Saturday, May 23, 2009

Liberty University Disappoints: Where's David Horowitz?

I often hear from conservatives how universities and colleges routinely squelch divergence of opinion and free expression on campuses when it comes to conservative causes and ideas. Yet, all I usually hear as proof of this are how conservative speakers at colleges and universities are subject to a very unwelcome reception by activist liberals. Yeah, I guess it's true to some extent; but the fact always remains that these conservatives are actually invited to speak on college campuses and are at the very least given a forum and space to talk. So, I fail to see how universities and colleges are in any way bastions of such intolerance of differing opinions and expression.

For instance, I do not know of a single "liberal" university or college, whether public or private, that actively prohibits and bans such things as interracial dating, the formation of student Republican groups, etc. I challenge any of my conservative readers to point me to any instance where discrimination appears in such ways in a "liberal" university.

Yet, on the other hand, I can point to numerous instances where "conservative" colleges and universities practice exclusion simply on the basis of political ideology. We all know of Bob Jones University's prohibitions on interracial dating. The most recent example of conservative intolerance and exclusion simply because of political party affiliation is Liberty University's outright ban on a College Democrats club. Just so that I can't be accused of misrepresenting reports of this by the "liberal" MSM, here's a snippet from "fair and balanced" FoxNews' report of the situation:

Liberty University has ordered its fledgling College Democrats club to shut down, saying the group stands against the conservative Christian school's moral principles.

Club president Brian Diaz said he was shocked to be notified by e-mail last week that the club was being banned by the private university in Lynchburg founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. The university first recognized it in the fall.

"We were shocked, as well, that (the club) even got accepted. It was huge, and we were glad that Liberty did that," Diaz said in a telephone interview from Orlando, Fla.

The club is barred from using Liberty's name, advertising events and holding meetings on campus. Violators could be reprimanded and face expulsion for repeated offenses.

Vice president of student affairs Mark Hine said in the e-mail sent to Diaz on May 15 that the Democratic party violates the school's principles by supporting abortion, socialism and the "'LGBT' agenda," referring to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. The e-mail said that even though the campus group "may not support the more radical planks of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party is still the parent organization of the club on campus."
How's that for a "conservative" university's respecting ideological diversity on campus? Note that even if Liberty University's College Democrats club doesn't even support the more "radical" elements of the Democratic Party platform that run counter to the University's moral convictions (and I would bet anything that the group is very careful in this regard), it's still being punished only and exclusively because of its association with being Democratic. If it's a club filled with "pro-life" Democrats -- no matter. If it's a club filled with anti-GLBT Democrats -- no matter. If it's a club filled with "good kids" who are Democrats -- no matter. It's "Democrat" -- and that's all one apparently needs to know.

If you want to see some inconsistency and warped logic in Liberty University's position, check out the following contradictions in the FoxNews report. In the first paragraph, University officials are reported as claiming that the ban occurs because the group stands against the University's moral principles. And yet notice how there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE provided that this group does anything of the sort. The only apparent reason given is that it's Democratic. The University doesn't point to any specific action that the group has done that goes against the school's moral foundations. In fact, if you read Liberty University Vice president of student affairs Mark Hine's email above, there seems to recognition that the Group actually DOESN'T embrace or advocate Democratic Party positions that run counter to the University's moral foundations. What's patently clear is that just the label "Democrat" is enough to get a group banned from campus, irrespective of what that group actually advocates and does.

I have to say that when I read stuff like this, I find conservatives' complaints about the "liberal" university's intolerance of conservatives to be hollow and hypocritical. Where's David Horowitz and his Freedom Center's Campaign for Academic Freedom? Where's the Horowitz-sponsored Students for Academic Freedom coming to the defense of these Liberty University College Democrats? If they really cared about academic freedom, diversity of intellectual opinion, and even their moral convictions, Liberty University's actions would be as loudly condemned by Horowitz and his minions.

