If you’ve ever heard a conservative complain that those danged liberals at the danged liberal universities discriminate against conservative thought, using those magic words “viewpoint discrimination”, just tell them to go read this article by a former editor at the Liberty University campus paper, the Champion. They’ll see what real viewpoint discrimination is like, because it is clear that Jerry Falwell Jr is a petty tinpot dictator.
…when my team took over that fall of 2017, we encountered an “oversight” system — read: a censorship regime — that required us to send every story to Falwell’s assistant for review. Any administrator or professor who appeared in an article had editing authority over any part of the article; they added and deleted whatever they wanted. Falwell called our newsroom on multiple occasions to direct our coverage personally, as he had a year earlier when, weeks before the 2016 election, he read a draft of my column defending mainstream news outlets and ordered me to say whom I planned to vote for. I refused on ethical grounds, so Falwell told me to insert “The author refused to reveal which candidate he is supporting for president” at the bottom of the column. I complied. (Huff and the police department declined to comment on the contents of this essay. Falwell and the university did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
If only you knew what faculty at my liberal university think of our student newspaper — there has been many a facepalm at sloppy grammar, bad writing, and strangely inappropriate articles. But it’s because it is student-run, and they’re learning. I can’t quite imagine our chancellor or our faculty demanding control over what they can write.
But then, we’re not trying to run a “culture of fear” here.
What my team and I experienced at the Champion was not an isolated overreaction to embarrassing revelations. It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life. Faculty, staff and students on the Lynchburg, Va., campus have learned that it’s a sin to challenge the sacrosanct status of the school or its leader, which mete out punishments for dissenting opinions (from stripping people of their positions to banning them from campus). This “culture of fear,” as it was described by several of the dozen Liberty denizens who talked to me for this story — most of them anonymously to protect their jobs or their standing — worsened during my four years on campus because of the 2016 presidential election.
Falwell is a Trump fanatic. He endorsed Trump and promoted him before his election, and it’s just unbelievable that the president of a university would favor a guy who is functionally illiterate and who promotes ignorance, but then the article includes a video of Falwell giving a speech. He’s terrible. I’ve had first-year students give better, clearer, less stilted speeches in class than this guy — his delivery is flat, he stammers over his “jokes”, he looks like he’s constantly searching for an exit. He’s not charismatic at all. He’s a talentless yahoo who inherited a fake university from his daddy.
If the students are pawns, I don’t even want to imagine the status of the faculty.
The culture of Liberty is governed by lists of principles. According to the Faculty Handbook, for instance, professors are expected to “promote . . . free market processes” and “affirm . . . that the Bible is inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters.” One cause of perpetual insecurity at Liberty is the school’s militant refusal to award tenure to any faculty member (outside the law school, which must offer it for accreditation). Instructors are instead hired on year-to-year contracts; during the spring semester, they find out whether they will be coming back the next fall.
The result is constant, erratic faculty turnover. One recently fired teacher describes the spring as a cycle of stressed-out, fearful professors wandering into each other’s offices to ask if they had their contracts renewed yet. “If you’re a conservative Christian in the academic world, the chances of you getting a job are nil in many areas,” says Melton, who worked at Liberty as an associate professor for 15 years before resigning because of what he described as the school’s surveillance and fear tactics. “The administration knows that, and . . . they wield that very effectively, keeping people quiet.”
On the one hand, that is a horrible situation for an academic to be trapped in, and it’s not just Liberty University’s fault — the entire system is designed to devalue educators, with Liberty just the bottom of the fermenting barrel. On the other hand, Liberty is the apotheosis of conservative Christian principles…so why is anyone surprised that it’s an academic hell-hole?