Liberal students, colleges should learn from Liberty University’s civility


Commencement day — a time for colleges and universities to impart one final lesson on their graduates. 

For my alma mater, Liberty University, the world’s largest evangelical Christian school and a bastion of conservatism, that lesson will come from former liberal U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Saturday, May 19.

Unlike many supposedly apolitical universities, Liberty is unapologetic about its conservative views. Its doctrinal statement declares an “absolute repudiation of political correctness and a strong commitment to political conservatism.” Arguably, the school has nothing to prove but everything to gain by inviting a liberal speaker.  

{mosads}Compare that to the perpetual state of outrage over conservative speakers that has swept across our nation’s college campuses. Last commencement season, Notre Dame students disgraced their school by walking out during Vice President Mike Pence’s speech, while Bethune-Cookman University students drowned out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ speech with non-stop boos and heckling.

This should come as no surprise considering that 51 percent of today’s undergraduates support the use of the “heckler’s veto” to shout down controversial speakers,  while another 19 percent endorse violence as a means to shut down controversial speech, according to a Brookings Institution survey. On the occasions that universities do reluctantly allow conservatives to speak on campus, the events are often met with protests, violence, and heavy security fees.

Considering today’s hyper-polarized campus climate, one has to wonder what would incentivize Liberty University to extend a keynote speech invitation to someone whose views pose such a stark contrast to its own. Perhaps that motivation is to recreate the atmosphere of Senator Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) visit to the school during his 2016 presidential campaign.

He was received by the university with open arms and the utmost respect. There was not a single protest planned or trigger warning issued prior to the speech. Nor was a “safe space” erected for students to hide from his traumatizing ideas.  In fact, students who heard Sanders left the event with a greater ability to think critically about the complex political and spiritual issues we face as a nation.

So what exactly is it that makes Liberty University such an anomaly when it comes to welcoming opposing ideas? According to President Jerry Falwell, “Liberty is conservative, but our students know they can be conservative while being open to and respectful of all viewpoints.”

“Politics shouldn’t be personal.”  

But amid the era of political division and vitriol on so many other campuses, politics are nothing but personal. Administrators are struggling to identify speakers who won’t provoke outrage and protests. Most have kowtowed to the intolerance of the left, with a study revealing that only 10 out of the nation’s top 100 universities extended a commencement invitation to a conservative-leaning speaker last year.

Even more alarming, Ivy League universities like Columbia have chosen to hold racially segregated commencement ceremonies — a product of the toxic identity politics embraced by the left. It’s hard to imagine a more obvious display of division.

If a commencement ceremony is truly an embodiment of a school’s identity, prestige, and values, our institutions of higher education are setting the framework for an even more uncivil and divided society. What was once a day of inspiration is now a final effort of indoctrination.

“It’s so hypocritical for these liberal schools to only showcase one point of view when they’ve claimed for decades that their campuses are bastions of free expression of ideas,” Falwell told me.

Unfortunately, such indoctrination robs liberal students of the opportunity to challenge their identity-based beliefs, and if there’s one thing we know about liberal indoctrination, it’s that it can’t test the strength of the real world.  

Perhaps liberal ideology, when challenged, doesn’t hold up, and administrators can’t possibly risk breaking their echo chambers and having their students exposed to a conservative idea.

On the contrary, Liberty’s last piece of advice to students before embarking on the real world is to challenge the very ideas they spent the past four years learning — an ultimate test of civility, maturity and readiness for the real world.

Hannah Scherlacher is the Program Manager and Opinion Writer for Campus Reform. Prior to joining the Campus Reform team, Hannah co-founded an anti-sex trafficking nonprofit and directed interfaith leadership programs in the West Bank for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. Her work has appeared on Fox News, Fox Business, One America News, Christian Broadcasting Network, and various radio programs. Follow her on Twitter @h_scherlacher.

Tags Bernie Sanders Betsy DeVos Christianity Commencement Commencement speech Conservatism Graduation Liberty University Mike Pence

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