It's a shame, because Liberty University just got some really positive exposure through liberal college student Kevin Roose's very sympathetic book on intellectual, ideological, and religious pluralism at Liberty University based on his very open-minded experience as a student there. Here we have an ivy-league liberal young man giving Liberty University the benefit of the doubt on the one hand, and now we have on the other hand Liberty University officials confirming the worst about the University's official intolerance of difference.

It's a shame, because the message that comes out of this decision to ban the College Democrats club at Liberty University is now quite clear: Liberty University = Republican University. You can't be a public Democrat at Liberty University, even if you support the moral foundations of the University, in a way that is recognized officially by the University. Simply being a Democrat is considered a violation of the moral foundations of the University. There's no other way to interpret this action.


Don_cos said...

Liberty’s policy states;

“No student club or organization shall be approved, recognized or permitted to meet on campus, advertise, distribute or post materials, or use University facilities if the statements, positions, doctrines, policies, constitutions, bylaws, platforms, activities or events of such club or organization, its parent, affiliate, chapter or similarly named group are inconsistent or in conflict with the distinctly Christian mission of the University.”
“Among other things, Liberty University stands for the sanctity of human life. The loss of human life through abortion is a great tragedy and we cannot remain silent when the political policies or politicians promote the destruction of innocent human life. While students may meet on campus, debate, and discuss important and controversial issues of the day, Liberty University will not lend its name or fund organizations whose stated purpose is to promote and advance issues that are contrary to its Christian mission.”

“Last Fall, the College Democrats asked that the university officially recognize their club. They promised to support only pro-life candidates and their charter provides that the club supports the right to life. Unfortunately, the club supported candidates over the last 8 months that support abortion rights. As a result, Liberty University converted the club’s status back to that of an unrecognized club. It was not banned as so many press outlets irresponsibly reported. The club can continue to exist and meet on campus like other clubs and student groups that are not officially recognized by the university. They cannot use Liberty University’s name, will not receive the small financial subsidy that officially recognized clubs receive (about $500 per year on average) and they cannot hold public events on campus. There will be no other restrictions on their activities. Liberty University encourages free speech and open debate on its campus and free speech will not be restricted.They are not allowed to violate the core values of the private institution. If this were a state or federally funded college, you would have a point. Any private liberal college would also have the right to pull official recognition of any clubs that violated their core values. This is not a violation of anyone’s rights.

Don_cos said...

This last paragraph should have been seperate from the previous.

"They are not allowed to violate the core values of the private institution. If this were a state or federally funded college, you would have a point. Any private liberal college would also have the right to pull official recognition of any clubs that violated their core values. This is not a violation of anyone’s rights."

This part wasmy statement and not that of Liberty University.

I should have proof read better.


Don_cos said...

O.K. ignore my spelling errors. I need more coffee before I try to type anything else!


Huck said...

Don_cos - I am still skeptical. I would imagine that Liberty University's College Republican club has members that openly support pro-choice Republicans, such as Rudi Giuliani, Tom Ridge, or Condoleeza Rice. And we won't even go down the road of how many pro-embryonic stem cell research Republicans win the explicit support of Liberty University's College Republican club, not to mention the number of pro-gay marriage Republicans the Liberty University College Republican club has probably supported and campaigned for. And yet I doubt the University would take the same action regarding the College Republican club for supporting these candidates (denying official University recognition) as they do when the College Democrat Club which might support a pro-choice Democrat for other reasons, all the while disagreeing with his pro-choice policies.

Jerry Falwell Jr. has clearly indicated that the members of the College Democrat club are pro-life and pro traditional marriage. Why is this not enough to elicit the University's official support? One reason, in spite of Falwell protestations to the contrary: it is anathema to be a public Democrat at Liberty University, and officially recognized as such by the University, simply because of membership in that political Party.

You'd think Liberty University would want to encourage pro-life, pro-traditional marriage Democrats. Denying the club official status is akin to banning the club.

And let's be honest here. If Harvard University did to its College Republican club what Liberty University did to the College Democrat club, conservatives would be spouting apoplectic diatribes against the violation of student rights and so on. I am extremely confident that we wouldn't see a single conservative argue dispassionately that Harvard is within its rights to behave in such a way.

