College Democrats' Sponsor Dismissed; Club President Resigns

Correction appended

The president of the college club that was "unrecognized" last month by Liberty University is stepping down and looking to transfer to another institution following the dismissal of the club's sponsor.

In a letter released to the press late Friday, Brian Diaz said he was "deeply saddened" by his decision to resign as president of the Liberty University College Democrats but feels that the club "cannot be effective" with the present administration.

"Although I have put in a tremendous amount of work this past year, I believe that ... the dismissal of Maria Childress as our club sponsor, as well as an email from the administration to me stating that, 'You are distorting the truth, and you know it. You have no credibility with me' forces me to resign as club President and look for other educational opportunities by the means of transferring to a new institution," he wrote.

Diaz's announcement was made shortly after LU Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. announced that the university decided that club sponsor Maria Childress could no longer work directly with students in light of her several misdemeanor convictions last month, including misdemeanor assault, disorderly conduct and trespassing.

"I don't think we could have her serving as an adviser and working with them (the students) on a day-to-day basis," Falwell said Friday, according to the Lychnburg News Advance. "I think it would raise concerns with parents if people with violent criminal convictions in the last year were working with students. So I don't think we could do that."

Childress, however, said that she feels the school was using her convictions last month to justify her removal as club sponsor and that the charges stemmed from a domestic dispute with her ex-father-in-law over visitation with her daughter.

"They had witnesses, I did not," she told the News Advance. "It is what it is."

Regardless, Falwell said Friday that the College Democrats must find a new sponsor if it wants official recognition from the college – something that the club has been working to regain after losing it last month due to the stance of their "parent organization" and the political candidates they support.

For the past several weeks, LU and the College Democrats officials have been working to find a compromise that will allow the student-run club to once again be an officially recognized organization on campus.

Though the College Democrats received recognition last October, they were informed by LU Student Affairs VP Mark Hine last month that they could no longer be recognized after a new policy on club governance was completed, adopted, and made effective by the Liberty University School of Law.

The new policy, which Hine said the College Democrats did not comply with, states: "No student club or organization shall be approved, recognized or permitted to meet on campus, advertise, distribute or post materials, or use University facilities if the statements, positions, doctrines, policies, constitutions, bylaws, platforms, activities or events of such club or organization, its parent, affiliate, chapter or similarly named group (even if the similarly named group is not the actual parent, affiliate or chapter) are inconsistent or in conflict with the distinctly Christian mission of the University, the Liberty Way, the Honor Code, or the policies and procedures promulgated by the University."

Though the College Democrats are explicitly pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, they also support candidates whose views may clash with those of the fundamentalist Christian school. One such politician is President Barack Obama, who the group had been rallying behind during the presidential campaign.

In a statement passed along to LU officials last week, Childress offered a lengthy list of proposals, including agreement to take no funds from the Student Government Association (SGA), to not endorse candidates as a group but only as individuals, and to continue to "explicitly state that they are pro-life out of personal conviction and respect for the University and what it stands for."

"LUCD will pledge its support to a pro-life and pro-traditional form of marriage and would like conduct no less than one event each semester that promotes the message of one of these agendas," she added, touching upon the two issues that Mat Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law, claimed were the main reason behind the College Democrats' change of status.

"Liberty will not lend its name or funds to support any group - Republican, Democrat, Independent or non-political - that supports abortion or same-sex marriage," Staver had said to set the record straight on the situation amid misreports. "Liberty's action has nothing to do with favoring Republicans or Democrats."

LU officials have yet to respond to the College Democrats' latest proposals and it wasn't immediately clear how the resignation of Diaz as president would affect negotiations and whether Childress' dismissal was by the university or by the club.

But Childress had noted last week that the club's members "believe it to be logistically impossible to function as a student group without the ability to reserve space on campus for our meetings."

"This remains a major hurdle to functioning as an unendorsed club," she wrote in explaining why it was important for the club to regain recognition.

On Tuesday, Falwell said the club and school were working out details for the club's constitution.

Correction: Monday, June 22, 2009:

An article on Sunday, June 21, 2009, about the resignation of the College Democrats' president incorrectly reported the circumstances under which the student-run club's sponsor, Maria Childress, was dismissed. According to an e-mail that was distributed by Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. to the press shortly before this article's publication, it was the club's members who voted to dismiss Childress, not LU.