22 May 2012

What Constitutes a "Real University?"

Diploma mills seem to be all the rage today.  There are numerous "colleges" and "universities" that will send out a degree for $500 and your personal information.  There are ads all over the internet that will hook students up with these people who are more than willing to send a piece of paper for any ol' Joe (or Jane) who will pony up the money.  These universities are not really universities, but rather unelaborate money-making schemes meant to milk money out of people who have big egos and want letters after their name without work or people who need a degree for a promotion.  Some people have learned the hard way that even their payment doesn't pay off in the long run.

This topic brings up the discussion of what constitutes a real university.  I watched Bill Maher a few times many years ago, so I did not actually watch the show under discussion.  Maher, an evangelical atheist, complained about Mitt Romney giving a talk at Liberty University because "a) he's a liar and b) Liberty University isn't really a university."  Maher is at some level a comedian, but on another level his speech is often hate-filled toward those he disagrees with.  He complains about people of faith who want to spread their ideas and beliefs, yet he does not shy away from sharing his ideas and beliefs.  His discourse is frequently condescending toward those who disagree with him.  This atheist evangelism is interesting coming from a liberal.

Liberals are supposed to be tolerant of all views.  Tea Partiers would possibly consider me a commie liberal, even though I'm more of a 1950s kind of conservative sans the racism.  Liberals would definitely consider me too conservative on a few issues.  I refuse to drink the Kool-aid coming from either side without doing some digging of my own.  On one point, Maher's probably right--Romney (as well as most other politicians) has been less-than-truthful at times.  That being said, however, I defend people's right to their opinions and beliefs, even if I disagree with them.  In that regard, I'm much more liberal than most of the self-proclaimed "liberal" talking heads on TV.  Maher's evangelical atheism and the anger that seems to go with it is nothing more than another case of the infamous pot and the kettle.

That brings us to the other point, obvious from a cursory overview of American church history.  Is a university only a university if an evangelical atheist thinks it is?  A school started for religious purposes obviously doesn't count?  Apparently, Maher has forgotten that some of the most prestigious schools in America began, not as the massive world-renowned universities they are today, but rather as schools set up to train ministers.  Harvard began in 1636, just six years after the foundation of Massachusetts Bay.  Its purpose was to train ministers.  Yale began in 1701, largely because some people thought Harvard was getting a bit too liberal.  It, too, was a ministerial training school at first.  Same for Princeton, William & Mary, and Dartmouth.  In fact, of all the colleges started before the American Revolution, only Penn had no official religious affiliation.  Princeton even remained a bastion of evangelical orthodoxy into the twentieth century.

That brings us to the question of Liberty University.  In a reply given by the school's chancellor, Jerry Falwell, Jr. to Maher's claims, Liberty qualifies as a legitimate university on several levels.  Falwell pointed out correctly that the university is a regionally accredited school.  This is considered the gold standard by the US Department of Education.  An independent study by outsiders verified that Liberty achieves its educational goals.  Furthermore, the Liberty Law School is fully accredited by the ABA, which to some level testifies to its quality.  Will a degree from Liberty's Law School look as good to most people as one from Harvard?  Probably not.  But it will allow its bearer to sit for the bar exam and will allow the practice of law.  In this instance, Maher, the evangelical atheist, has no clue what he's talking about on multiple levels.  Not to mention, he's kinda hypocritical with his intolerance of views he finds intolerant.

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