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The Liberty Way

I think I still have a copy of a late-Eighties version of The Liberty Way in a box somewhere, but unfortunately Liberty currently requires users to log in to see the online version. I’d love to see a PDF version of this, just to see what looks familiar and what looks different.

The guides to on-campus and off-campus student life are available online, and frankly they don’t look all that different from what I remember; most of the changes deal with issues arising from changes in the campus (e.g. sunbathing happens in a different place now; warnings regarding personal safety probably weren’t necessary when the campus was smaller, simpler, and better lit). The only real surprises in the guide to on-campus life pertain to private enterprise and fund-raising (I don’t remember there being any of these restrictions twenty-plus years ago) and on guest speakers. I am guessing this has more to do with Liberty’s perspective on its own political orientation than, say, a disenchantment with free speech or free enterprise as such.

I remember getting a copy of The Liberty Way in my orientation package and just plain freaking out. One of the things that surprised me was the comprehensive list of rules, the leeway the school reserved in interpreting the rules, and the escalation of penalties. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had another school with a less ominous penalty schedule I could have attended at the same price. I worked out that by getting caught repeatedly chewing gum in an unacceptable manner I could have been expelled.

As it turned out The Liberty Way was more bark than bite and I was able to navigate through my year on campus and three off-campus without a great deal of strife and only three reps. In the interest of full disclosure, I got caught with a tape of secular instrumentals, mostly extended remixes of vocal-less Eigthies pop; the tape was confiscated by a resident assistant, I got three reps, and I got the offending tape back at the end of the semester. It was the one time I ran into the recurring problem The Liberty Way engendered: it wasn’t that there were so many rules, or that they were open to interpretation, so much as the fact that the interpretation was all done by an authority figure and there was rarely any recourse for the offending party.

I learned a valuable lesson at Liberty: that a complex and far-reaching rule book invites abuse and lots of exceptions. I went to work on finding an adequate set of waivers to suit my needs and for the most part got them: an on-campus job got me out of curfew, faculty connections were helpful in getting a car on campus (provided I didn’t park it in the wrong parking space), etc. It turned out that curfew was mostly overlooked except when RAs themselves were under some sort of pressure, and I managed to stay on the right side of my RAs for the most part. Skipping church was relatively easy if I pretended to be sick and didn’t mind missing breakfast on Sunday. It was a pretty petty solution to a pretty petty problem, and I was fortunate to have RAs that weren’t control freaks. There were dorms that were better; there were dorms that were worse.

To my knowledge some of the most troubling clauses of The Liberty Way were never enforced: I never heard of anyone being expelled for failing to report someone else for an expulsion-worthy offense; students having run-ins in public spaces with some of the stricter RAs sometimes found themselves in real trouble, but nobody so far as I know got expelled. The guards at the guard shack mostly turned a blind eye to freshman curfew violators, so long as they made the later curfew. I don’t know why; the paperwork may have been burdensome, or the guards may have had more important things to do.

I think the life lesson I got from The Liberty Way was this: a big, complicated set of rules tends to give rise to a burdensome system with spotty enforcement, and encourages contempt on the part of all parties. It tends to create fear of falling into the clutches of the system, but this doesn’t actually make for better behavior. I won’t say The Liberty Way was a joke; it was just a big obstacle. And besides, when you have a chancellor who openly flouts the rules he’s supposed to obey and says things like “it’s easier to apologize than to ask permission” it’s hard to take a restrictive rule book seriously.

Update: a 2009 vintage PDF is available here. Thanks, Wikipedia!

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