Falwell U

By JERE REAL  |  August 3, 2006

Thomas Diggs, the director of admissions, says that the average SAT scores for Liberty Baptist applicants were up, with 407 verbal and 416 math for the class that entered in September of 1980. Admission is not based solely on academic criteria; an applicant must also relate his “salvation experience” in an autobiographical sketch and get a recommendation from his pastor. Applicants are asked about their attitudes toward the “charismatic” religious movements and toward speaking in tongues, both of which Falwell opposes.

Students arriving at LBC may be in for a surprise if they've never seen the campus before. It is rather like a large military base under construction. The buildings are mostly steel and brick, and the lack of trees gives the campus a kind of Kafkaesque emptiness. Although many one and two story dorms have been built, some students are still housed in a aging former hotel downtown.

At its inception, in 1971, Falwells’ college was called Lynchburg Baptist College, and the name stuck until 1976. However, from the beginning the name created some confusion because of its similarity to that of nearby Lynchburg College, a more traditional liberal arts school. Early copies of Lynchburg Baptist’s catalogue were markedly similar in graphic design to Lynchburg College’s; smiling students were depicted in shady surroundings when LBC’s campus was only a clearing. On several occasions, both students and faculty searching fro LBC turned up a Lynchburg College to register. Such mix-ups may have been natural accidents, but that wasn’t the case of the day Lynchburg College officials were summoned to a traffic tie-up at their front gates only to find Lynchburg Baptist’s traveling choir being photographed against the Lynchburg College gates. There were problems, too, with Falwell’s student’s use of the library facilities at other colleges in the area. Both Lynchburg College and nearby Randolph Macon Women’s’ college have ruled out such usage by LBC students although they still allow students from other colleges to use those facilities.

Cary Brewer, president of Lynchburg College, explains the problem: “From the beginning, we have been appalled at LBC’s insensitivity to the feelings of other institutions and individuals into the community.” Finally, in 1976, after a direct confrontation between of Lynchburg College and Lynchburg Baptist, Falwell changed the name of his school to Liberty Baptist. It was, he said, a move made for the Bicentennial year. Characteristically, he cited a Biblical verse to support his claim; he took it from II Corinthians 3:17: “ Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.”

But the LBC administration still tends to create impressions of its campus that are not quite consistent with reality. The current catalogue includes photographs of buildings that simply do don’t exist on the campus. On page 52, for example, there appears a photo of a multi-story office building with a vertical caption that reads, “Division of business.” The picture is of United Virginal Bank, in downtown Lynchburg, cropped so that no identifying signs show. A similarly confusing picture illustrates the division of Religion page. There appears a handsome, tree-shaded brick chapel of traditional architecture. Unfortunately, the chapel in question isn’t Liberty Baptist’s. It is the Lee Chapel, a historical landmark where the Civil War general is interred, about 50 miles away at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia

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