Pure common sense tells any honest observer that Liberty University = Republican University.

Eric said...

OK, I'm willing to say that Libety U's idealogically biased policy damages its legitimacy as an academic instution dedicated to open and honest learning.

At worst, that puts them on equal footing with most other major universities in the nation. They are just approaching this particular black hole from the opposite end of the galaxy.

Huck said...

Eric - Is there a college/university scenario that you wouldn't consider a black hole? Or is it simply that any place where ideas are fiercely debated, or where controversies on the current issues of the day are prominent, is antithetical to education?

I think there are some "conservative" universities (Dartmouth, Brigham Young, Franciscan (Ohio), Pepperdine, to name a few off the top of my head) that no one has an issue with regarding "open and honest learning."

I think you need to be a bit more explicit with what you mean by "open and honest learning." I wonder if you are equating "open and honest learning" with dispassionate neutrality. Passionate ideologues can engage in a process of "open and honest learning" -- they are not necessarily incompatible, though surely they can be.

And in my experience at many different colleges/universities, that "black hole" simply is not there in the way that you seem to imagine it.

Don_cos said...

If as you say, the Republican student group(s) at Liberty have supported pro abortion candidates, it should be a simple matter for the Democrat student group(s) to identify and protest this to the School. Then they could hold the school accountable if they failed to take appropriate action against the Republican group(s).

Now I am sure that the Democrat students are intelligent enough to recognize this possibility. So I would tend to believe that if they do not take this action, it is likely that the Republican student group(s) have not supported pro abortion candidates.

Huck said...

Yes, Don_cos - Perhaps vigilant Democrats at Liberty could police the College Republicans in this way. But it is very possible, too, that Liberty's Democrats, such as they are, wouldn't think it right to stoop to this level just out of a sense of vengeance and spite, especially if they happen to agree with their Republican club classmates on the issues of abortion and gay marriage.

And as a matter of evenhanded procedure, it shouldn't be up to Liberty's Democratic students to police conservative campus student groups for violations of school policy. That duty falls on the Administration.

But I will try to do my own research on the College Republican Group at Liberty University to see if I can find any evidence that they supported a Republican candidate for any national office whose positions on abortion or traditional marriage would violate the Christian principles of Liberty regarding these issues.

Eric said...

Huck, all I'm saying is that it cuts both ways, and it sure seems to cut against consevatives a whole lot more than vice-versa, especially at public unversities where ideological beliefs should always take a backseat to education (Though I think it is wrong-headed for educational institutions to push political agendas, I'll grant that private institutions at least have a right to do so).

I recall a news piece that was going around a couple of months ago about a public community college in Spokane, WA that threatened to expell a Christian group for passing out anti-abortion literature on campus because doing so was 'offensive and discriminatory'.

(had to look it up, it was Spokane Fals Community College)

Now, a question for you, as somebody who is the field: If we polled every college and university in the country, public and private, which group do you think we'd find more instances of being victims of this type of discriminatory behavior: conservatives or liberals?

Huck said...

Eric - In answer to your question I'd say two things: (1) I think you'd be surprised at how infrequently these kind of efforts to squelch free speech happen at private and public, "liberal" or "conservative" schools. I think they are so infrequent relative to the number of times groups speak their minds without incident that these rare incidents of trying to squelch controversial speech are statistically insignificant. (2) Among these relatively small numbers of incidents, including public and private institutions, small and large, I think you'd be surprised at how "liberal" opinions expressed on campus are subject to just as much efforts at censorship as "conservative" opinions are. In my experience, limited as it is, liberal points of view at "conservative" institutions get suppressed in less public ways than conservative points of view do at "liberal" institutions. The difference is that what happens at a place like Liberty University (i.e. pre-empting controversial liberal points of view before they even get to the public space) is much more the norm than at "liberal" institutions where controversial conservative points of view generally are permitted public expression that then elicits, sometimes, the kinds of overreactions we hear about (and which you mention at Spokane Falls Community College). In the end, though, even among these "liberal" overreactions, these end up being mostly empty threats that don't end up compromising anyone's ability to continue with their controversial speech.