Liberty University officials met with three members of the College Democrats and its staff sponsor on Wednesday to review actions taken in the controversy that has garnered national media attention in the last week. At the crux of the discussion were statements made to the press by the club’s staff sponsor — statements the administration says did not explain the situation in enough context for the media to report accurately on the action taken by LU officials to drop endorsement of the group as a Liberty University club.
At the meeting, LU officials urged the sponsor to issue a public apology based on information given to the press implying that LU had banned the Democrat Club and that the club could not meet on campus, when in fact it was given full rights to meet on campus just a few days earlier.
The club received notice from Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Hine last week instructing the club that they could not use Liberty University’s name in their activities and that they were free to meet in several venues on campus, such as the Student Center, the dining hall, empty classrooms and other common areas.
“Clubs using the school's name are subject to more oversight and review by the administration because these clubs are representing the university,” Falwell said. “Since the Democrat Club is no longer endorsed, it is not subject to the requirements imposed on endorsed clubs and mentioned in the e mail to obtain administration approval for meetings and events through the Master Calendar Office,” he said after the meeting.
Also at issue during the meeting were statements printed in the national media claiming that Hine had said one could not be a Democrat and a Christian.
“Dr. Hine reminded the staff sponsor that it was actually her who threw the sarcastic statement (‘You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat?’) at him a week ago, to which Dr. Hine at that time immediately responded by saying it would be ridiculous to imply such or to believe that one could not be a Democrat and a Christian,” Falwell said. “Dr. Hine has been subjected to ridicule in the national press for a statement he did not make and, in fact, refuted when the staff sponsor suggested it. The staff sponsor did not challenge Dr. Hine’s recollection of their conversation one week before.”
LU officials asked club members why they were still seeking university endorsement when they would have more freedoms operating as an independent club. For example, as an independent club, they could meet whenever they chose in certain facilities on campus and would not have to support only pro-life candidates. The club answered that they would like to invite speakers to campus and hold events to educate others about their views so it was not enough that they could meet on campus; they also wanted to hold events that would attract larger audiences. Falwell said the administration did view this point as a “valid concern” and the discussion turned to how the club might move forward.
Jan Dervish, a junior who served as the club’s secretary, offered some suggestions for how the club might operate without violating Liberty University’s religious values that prompted the dropped endorsement to begin with, mainly the sanctity of life and protection of marriage.
Dervish said when the club was founded last year, it placed into its constitution a statement saying that the group is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage.
“These are values that we all take seriously,” he said. “We’re currently working on changing our constitution to more succinctly address the school’s concerns, as well as solidify our respect for the school and what it stands for.”
Falwell said the student’s suggestions were “very reasonable and well thought out proposals for how the club can go forward as a Liberty University club without violating any of the core values of the university” and instructed them to submit their ideas in writing. He said he was encouraged by the good rapport he has had with the club members.
“I’m optimistic that if the university can work directly with the students that a compromise can be reached,” Falwell said. “The students are very open and they’re very anxious to reach some sort of agreement because they’re well-meaning, they’re good Christian kids and they want to do what’s best for Liberty University and at the same time support issues that they believe in.”
Dervish said the chancellor has been very receptive and willing to reach a compromise; “He even returned a phone call to me while in North Carolina on vacation,” he said.