Home > History > Liberty circa the mid-Eighties 3

Liberty circa the mid-Eighties 3

The first semester I was at Liberty was a wild time to be there; the so-called Pastor’s Scholarships were two-year tuition, room and board deals, issued by Liberty two at a time to pastors. I really have no idea how the pastors were chosen: Jerry had a vast and to a degree finely-tuned direct mail marketing apparatus run through Old Time Gospel Hour, so in principle the ministry knew who was a pastor and who wasn’t, so it’s entirely possible the scholarships were distributed that way.

If I recall correctly there were 2500 freshmen in the fall of 1985, and not all of them were beneficiaries of the Pastor’s Scholarships. Regardless, with the incoming class there were at least a handful of people who really had no business being at Liberty; they had been dumped at Liberty through the intercession of well-meaning pastors and family members in the hope that Liberty would straighten them out somehow. Liberty, despite rumors to the contrary, is not a reform school, so there were a great many distractions and a great deal of misbehavior during the Fall semester.

The literal atmosphere that first semester was entirely unlike it was the rest of the time I was there: I can recall with no effort whatsoever one hot, packed chapel service where during the sermon the doors at the ends of the gym were opened to let out excess heat, and an almost-visible wave of Ralph Laurel Polo swept across the gym. This wasn’t a recurring phenomenon: as the year progressed chapel attendance thinned out, the people in the Physical Plant got a better handle on how to manage the building, and students ran out of cologne. It’s also possible that some of the cologne-wearers left Liberty under less than auspicious circumstances.

Then as now Liberty had a reasonably precise and relatively easy to understand behavior code called The Liberty Way, complete with its reprimand (rep) system. Relatively minor infractions such as possession of a rock music tape or being late for curfew merited three reps; disciplinary measures started at five. The penalty for accumulating fifteen or eighteen reps was expulsion. People expelled had to go to school somewhere else for a semester, and were subject to additional review before returning to Liberty. People who accumulated enough reps faced a review board, which typically consisted of a mix of faculty and students in leadership (resident assistants, mostly). I really have no idea what these review boards were like: I didn’t know anyone who accumulated an expulsion-worthy collection of reps gradually; they were typically handed out for single events, such as drinking or engaging in prohibited sexual behavior.

There were no fines in those days; I have no idea when the current rep-fine system started. The Liberty Way today otherwise looks a lot like it did twenty-plus years ago with some minor changes. When I started there was a prohibition against interracial dating, but not so severe as the one then in force at Bob Jones: anyone who wanted to date someone of another race had to notify their parents, and had to have evidence they had done so. Failing to do so was something like a three-rep or five-rep offense. So far as I know this rule was never enforced. Speaking in tongues was to my knowledge never against the rules per se, although there was a check-box on the application to Liberty asking about it and the school still took the fundamentalist position against speaking in tongues.

The old joke around that time was that Liberty was so non-selective that anyone who breathed and didn’t speak in tongues was eligible for admission. This wide net was cast wider than we suspected: an article in the Lynchburg paper in 1984 discussed the strange case of Harrison the golden retriever who was nominally accepted for the fall freshman class. The article actually detailed the story of a teenager who sent in for some open offer from Liberty (a Frisbee or some such) and asked for another for his friend Harrison; the Liberty PR department sent the kid two “acceptance letters:” one for him and the other for Harrison. Needless to say the dog wasn’t actually admitted.

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