The Privilege of Religiously-Affiliated Universities to Defy Ethical Standards

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I’m going to put it out there: religiously-affiliated universities concern me.  Not all of them… just the ones where the affiliation affects what can and can’t happen on the campus.  They have the power to curb students’ rights and manipulate education (especially science, sheesh!).  I think “religiously-affiliated schools” is a misnomer; they act more like “education-affiliated churches.”  Yet, within higher education, they often are accredited and respected as peer institutions who just have different beliefs and ways of educating (read: submission to the Respect meme).

Well, just to show you why I’m not okay with that, I thought I’d take a look at a recent happening at Liberty University through the eyes of the ethical standards of Student Affairs.

Last week, Liberty University declared it would no longer recognize its Democratic club. Their reason was because the Democratic party’s platform conflicted with the university’s mission (and probably moreso because donors complained).

Unsurprisingly (and thankfully), there was a backlash to this decision.  So this week, the university released this official statement.  It reeks of the Victim meme.  Here are a few highlights:

The University has not banned Democrats from campus. Nor has the Democrat club been banned from meeting. And, never has the University or its’ officials said that a person cannot be a Christian and a Democrat.

This is pretty disingenuous.  If the club is not recognized, it has no access to any of the campus meeting rooms or any of the funding set aside specifically for student organizations.  They don’t want to admit that, but they come close:

The students who formed the Democrat club last October are good students. They are pro-life and believe in traditional marriage. They can continue to meet on campus. The only thing that has changed came about as part of a University-wide review of all student organizations for official recognition status. Official recognition carries with it the benefit of using the University name and funds. While this group will not be an officially recognized club, it may still meet on campus.

Technically.  Essentially, this forces the Democrats underground.  They can meet, but not officially.  I don’t know the details, but I would assume that they would probably even be banned from hanging up fliers advertising their meetings.

Parents and students support the University because they believe in its’ distinctly Christian identity and mission. Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children. Liberty University will not lend its’ name or financial support to any student group that advances causes contrary to its mission.

See what I mean?  It’s more about being a church than a school.  It’s not a place to learn; it’s a place to subscribe.

The rest of the statement is the same repetitive tripe.  The last paragraph is a real kicker though:

We encourage our students to bring positive change to all political parties, Democrats, Republicans and Independents. We hope our students challenge all political parties to remain true to the core moral values consistent with the Christian mission of the University. To blindly support any candidate solely because of party affiliation irrespective of their moral views is wrong. Liberty would never endorse a Republican student group that supported abortion rights. Liberty stands for certain core values; not for a political party.

No… Liberty would never blindly advocate for a candidate.

Anyways, there are two encompassing professional organizations for higher education professionals: ACPA and NASPA.  Each organization has taken the time to outline ethical standards for their members.  Let’s take a look at how Liberty’s decision to control free speech on its campus fits in with these standards.

NASPA offers 18 Standards of Professional Practice for its members.  Two stick out to me as being in conflict with Liberty’s decisions:

7.  Equal Consideration and Treatment of Others Members execute professional responsibilities with fairness and impartiality and show equal consideration to individuals regardless of status or position. Members respect individuality and promote an appreciation of human diversity in higher education. In keeping with the mission of their respective institution and remaining cognizant of federal, state, and local laws, they do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, creed, gender, age, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical disability

16. Campus Community Members promote a sense of community among all areas of the campus by working cooperatively with students, faculty, staff, and others outside the institution to address the common goals of student learning and development. Members foster a climate of collegiality and mutual respect in their work relationships.

I don’t think Liberty’s actions are respectful of individuality, diversity, or any sense of community.  Quite the opposite.

ACPA offers a slightly more detailed Statement of Ethical Principle and Standards.  Here are a whole bunch I found that don’t jive with Liberty University.

3.2 Seek resolution when they and their institution encounter substantial disagreements concerning professional or personal values. Resolution may require sustained efforts to modify institutional policies and practices or result in voluntary termination of employment.

3.3 Recognize that conflicts among students, colleagues, or the institution should be resolved without diminishing respect for or appropriate obligations to any party involved.

3.7 Refrain from attitudes or actions that impinge on colleagues’ dignity, moral code, privacy, worth, professional functioning, and/or personal growth.

3.19 Restrict their private interests, obligations, and transactions in ways to minimize conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest. They will identify their personal views and actions as private citizens from those expressed or undertaken as institutional representatives.

4.3 Not discriminate on the basis of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, ability, gender identity, race, class, religion, or sexual orientation. They will actively work to change discriminatory practices.

4.4 Demonstrate regard for social codes and moral expectations of the communities in which they live and work. At the same time, they will be aware of situations
in which concepts of social justice may conflict with local moral standards and norms and may choose to point out these conflicts in ways that respect the rights and values of all who are involved. They will recognize that violations of accepted moral and legal standards may involve their clients, students, or colleagues in damaging personal conflicts and may impugn the integrity of the profession, their own reputations, and that of the employing institution.

I don’t think I need to extrapolate on the clear conflicts here.

As a student affairs professional, I feel I must call out Liberty University for creating a poor learning environment for its students.  The decision to silence political opinions in the name of an oppressive institutional mission is an insult to the work that I and so many of my colleagues do.

Why should we respect institutions that oppress their students?  I think academic freedom and freedom to assemble should always be maintained as a priority.  Should those be factors in accreditation?

The only thing protecting Liberty University is the Respect meme.  Why do we honor it?  Why do we legitimize the education they dispense?

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