College Democrats Vote Off Club Sponsor; Embrace New LU Policy

It was student members of the College Democrats at Liberty University that voted to dismiss their sponsor, not the Lynchburg, Va.-based institution, according to an official of the student-run club.

And the announced resignation of the club's president, Brian Diaz, was unexpected and made without having run past any of the College Democrats' members, though he used the club's logo in the statement he sent to the press.

"He (Diaz) sent out this press release to members of the media about 20 minutes after telling me that he wanted to stay with LUCD and work towards a solution," College Democrats Secretary Jan Michael Dervish informed LU Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. this past weekend after hearing of Diaz's resignation.

"This happened after the vote to continue without Maria," he added, referring to the club's former sponsor, Maria Childress.

In the press release late Friday, 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.

But Falwell, on Sunday, offered his own explanation as to why Diaz had stepped down, revealing that Diaz had allowed a high-level Democratic Party official to secretly listen in on a meeting between College Democrats leaders and LU officials.

"I believe Brian and Maria were being used by local and state Democratic Party officials to spread misinformation and blow this entire matter completely out of proportion," Falwell informed the media Sunday. "When Maria was voted out by the club, Brian apparently decided he could not continue the drama on his own even with the help of party officials."

For the past several weeks, LU and 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 while also battling against the spread of false information and rumors.

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, then-sponsor Childress offered a lengthy list of proposals on behalf of the club, 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 LU officials claimed were the main reason behind the College Democrats' change of status.

But more than the issues of abortion and marriage, Falwell said last week that the club had to find a new sponsor if it wanted to regain official recognition.

Falwell said 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, the club voted Friday to continue without Childress as it drew nearer to the conclusion of the sensationalized drama that unfolded over the past several weeks.

According to Darvish, "the College Democrat disagreement is basically over" with a proposed change in university policy that Falwell was set to announce over the past weekend.

If accepted, the new policy would put the College Democrats and the school's College Republicans on equal footing as unofficial clubs recognized by the university.

The policy would also not require the clubs to have a sponsor, thus making the dismissal of Childress "a moot point now," according to Falwell.

It was not immediately known when the earliest the new policy could be adopted and put into effect.