LYNCHBURG, Va. (Christian Examiner) – Liberty University is fighting back against an exposé in a Richmond newspaper which claims the school is censoring discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in its psychology curriculum.
The article, written after two online students contacted a reporter at the paper, claims the university is violating academic freedom because it ordered a special textbook in its Psychology 101 course that has a chapter omitted on "sexual motivation" and sexual orientation.
According to the students, online faculty member Heather Elaine Medvedenko notified her class that the material was omitted because the structure of the course did not allow enough time to discuss the issues raised by the material.
To think that we would be afraid of leaving a few sections in a chapter of a book because we didn't like what they said is ludicrous. It was irresponsible of the Richmond-Times Dispatch to publish this article with a misleading headline based on a complaint that originated from an anonymous student(s) who obviously was willing to distort the facts to advance a dialogue based on a false premise – that a Liberty professor removed chapters from a textbook dealing with LBGTQ issues. This simply did not occur.
"A few people reviewed the content from the module, and it was decided that the way it was presented could be misinterpreted," Medvedenko's email said. "We didn't want the focus of this chapter to end up being sexual motivation, and to leave the content without adding discussion and videos would not do justice to the topic."
The two students, however, charged that omitting the material – especially in light of the recent shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando – created the perception that the views presented were being censored. One student argued the deletion of the material could even jeopardize the school's accreditation.
Those concerns are unfounded, according to the Richmond-Dispatch article, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and even the author of the textbook.
SACS President Belle Wheelan said the practice of customizing textbooks, especially for faith-based institutions, is common practice and, she added, "We would have nothing to say about it."
Jeffrey Nevid, the author of the book Essentials in Psychology, which originally contained the material deleted by Liberty, also said he did not find the deletion of the material worrisome.
"Instructors often customize text materials to meet their instructional needs," Nevid said. "This is common practice. My text is organized in modules so that instructors can select the modules they use in the classroom."
Liberty quickly rejected the idea that the deletion of the LGBT-oriented material from the class "reveals a homophobic agenda at Liberty University."
In a news release June 15, the school said the omission of the material is actually because of the school's "commitment to best practices in the classroom and beyond," or placing the content at the point in an academic program where it is best understood and is capable of being discussed at length.
Liberty also touted its record of inviting diverse speakers, such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and said it provides an environment where students are free to express their ideas in the classroom even if they run counter to the university's faith commitments.
"To think that we would be afraid of leaving a few sections in a chapter of a book because we didn't like what they said is ludicrous. It was irresponsible of the Richmond-Times Dispatch to publish this article with a misleading headline based on a complaint that originated from an anonymous student(s) who obviously was willing to distort the facts to advance a dialogue based on a false premise – that a Liberty professor removed chapters from a textbook dealing with LBGTQ issues. This simply did not occur," the statement said.
"The chapters eliminated from the psychology 101 textbook focused not on LBGTQ issues, but rather on the broader issue of sexual motivation — a topic that the faculty member concluded is sufficiently complex that it is better covered in a variety of other, more focused courses throughout the curriculum, rather than in this broad overview course to all of psychology. The subject matter of the chapters removed from this introductory course textbook are included in other psychology course textbooks at Liberty University."
The provost's office also squawked at the report of censorship, explaining how the total curriculum is mapped to provide students with more complex, detailed information throughout the advanced course instead of in survey courses.
"The module in the chapter on sexual motivation is omitted in the 101 online course only, due not to ideological objections but to a desire to scaffold learning appropriately throughout the general education curriculum and beyond. The department reviewed the content from the module, and it was decided that the content could not be adequately covered within the scope of the module or course and that it was better suited to other places in the curriculum with space for more in-depth review on the topic," the statement said.
The provost's office then listed four 200 level courses and four 300 level courses, for sophomores and juniors, respectively, that deal with sexual development, gender identity and sexual orientation, differences in male and female sexuality, marital intimacy and social theories and concepts.
Liberty's statement concluded with an affirmation that God's design for human sexuality should be studied thoroughly and "empirically." That doesn't mean, however, that only the Christian view of sexuality is studied, the provost's office said.
"Throughout the curriculum, we provide students with access to a variety of research on the many facets related to this field of study," the statement said.