooted in the Gospel and represent Liberty University’s missional values.”

So there you have it.  The Falkirk Center is an extension of the mission of Liberty University.  The Falkirk Center promotes VEXIT.  It thus appears that Liberty University privileges VEXIT.

A quick read of the Falkirk Center Twitter feed suggests that the university also privileges gun rights, BREXIT, Donald Trump, free markets, and a pro-life position on abortion. If Messiah College is rooted in the historic Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions, Liberty University is rooted in the (very short) history of the Christian Right.

At Messiah College, we also have “centers” that support beliefs that the college privileges:

  • We have a center for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies that promotes issues related to peace, reconciliation, heart-felt conversion, and personal and social holiness.”
  • We have a Center for Public Humanities with a mission to promote the study of the humanities and “partner with our broader community in meaningful inquiry, conversation, and action.”
  • We have a center devoted to the work and legacy of former U.S. Commissioner of Education and Messiah graduate Ernest L. Boyer.  The Boyer Center “advances educational renewal for the common good.”
  • We have a center called The Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.  This center has a mission to “foster justice, empower the poor, promote peace and care for the earth through applications of our academic and professional disciplines.”

Because Messiah College is a Christian college informed by the history and theology of the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan movements, the college supports centers that reflect the things the college privileges.  Liberty University also has a center that supports the things Liberty University privileges.

Not all Christian colleges are the same.  High school students and their parents should be aware of this.

The Created and Called for Community course continues next week with some additional exploration of Messiah College’s Christian identity.  Follow along here.