Sep 8, 2009

Clubs officially unofficial

by Melinda Zosh

Liberty University adopted a new policy for political clubs on campus. Administrators learned this summer that both the Liberty University College Republicans (LUCR) and Liberty University College Democrats (LUCD) have supported candidates whose positions on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage were not in line with the university’s doctrinal beliefs on those issues. The LUCD supported Obama in 2008 and the LUCR supported Gilmore for Senate in 2008, who supported abortion rights during the first trimester of pregnancy.

As official clubs are, in effect, divisions or departments of the university there are strict guidelines in force that require official clubs to support the university’s standards.

In order to allow the LUCD and LUCR to continue to operate, the university decided to reclassify both as unofficial clubs. Liberty’s name and assets are not to be used to support any positions contrary to its doctrinal beliefs, but the university does not want to impede the political activism of its students.

The policy that did not allow unofficial clubs to reserve classrooms and certain other meeting rooms on campus has also been changed. Those clubs may now reserve rooms as long as the events being held do not promote causes that are contrary to the school’s mission.

If unofficial clubs support candidates or causes incompatible with the university’s doctrine, they must include a disclaimer stating that “Liberty University does not endorse the views of this candidate,” according to College Republicans Chairman Caleb Mast.

The clubs can campaign on campus, reserve rooms, advertise, and invite guest speakers, but as a result of the new status, the Student Government Association will not distribute funds to the clubs.

Mast said he is not worried about this slight adjustment in the policy.

“I don’t think the outcome will hurt us at all,” Mast said. “We can solicit donations from any other place except Liberty University. I’m happy with the university’s decision.”

But the process did not start as smoothly as it ended, according to Krautter. On May 15, Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Hine sent an e-mail to the LUCD informing members that the university no longer formally recognized the club. Local and national media outlets published the e-mail, and the situation escalated before the students and administration could hold a meeting.

Krautter did not expect the administration’s initial e-mail.

“I was completely shocked,” Krautter said. “I grew up in a Christian home, and my dad was a pastor so I recognized and understood, to a certain extent, the line of reasoning that the administration was using, but I still felt the decision was an encroachment on students’ rights,” said Krautter.

Leong said that he had been following the controversy since May.

“After reading through the press releases, it seemed as if the media escalated the problem more than what it was,” Leong said. “Both clubs are here to further Liberty’s message as holding true to Christian values.”

“Liberty University did not want to compromise anything that it stood for,” Leong said. “The decision was fair.”

Leong said the administration made the decision after reviewing the LUCR’s and LUCD’s constitutions.

“Where it stated that (each club) wanted to advance the platform of the individual party, that’s where it came into conflict since Liberty’s goal to advance its message of being distinctly Christian,” Leong said.

Both Krautter and Leong agree that Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., communicated well with the clubs.

“It was really great of the chancellor to keep open communication and to state what he believed in,” Leong said.

LUCD Vice President Jan Dervish said he was surprised at the national and international media attention. A Taiwanese newspaper, among others, interviewed him.

After reporters contacted the LUCD executive board, Dervish said he “met with the administration in a face-to-face meeting, as well as exchanging quite a few e-mails to finalize our compromise.”

“It is important to remain respectful and level-headed when dealing with any disagreement. Resolutions always come when cool heads prevail,” Dervish said.

Even though cool heads prevailed throughout the process, Krautter said the development of the resolution was “chaotic.” The executive board had already left for summer vacation, holding teleconferences often. He said the board had mixed feelings about the situation.

“You had some people in the club that wanted to go in one direction with things and you had other members who wanted to go in the opposite direction,” Krautter said.

Mast and LUCR Advisor Stephen Witham did not participate in this part of the process, but Mast recently met with Vice President Mark Hine and Director of Commuter Affairs Larry Provost to discuss the future of College Republicans.

“You can believe all the right things, but if you don’t get politically involved those ideas won’t be put into policy,” Mast said.

The new policies have not discouraged student participation. Over 50 students attended the College Republicans’ first meeting on Aug. 27. Virginia Republican Chairman Pat Mullens, Republican Delegate nominee Scott Garrett and Delegate Ben Kline spoke to the club about the upcoming gubernatorial and local elections.

Mullens said he was “delighted that both parties have representation on campus.”

“I’m impressed with the caliber of students. There’s a sort of professionalism here,” he said. “I definitely will be back and I hope to speak to this group, and it better be three times as large.”
LUCD is planning several town hall meetings this year. LUCD members are hoping that Delegate Shannon Valentine, who spoke at a town hall meeting about Darfur last semester, will make another trip to Liberty.

Krautter said he co-founded College Democrats because “…we should be re-evaluating our beliefs and considering all sides. That is why it is important to have both parties represented. I hope students can learn that its not a bad thing to have an open mind and look at issues from the other side in a respectful and intellectual way.”

Dervish wants to break the stereotypes about Christian Democrats.

“Many people have a preconceived notion that Democrats ‘get some religion’ when it is convenient, and I don’t think that’s true,” Dervish said. “There are many issues in the Democratic platform that we as Christians can find agreeable.”

Leong said that he is happy that both clubs can assemble on campus.

“I am really looking forward to working with the LUCR and LUCD,” Leong said. “I’d like to thank Chancellor Jerry Falwell for his willingness to work through everything that went on and to make the university a better place.”

Contact Melinda Zosh at mzosh@liberty.edu.
 


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