Years ago, a much younger family of SWNIDs lived in a community with a very large Baptist church famous for its fleet of buses that brought people to its services each Sunday. While the buses were nationally famous, locally the church was famous for offering various extrinsic motivators for attendance. On various Sundays, visitors could be gifted with various geegaws as an incentive/reward for going to church and being invited to accept Jesus (and for men, get a haircut, but that's another subject).
In our sojourn in that community, this saga came to its climax when a few hundred baby chicken carcasses were found in the dumpster of a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge not far from the church's building, just a few days after Easter Sunday. The local press asked around and heard a story that the church had offered a free baby chick to every child who rode the bus to church on Easter.
As the selling or giving of baby chickens was forbidden by law in the state where the church was located, an intrepid reporter asked the church for a statement on the event. The church's spokesman (not spokesperson, we note) indicated that he had no knowledge of any contraband chicks. Local police chose not to investigate.
All this is prelude to the story in today's Inside Higher Ed detailing Liberty University's opening of a ski park and lodge for its students, featuring Snowflex, an artificial snow that never melts (eternally secure?). The story notes that the $4 million facility is one of several on the campus founded by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell--pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia--as an incentive for students to enroll and a substitute for the more nefarious recreations common on non-Baptist campuses.
We make the connection between these two events not to suggest that Snowflex is as illegal in Virginia as pet chicks are in other jurisdictions. Rather, we note, as did the alert reporter for Inside Higher Ed, that the educational philosophy of baiting individuals with extrinsic offers is a well-established one among a particular set of Baptists.
SWNID is not down with such extrinsics. Recognizing that college life entails more than study--that a campus must provide sufficiently pleasant housing, food, socialization and recreation for its students mental and physical health and that such can be experiences that enhance educational outcomes--we balk at the point that a recreational facility is seen more as an incentive to recruitment than an aid to purposeful student development.
The latter is always the former: good student life makes it easier to recruit. The line between these two is not drawn with a bold, thick marker. But when the core life of an institution is not the primary means of drawing a student to the institution, the institution takes on a battle for not just the soul of the student but the soul of the institution. Once they've been induced, students have to be kept. If they came for the pet chicks, will they stay for Jesus? What resources will the institution devote to the next offer? For what might those resources have been used otherwise?
Unlike churches, who can extrinsically induce prospects and bear no public responsibility for them if they refuse to return, universities are supposed to retain students who enroll. If they don't, one suspects that the students were induced to enroll under false pretenses and left in disappointment when they discovered the truth. We therefore deem Liberty's strategy a bad one.
We add to this observation a second, that Christian colleges that highlight their difference with secular counterparts as the absence of sex, booze and drugs, are missing an opportunity. Christian campuses, even poorly managed ones, have dramatically less partying than others. But in our view the mission of Christian higher ed ought to be more than the preservation of old-school in loco parentis. There's a world to be changed and a people to be equipped for the changing. Staying sober and chaste is a part of that, but it isn't the only part or even the first. Schools that put that first are aiming low.