Sunday, December 4, 2016

NYTimes Examines Liberty's AD Hire

Liberty, with 110,000 total students, is growing exponentially.
Liberty University's continued dance with powerful people whose values have been amply demonstrated to be dramatically different than those expressed by the Baptist school continues to fascinate me.

Most recently, it hired Baylor University's disgraced athletic director, Ian McCaw, on the heels of its chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr.'s endorsement (and consideration as Secretary of Education) of Donald Trump. None of this is new. Liberty has a history of supporting undesirables of all stripes if those crooks had money and power ... or either.

Liberty, at its top edge, is all about power. Its humble beginnings with the evangelical ministry of a country preacher (Jerry Sr.) came in the early 1950s. Falwell projected that lust to be somebody, which never diminished. Falwell rubbed elbows with elite conservatives his entire life and endorsed the most radical of them consistently. They spoke at his little Baptist college's commencements and contributed to LBC's willy-nilly growth into a university with over the years.

Over the years, I've seen the younger Falwell (whose brother is a preacher) as much more of a wily opportunist than a religious fanatic. He is a superb business executive (we named him the region's Business Executive of the Year a few years ago when I was editor of the Blue Ridge Business Journal) who has built the new Liberty with a sophisticated and modern vision--practically, not philosophically. I've known him slightly for several years and never thought of him as the kind of religious radical his dad was.

The football stadium will almost certainly grow.
Falwell Sr. threw up a campus that was ugly, but one which began accomplishing a dream in 1971. Jerry Jr. is now rebuilding it in more of a modern image (it is truly impressive these days) and has even become a pioneer in online education, where the vast majority of Liberty students reside.
According to liberty.edu, the school's enrollment is 110,000, 15,000 of whom live on campus. It has 210 undergrad programs, 140 graduate programs and four doctorates. It is a big school, sitting on 7,000 acres with 6.6 million square feet of buildings in 385 structures.

Meanwhile, the Falwells have consistently longed to be in the upper tier of college big-time sports. And so today, its athletic director is the man who led Baylor to prominence, all the while ignoring a campus sex scandal that cost his, the president's and the head football coach's jobs. And should have.

The New York Times today (here) takes a close look at where Liberty is going and what it intends--even as it expresses the goal of hanging on to its core beliefs, which include "no NC-17 movies, no face piercings, no naughty music, and absolutely no canoodling, such as hanging out alone with a person of the opposite sex. Getting caught in a 'state of undress' with the opposite sex is good for a $250 fine and 18 hours of community service." That code would officially frown on gang rape, as well, something that seems to have been laughed off as "boys will be boys" at Baylor. But the hire of McCaw begs the question.

Falwell insists that McCaw's errors at Baylor "appear to be technical and unintentional.” I'm not quite sure how gang rape on his watch suffers under a technicality. Falwell says McCaw "understands the importance of complying with federal guidelines on reporting any sexual assault on a campus." So do I, but I didn't get there by covering up rapes on my campus.

Falwell clarifies his choice of McCaw by saying (according to The Times), "He is a good man who found himself in a place where bad things were happening and decided to leave and now Liberty is the beneficiary."

I suspect Falwell's definition of "a good man" just took a substantial hit. But will Liberty prosper on the football field? That's the real question. Success in football trumps (so to speak) all else.

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