Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

In Defense of Liberty (University)


John, I have to take limited exception to your brief note regarding Liberty University’s decision to de-recognize its campus chapter of College Democrats. I think one needs to back up a bit and ask why we affirm (and vigorously protect) the right of individuals, churches, and other organizations to found and maintain private universities. Obviously, these universities don’t exist to merely mirror public colleges (imagine that sales pitch: “same experience, but more debt!”).

In general, I would say that most administrators of private colleges aspire to use their academic freedom and vastly greater autonomy to create a better campus environment, however they define it. Whether the emphasis is on research, “diversity,” teaching, tolerance, religion, or some combination of the above, the goal is to advance an institutional purpose.

In my experience, private colleges — especially religious private colleges — run into problems when they try to be all things to all people, when they promise freedom but impose speech codes, when they try to advance a religious mission but crave approval from an overwhelmingly (and aggressively) secular academic culture, and when they try to “broaden their appeal” while still telling donors that they have retained their “religious roots.”

In recent years, we have seen some sad spectacles from some of America’s finest religious institutions — situations where they have directly violated their own promises to their students and, in some cases, turned their backs on their founding religious principles. Whether it’s the recent debacle at Notre Dame, DePaul firing a conservative professor without a hint of due process, Gonzaga University refusing to recognize a pro-life club, or the sad and sordid separations as schools (like Belmont University in Nashville) disaffiliate from their traditional religious roots, the story of modern Christian higher education is all too often one of dilution and compromise.

Liberty is different. The school could not be more explicit about its mission; from its doctrinal statement to its purpose, to its “Distinctives,” Liberty positions itself as not just religiously conservative but politically conservative as well (heck, one of its “Distinctives” is an “absolute repudiation of ‘political correctness’”).

Standing against these statements is a Democratic party that is officially, doctrinally, and unapologetically pro-abortion. Is it a mistake for Liberty to reject a pro-choice group? I would say that it would be a mistake for Liberty to behave in a way contrary to its stated mission and purpose. I think — in the vast tapestry of higher education, with hundreds of different institutions dominated by, to greater or lesser degrees, the same Leftist dogma — there’s room for a school to stand in explicit opposition to this culture.  

No one has to send their kids there. No one has to donate money. But is it a “bad idea” for a university to hold firm on its founding principles? I don’t think so.  


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review