Thanks to Peter for saying such nice things about my Alabama arson piece. Had I waited longer to write it, I would have had even more to say about its "liberal education" aspect. Today’s Birmingham News has this story about the fall-out on the Birmingham-Southern College campus (current home of two of the alleged perpetrators and past home of the other). BSC has a very strong regional and national reputation and a solid affiliation with the United Methodist Church. The religious mission pervades at least one aspect of the campus life, as this paragraph from the story makes clear:
Birmingham-Southern College has long prided itself on the actions of students who have gone all over the world to perform good deeds as part of the college’s social service emphasis.
BSC students clearly get the social service emphasis of this mainline Protestant denomination, and the college goes to great lengths to promote it on, and presumably off, campus. This is not an unusual emphasis at a lot of "elite" liberal arts colleges, regardless of how strong their religious affiliation is. (We do it at my place, which hasn’t had a denominational affiliation since it was refounded early in the last century.)
But here’s the part of the article--a statement by BSC President David Pollick--that sticks in my craw:
Pollick said Thursday that the college has pledged to help burned churches rebuild, but not because the college feels responsible for the actions of its students.
"In this particular case, I don’t think we feel responsible at all. ... I don’t think there’s a sense of guilt or a sense of repentance. There’s nothing to repent," Pollick said. "We’re clearly in the limelight because they are our students."
If he meant to say that the students are ultimately responsible for their own actions, he’s right. If, however, he meant to absolve his institution of any responsibility for the souls of its students, then I don’t know how it can call itself a religiously-affiliated institution. Does the United Methodist Church not think that church members should care about what goes on in the heads and hearts of the young people for whom they, er, care?
Update: David Mills takes the argument in a slightly different direction, contending that subversion of conventional morality is part of a pervasive design at some places. Hes right, of course, though many of the institutions with which Im familiar would not and could not avow that intention in public.