Liberty University may purchase Northfield campus from current owners Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby's prospective sale/gift to Liberty will be decided at a meeting on March 7*. NMH has promised to protect the grounds of Northfield from any sale that would dishonor the legacy of D.L. Moody. Read article attached for details. Update below.
* UPDATE (March 14, 2012) New York Times, Huffington Post.
* UPDATE (March 12, 2012) Today the Boston Globe ran another story about these issues. It can be read here:
* UPDATE (March 8, 2012) As of now, it it is being reported that Hobby Lobby/the Green family is considering proposals between now and April. We will keep this petition open in the meantime.
* UPDATE (March 9, 2012) Today the Board has made a statement which can be found on the NMH website here:
* UPDATE (March 11, 2012) Yesterday the Greenfield Recorder ran a story about these issues. It can be read here:
By DAVID RAINVILLE
NORTHFIELD — Many residents, Northfield Mount Hermon School alumni, and others are concerned to hear the ultra-conservative Liberty University is eyeing the former Northfield campus.
The campus was bought by Hobby Lobby stores in 2009 for $100,000, with the intent of fixing it up and giving it to the CS Lewis Foundation, which would start a college there. Thefoundation fell short of the $5 million required, and Hobby Lobby began searching for other recipients.
Some are worried Liberty has already been chosen for the campus, but Jerry Pattengale, a college administrator hired by campus owner Hobby Lobby Stores, said that’s simply not the case. He said Hobby Lobby’s owners, the Green family, plan to review proposals and make a decision next month. A review of first-round proSee CONCERNS Page A2
■ Concerns: ‘Liberty’s (policies) fly in the face of the ... values of NMH’
From Page A1
posals had been scheduled for March 7, but the Greens decided to put it off until all proposals are in.
Still, Liberty’s staunch conservative values have upset some.
Liberty University was established in Lynchburg, Va. in 1971 with “a vision to train champions for Christ” by the late Jerry Falwell Sr., according to current Liberty president, Jerry Falwell Jr. The school shuns the theory of evolution, teaching that “Human beings were directly created, not evolved, in the very image of God,” according to the school’s doctrinal statement.
Liberty has no plans to bring a full-on satellite campus to Northfield, Ronald Godwin, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs said Friday. He said the college would not want to use the entire campus, but would look to form a consortium, where several organizations would use the campus. Godwin said that Liberty would hold “intensive courses” for online students at the campus, which are condensed full-credit classes lasting up to one week. He said the campus is too far from a major urban center and requires too much upkeep for Liberty to take the entire campus over or run a full-fledged satellite campus there.
Several Northfielders have signed an online letter decrying the school’s views and controversial statements made by its founder, and asking the town to come together to keep Liberty out of Northfield.
“Northfield may find itself dominated by an ultra-conservative political faction that soon could transform the town,” read the letter, penned by residents Nancy and G. John Champoux and their daughter Tess, an NMH alumna, and signed by six other residents.
Jerry Falwell Sr., founder of Liberty University and the Moral Majority, made his conservative views no secret during his life. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, he blamed homosexuals, pagans, abortionists, feminists and groups like the ACLU and People for the American Way for trying to secularize America, paving the way for the terrorist attacks. This was cited in the letter, and confirmed through several news sources.
“I just don’t wish to have that kind of institution in town,” said resident Joan Deely, who signed the letter that was posted on a community website for Northfield residents.
An online petition to NMH started by Melissa Totten (NMH class of 1976) on March 5 asks the prep school’s board of directors to draft a letter to Hobby Lobby, asking the company not to give the campus to Liberty. The petition has already been signed more than 1,000 times, including the signatures of several NMH alumni.
A letter attached to the petition calls Liberty “an extremist, homophobic, and intellectually narrow institution,” and states that petition supporters “consider the institutional presence of Liberty University on the Northfield campus fundamentally incompatible with the spiritual breadth, academic depth, and community diversity we know and cherish at Northfield Mount Hermon.”
“Falwell’s legacy is the policy agenda that has been handed down to the Christian far right today, to ‘cure’ gays and lesbians, to prohibit all abortions and access to contraceptives, to deny rights to women and people of non-Christian faiths, and to limit the educational parameters of public education, including the banning of books deemed unacceptable,” reads the letter. “These ideas are antithetical to the lessons we learned at Northfield Mount Hermon.”
“Our daughter is an alum. We chose NMH because we liked that it had its own orientation and own values system, but was very open to other ways of thinking,” she said. “(Liberty’s policies) fly in the face of the traditions and values of NMH.”
Deely also doesn’t think Liberty will work well with the town to make sure its needs are met and concerns addressed.
“I feel like we need someone that’s open to a dialogue,” she said. “I don’t think there’s much opportunity for discussion with Liberty.”
Alex Stewart, a former minister and chairman of the committee formed between the CS Lewis College, NMH, and the town, hopes that whoever takes over the campus will work closely with Northfield. Stewart has remained peripherally involved in the campus’ future, and has been on several tours giving groups a bit of history on the town as well as NMH and its founder, 19th century evangelist Dwight L. Moody.
“As this moves forward, I am certain the community will seek every way to work constructively with any college or colleges that come to serve on this campus,” said Stewart.
While some protest the prospect of a Liberty campus in Northfield, Liberty’s Facebook wall is abuzz with enthusiasts as well as current and hopeful students who would love to see the school in some form come to the region. Comments range from excited New Englanders saying they’d attend a nearby campus, to more evangelical remarks that God and a conservative voice are needed badly in the state and the Northeast.
Comments like the latter have Deely concerned.
“When people say Liberty should come to the area because I (and the rest of New England) need help, I find it troubling. That’s not a presence we’re looking forward to having.”
NMH has no say about who that recipient may be.
David Rainville can be reached at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 279