Messiah College, my alma mater, is in the news. What has caused the spotlight of the national media to shine on this little-known institution of higher learning? Scandal. At least, liberals are calling the firings of 8 US Attorney a scandal. I actually don’t know what to think about the whole thing, yet. I admit that firing 8 US attorneys at once does seem unusual. But calling it scandal is over the top for me.
So what is the connection between the recent political brouhaha in the US Attorney General’s office and my humble alma mater? Monica Goodling. The senior-level aid in the Justice Department who has stated she will “plead the fifth” if she is called upon to testify, is a 1995 graduate of Messiah. She went on to get her law degree from Regent University in 1999.
What’s really odd about this whole thing is that people who know very little about the varying degrees of social liberalism and conservativism in the evangelical world today are taking shots at Messiah College on many levels. The suggestion that Messiah College is somehow similar to Regent University is just ridiculous. I think Regent is a fine school, but on the spectrum right wing political positions, Regent is far right and Messiah doesn’t even make it on to the spectrum. Messiah is now a non-denominational Christian college, but it started as a Brethren in Christ institution. The BIC broke from the Mennonites. The BIC still has a good relationship with the Mennonites, and they are very big on social conscience issues. If the people who are writing about the fact that Monica Goodling went to Messiah College would take the time to find out something about the place, they would probably find they have more in common with the college than they would imagine at first glance. For instance environmental issues were big among professors and students at Messiah when I was there.
When I was a student at Messiah in the 80s, we held a mock presidential election. Eighty percent of the student body voted for Ronald Reagan. Fifteen percent of the faculty and staff voted for Reagan. So the students at that time were obviously more right wing than the institution itself. One statement in the Washington Post article that just floored me was this: “Goodling majored in communications at Messiah College, a Christian school in Grantham, Pa., that does not have co-ed dorms or allow alcohol on campus.” Hey, these kids don’t fry their brains on alcohol every weekend and they don’t have the opportunity to cohabitate. How can college students learn anything in a place like that?!
This blog got me fired up when it referred to Messiah as “fourth tier.” I was just a little insulted. This is not the only place where you’ll find questioning of the school academic credentials. Everyone wants to make out the school to be sub-standard. The truth is, it is academically rigorous. The average SAT score for first year students is 1190. That’s not too shabby. It compares with an average SAT score of 1434 for first year students at Harvard and 1210 at Penn State University. This shows that Messiah’s standards for entrance fall in line with other 4-year college programs. I read some blogs that suggested professors were not required to have doctorates. Not only do most professors at Messiah have doctorates, unlike many large universities, you’ll never see a graduate student teaching a class. Students at Messiah College have a lot more interaction with well-educated professors who have a genuine interest in their students than many students at large state universities.
Ultimately, I am not just trying to stand up for Messiah College here. I really want to point out how the media (and bloggers, apparently) takes a stereotype and runs with it. Despite talking with people from the college, the press still painted the picture they wanted to. They didn’t really listen to faculty and staff who told them facts about the school. They just assumed that Messiah is a right-wing Bible thumping school with poor academics without checking out the real facts about it.
That being said, they also painted Regent University as a school with poor academics. I don’t know anything first hand about Regent, but I have known people who have graduated from there. I know that it is more conservative politically and a different type of Christian school than Messiah. But both of those things have nothing to do with the quality of education its students receive. I have known of many lawyers that went through Regent’s law school. Ultimately, it seems to me that if the graduates of the law school pass the bar exam, then the school must have some academic rigor. Once again, the media seems to be saying that if there is some religious element to the education, it must be somehow substandard.