Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

An argument for the return of in loco parentis

Liberal arts college students setting church fires in Alabama. Here’s an account of the student response:

On the Birmingham-Southern campus, peers of the two students, who are active in the campus theater scene, expressed shock. Moseley “is a goofy guy who loves making people laugh,” said Ashley Pope, editor of the campus paper, The Hilltop News, which published an article yesterday (written before the revelations) about the two students’ promising acting careers. “I’ve never seen or heard of him committing evil or violent acts before and I never imagined that he would be capable of something like this.”

She added: “If I had to guess, he considered it to be a joke and it went way too far. He doesn’t always think about consequences of what he does, he acts spur of the moment. Nine churches, of course, suggest premeditation, so it is very out of character.”

The law requires that we treat them as adults, but they’re not, at least on more occasions than we’d like to imagine.

Update: It occurred to me that I might be misunderstood, so let me be clear. These college students should be charged as adults and, if found guilty, punished to the full extent of the law. The law to which I was referring above is the one that requires me to secure a student’s permission before I can communicate any sort of information to his or her parents. That’s the law that assumes, in effect, that college students no longer need "parenting." As this example indicates, some clearly do. Unfortunately for them, the "tough love" that holds them responsible is going to come from the judicial system. Unfortunately for the churches, the tough love didn’t come sooner.

Discussions - 6 Comments


BSC is a small liberal arts school located in Brimingham Al. It probably not as big as your local high school and everyone knows everyone there, at least in passing. I know this because I have a son there now, and my older son has graduated from their with an accounting degree. A fine place to get an education in a small college environment while playing NCAA D1 soccer ( which both my sons play).

I asked my son about the two from BSC. He knew one well enough to comment. He called him an "idiot" who was always up to something. Apparently a theatre major who thought practical jokes should be played 24/7. Needless to say, there is nothing funny about setting fire to someone else’s property. They are looking at 5 years in jail for each count, 45 years total if levied in succession. Other charges are possible.

I don’t see the mutual relevance of the two situations, Joe.

To suggest that these jerks need parenting by virtue of the fact that they have committee crimes elevates their status as students and as children, and deemphasizes their status as adults and as (alleged) criminals.

There seems to be little-to-no overlap between concerns for a college student’s privacy and concern for a 20 year-old criminal.

Put another way, we might also suggest that Charles Manson needed parenting, but that hardly seems relevant to the second issue.

These guys are not representative of college students, and to associate their failure with general college student failure seems to me a weak connection.

Once these--I hesitate to say it--young men are in the criminal justice system, the college has no more responsibility for them. True enough.

One of the reasons students (and their parents) are attracted to small liberal arts colleges (like BSC and my own institution) is their intimacy and "familiarity" (I’m insisting on the overtones here). We are, however, hobbled in our ability to help our students make the transition to adulthood because we’re compelled to pretend that they’re already in all decisive respects adults when they arrive on campus (as if something magical happened the summer after high school graduation). We can’t "parent" in place of the parents, and we can’t cooperate with the parents in their parenting without the permission of the students.

At the same time, when one of our students does something stupid--in this case, criminally stupid--we suffer in the eyes of the world in a way that a big state university never does. No one expects the big place to pay attention to the character of the students. We at least subconsciously expect a smaller place--especially one that calls itself a liberal arts institution, a designation that carries with it some at least sub-conscious expectation of character formation--to pay such attention. I’m not trying to evade the responsibility, since I think that it’s an important part of what we ought to be doing. But "our" efforts in this regard are hamstrung by the law.

Having once been in the business, I imagine these guys were indoctrinated to behaved as politically correct actors typically behave these days creating scenes ridiculing, humiliating or burning down evil Christers.

I’m not buying the ’it so very out of character’ excuse.

Don’t worry about Ashland University. The administration keeps us under a tight thumb. If you get a speeding ticket the administration feels the need to step in as your parent.

Will they also be charged with "hate crimes" as well as arson?

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