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Yesterday, we fact-checked a claim that students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., were required to attend Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential announcement or face a $10 fine.
We said True, relying on information provided by the university and presented in its student handbook. The handbook says that students who skip a Convocation event (which is what Cruz’s speech was) will be fined $10.
Still, we had some questions about the policy that the university wouldn’t answer. So we went to Liberty students for some help.
For instance, we had a feeling there was a gap between the rules as written and the rules as practiced, and indeed, that’s the case. We also learned that anyone who wants to pigeonhole Liberty students had better think twice. No doubt conservative Christian beliefs predominate but not everyone marches in lockstep.
Cruz’s speech attracted a reported 11,000 people, but Liberty says it has a resident student body of about 13,500. Did that mean 2,500 students got fined?
Not likely, according to what we heard. The rule is enforced for students who live on campus.
"This is because attendance is taken by the RAs (resident assistants) of each dorm," one student wrote. "Every ‘hall’ has a specific seating area, to avoid horrendous traffic jams trying to find seats. When you arrive, you are supposed to check in with your RA. All you really have to do is wave at them and make sure they see you, and they will mark you present. Since there are no RAs off campus, there is no way to enforce the attendance of commuters."
We also heard that even for on-campus students, the RAs tend to cut people a fair bit of slack.
"RAs are very gracious individuals," wrote another student. "Most of the time you will not receive a fine or reps (reprimands) for missing one convo (Convocation) in a freak incident in which you oversleep, this has happened to me a couple of times. The individuals who are written up are the chronic skippers. RAs know who is missing intentionally and who is just having a rough day. That's really one of the coolest things about Liberty is how intentional our leadership program is at getting to know each person that lives on our halls."
Apparently, at least some students choose to live off campus precisely to avoid conflicts with the school’s detailed code of behavior. A recent graduate explained that he moved out of the dorms to follow a "different lifestyle than the Liberty way."
"Liberty is home to many Christians such as myself who may or may not share the political and social beliefs of Liberty," he wrote. "I never met a professor there that discouraged my beliefs or suppressed my ideology in class even though I shared differing views to the university on gay marriage or theological differences. Contrary to the popular opinion, Liberty is very accepting on all fronts save one. Politics. They actually de-funded the Young Democrats club on campus."
(Here’s a Washington Post story about the Liberty Democratic club.)
We got some other feedback. One person said we should have noted that Cruz drew a few standing ovations, a sign of genuine enthusiasm for his message. Another felt she and her fellow students had been used by Cruz.
Overall, it’s clear that Liberty has students who are ready to engage with current events and civic life. It’s hard not to feel good about that and we’re grateful for their help in fleshing out the facts of life at the school.
PunditFact, Liberty University students faced $10 fine if they skipped Ted Cruz presidential speech, March 25, 2015
Washington Post, Liberty U. Drops Democratic Club, Saying Views Conflict With Those of College, May 23, 2009
Emails from Liberty University students and alumni