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Liberty University: the Reorganization

A couple of months ago Santiago Leon offered an article on the transition of some Liberty University professors from the physical classroom to the university’s online branch; he has since revised the article “to protect the innocent” [link]. Here’s the first paragraph:

Flex contracts were given to certain faculty starting in early March. Due to the new block schedule and larger classes, Liberty University has an overabundance of resident professors. Where most colleges would lay off their teachers, Liberty has given them the opportunity to teach online and still retain their full pay and benefits. Liberty has termed this transition as “the reorganization.”

The question that first sprang unbidden to my mind was whether “most colleges” do indeed lay off professors. The results I’ve found are inconclusive; if you type “college layoff” into Google you’ll discover that most of the places currently laying people off are not name-brand institutions: there’s Wellesley, and the Seven Dwarfs: unnamed community colleges, Central Louisiana Technical College, Canadore College, Northcentral Technical College, etc. None of these are places Liberty aspires to be: there’s no Notre Dame, or BYU, and the Wheaton that announced layoffs a couple of years ago was the one in Massachusetts.

It seems more likely to me as an at best partly-informed observer that this is more likely a matter of workforce redeployment: online students are more profitable, the online school needs faculty, etc.

Also, it is important to note that Liberty faculty are all given one-year renewable contracts, so strictly speaking Liberty wouldn’t lay off surplus faculty; they would just not be offered a contract for the new year.

I’d love to see how Liberty’s business plan works nowadays; back in my day the big money makers were in principle the business and psychology departments, where they could pack people into huge classrooms, have relatively low administrative costs per student, etc. I don’t know that those majors were actually profitable: I’d have to see which students actually paid for classes to get a handle on that, and in my day the campus was flooded with students paying less than list price for their Liberty education. I have no idea which majors are generating the most revenue for Liberty Online. I’d guess more or less the same majors.

I realize the above may read a big cynical, but it is my impression that Liberty is being run (for better or worse) much more like a business than either a university or the school it was in the Eighties. Why? Because Ron Godwin is a business man, and Ron Godwin runs the show at Liberty. I’d encourage curious readers to check out this odd little piece by Gary North [link], where he claims Ron Godwin took his idea for a virtual university and made Jerry Falwell a mint with it:

It was a good idea. I just didn’t see that it could be done with videotapes and the Post Office rather than a satellite distribution system. Godwin put the pieces together. He deserves the credit. Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Entrepreneurship identifies the good ones and puts together the marketing package.

We here at Half a Bridge of course wish Liberty well in finding its way forward. I wish I had a way to look twenty years into the future to see what sort of animal it will become. Right now I’d guess it will either be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party or a video-only school (plus an aviation program).


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