To the Editor:
I remember the first time I heard Jerry Falwell Jr. speak at Liberty University’s thrice-weekly chapel service. His nervous comportment and numerous voice cracks made us students cringe and laugh, but, at the time, it was strangely endearing. I too thought “he had a lovable, goofy quality to him,” as Phillip Wagner recently described the chancellor of Liberty in “My Liberty University Diploma and Me” (The Chronicle, August 23). Wagner’s description is fond and nostalgic, how I also perceived Falwell Jr. when I was a Liberty undergrad. My views on Falwell Jr. and Liberty, however, have significantly changed.
Putting aside Wagner’s discussion of Falwell Jr. — which is secondary to his defense of the legitimacy of his degrees and Liberty as a whole — I take issue with several points in his article, particularly his misconceptions about Liberty’s diversity. His description of Liberty, a place speciously defined by its openness to a diversity of opinions, fails to take into consideration how the university’s homophobic, religiously intolerant, and, as they self-identify, “politically incorrect” culture undermines any notion of diversity that most of us in academia uphold today.
By way of example, Liberty maintains that homosexuality is a punishable sin. I find it staggering that Wagner would claim that Liberty is a place of diversity when an entire subgroup at the university must hide their identities.
Many college graduates have a degree of admiration for their alma mater, but today more than ever, Americans need to be markedly careful when expressing that admiration for institutions that persist in unabashed discrimination. We need to learn to separate a fondness for the American college experience from the words of its ultra-conservative leader and the culture of homogeneity that those words, and their nervous, cracking voice, aim to create.
Ph.D. Student and Presidential Fellow
Florida Atlantic University