Mass. alumni don't want Liberty to get free campus

(RNS) Rankled at the prospect that "extremist" Liberty University might soon own the campus where they spent their prep school years, alumni of Northfield Mount Hermon School are petitioning to stop it.

In a letter posted Monday (March 5), more than 570 NMH graduates are calling on Mark Chardack, chair of the NMH board of trustees, to help ensure that when the 217-acre property is given away by a wealthy Christian family, it doesn't end up in the hands of a "homophobic and intellectually narrow institution."

"We 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," the letter says.

Neither Chardack nor Northfield Mount Hermon -- that currently operates on a separate nearby campus -- responded immediately to requests for comment.

The petition comes as the Green family of Oklahoma City reviews proposals from about a dozen institutions, including Liberty, that have expressed interest in the campus. The Greens bought the 43-building campus in 2009 for $100,000, invested $5 million in improvements and aim to give it away -- free of charge -- to one or more orthodox Christian institutions.

Until recently, the Greens had planned to give the property to the Redlands, Calif.-based C.S. Lewis Foundation, which aimed to establish a new C.S. Lewis College on the site. But those plans collapsed when the foundation fell far short of its target to raise $5 million by the end of 2011.

Since early January, the Greens have been soliciting proposals from hand-picked institutions that are believed to have enough financial strength to run the campus. Liberty, with 80,000 students online and on its Lynchburg, Va. campus, quickly emerged as a leading contender.

"We suggested maybe several schools could work together to jointly use the property for different programs and put together a proposal along those lines," said Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. He said the school is interested in operating a satellite campus, not proselytizing in the largely secular hills of western New England.

Evangelical schools are especially drawn to the campus, which was founded in 1879 by famed evangelist D.L. Moody. But alumni say NMH would "fail to honor D.L. Moody's true legacy" if the school were to stand by silently and let Liberty move in.

"We had reconciled ourselves to the possible arrival of a new college created by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, believing it a relatively compatible intellectual fit," the petitioners wrote.

But they object to a school founded by the late Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, whose "legacy is the policies handed down to the Christian far right today. ... These ideas (are) divisive and hateful."