Falwell U

By JERE REAL  |  August 3, 2006

Falwell’s college even regulates its students’ musical taste: “in order to maintain a healthy Christian atmosphere on campus, students are to refrain from listening to rock, disco, country and western, Christian rock, or any other music that is closely associated with these types.” For violation of this code, one may be “campused” for a weekend.

Penalties are equally mystifying at LBC to anyone familiar with more traditional college honor codes. Cheating and plagiarism, for instance, are viewed as transgressions on par with the use of obscene language or attendance at a nightclub or disco. Any of these, or possession of pornography, might get the student one week’s suspension. Writing bad checks carries a smaller penalty.

For expulsion, one must do something quite serious at LBC (as opposed to cheating). A student may be expelled for discharging a false alarm; participating “in an unauthorized petition, demonstration, or riot”; stealing; using or possessing alcohol or illegal drugs; or visiting the residence room of a member of the opposite sex. One wonders what might constitute an “ authorized” riot.

What is baffling about such a penal system for the non-Falwellian, or non-fundamentalist, mind is the logic of the system. Why should the exercise of a First Amendment right, like signing a petition, be grounds for expulsion while cheating or plagiarism results only in a week’s suspension? Why is dancing or going to the movies viewed as worse than writing bad checks? And why is dating without permission equal to handing out bad checks?

Then there’s social life at LBC. For one’s first three years one must have the deans permission to date, and must sign out. Only juniors and seniors may “single date”; freshmen and sophomores must double date, and then only on weekends. Dating behavior is dictated: “There must be no personal display of affection. Such display is considered in poor taste and is regarded as immature behavior.”

There are equally rigid rules about visiting in private homes, staying out of dormitories over night, and travel. Security guards are in ample supply at LBC, and they enforce violations. When I first drove onto the campus and stopped at the security guard’s station, one guard was calling in a report: “I just saw a boy and a girl going into the woods together. You better check that out.” One of the more curious regulations on travel in the handbook is, “When it is necessary for men and women to share private transportation other than dating, women must outnumber the men.”

Marriage, likewise, is regulated; students may not marry on weekends or holidays other than Christmas and summer vacation. Falwell’s view of marriage as dominated by the male is stressed: “LBC expects a married male student, as head of his household, to see to it that his wife dresses with appropriate Christian modesty.”

In such a context, LBC’s progress is all the more remarkable. According to the academic dean, Fussel Fitzgerald, the quality of the college’s students is improving. Part of LBC’s appeal is, he admits, its low yearly tuition-and-fee rate of $3870 (the national average is about $6000). “The low rate has enabled us to get not only those from lower-income families,” he says, “it has also served to make our student body have a great range of economic background. While we do have some from wealthy backgrounds at LBC — from conservative families — the low fees give us greater variety of students.” He adds that the college was now getting students who once might have gone to Baylor University or Wake Forest.

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