University or Militia? Cedarville Jumps the Shark

It’s a reasonable assumption, I think, to believe that any institution proclaiming a collective concern for the sanctity of human life would make a diligent effort to apply that concern consistently. At Cedarville University, however, that consistency is in serious question. Case in point? The school’s decision to open a $6 million dollar shooting facility on campus to support Chi Sigma Nu, its new marksmanship club. According to Chi Sigma Nu, this facility will host marksmanship classes in addition to a state-of-the-art firing range.

Faculty members have been pressured not to sponsor College Democrats, but Chi Sigma Nu enjoys faculty and staff support in addition to the explicit approval of the university administration. An administration that, allegedly, is so strapped for cash that it found itself forced to scrap its entire philosophy program and fired 29 employees total over the past academic year. An administration that for decades refused to bring itself into compliance with basic Title IX guidelines on rape, assault and harassment reporting policies suddenly found the wherewithal to rapidly organize itself in support of a firing range.

Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s almost unbelievable: Cedarville’s administration has claimed for a solid year that it needs to cut $4 million from its budget in order to survive is now going to raise $6 million from various sponsors not to keep its philosophy department, but to build a firing range. And I suppose they’ve got a point. You don’t really need to be a philosopher to shoot a gun. George Zimmerman has certainly demonstrated that for us all.

But Cedarville’s skewed priorities have broader implications. They demonstrate, with terrifying clarity, the crippling inconsistently of the religious right. In a country reeling from Aurora, from Newtown, from Trayvon Martin to the daily bloodbaths in our urban centers Cedarville students have not organized themselves to demand sensible gun control or even a collective show of sympathy for victims of gun violence. At a university that proclaims at every opportunity its dedication to the sanctity of human life, the discrepancy between its views on abortion and its views on violence is the natural consequence of an academic atmosphere that hinders, rather than encourages, critical thought.

A recent Gun World article hailing Chi Sigma Nu reveals the depths of this discrepancy. Molly Parvin, wife of Don Parvin, the President of the Board of Directors for the Cedarville Marksmanship Adult and Student Organizations, described the student group’s launch:  “People were coming out of the woodwork asking to join CMC (Cedarville Marksmanship Club).

“We hadn’t planned to start a student group (Chi Sigma Nu) so soon, but there was clearly a need.”

Need. An interesting word, given the context. Did Cedarville University really need a student marksmanship club and firing range? Expand the question: did Ohio really need (another) marksmanship club and firing range? Available statistics on gun violence in the state suggest that the real need isn’t another firing range but rather a radical shift in cultural attitudes toward firearms. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the state experienced 11,500 firearm-related deaths from 2000-2010. The same report states that firearms were present in 70% of all homicides in 2010.

It seems self-evident that Ohio needs fewer guns, not a $6 million dollar firing range at Cedarville University.

Of further concern is the explicitly religious aspect of this project. In the same Gun World piece, Tom Mohler, a Cedarville alumni and CMC board member, stated that: “It’s not just about how to shoot straight; it’s also about individual responsibility and our obligations to each other as human beings. Because Cedarville is a Christian university, there will be a natural spiritual component to the (marksmanship) classes and to student activities at the range.

“Plus, by using shooting sports as a way to help all ages gain confidence, skill and a greater sense of accountability to their fellow man, we also help individuals embrace the life that God has planned for them. We think that’s a worthwhile mission.”

John Falldorf, another CMC board member, reiterated this religious motivation: “…The bottom line is that, even though this is a local range in small-town Ohio, it will have a national ripple effect because of its cutting-edge technologies and traditional ideals. What you have here in little old Cedarville is a project that educates young people, supports our soldiers and police officers, uplifts those with handicaps, and goes a long way toward strengthening and preserving our Second Amendment rights.”

I have a ‘handicap’ (chronic illness, in my case) and I fail to see how I’m uplifted by this particular endeavor, but that’s a tale for another day. I’m primarily concerned by the overtly religious rhetoric put forward by the adult organizers of Chi Sigma Nu. To these organizers, this marksmanship club is clearly a religious endeavor, to such an extent that religion will be inextricably embedded within marksmanship instruction. The implication? Cedarville’s culture warriors aren’t merely content to arm themselves with the Scriptures. Now they carry AR-15s.

As an alumna, I have several open questions for Cedarville’s administration regarding this firing range and the organization of Chi Sigma Nu. Based on the university’s track record of failing to address alumni concerns, I am not confident that my questions will receive answers. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to give the administration a fair chance to respond.

1. Will any funding for this firing range come from Cedarville University itself, or will the funds be raised entirely from outside sources?
2. How does a firing range and marksmanship club fit with the university’s pro-life politics?
3. Will there be any events, campaigns or classes to educate students about gun violence and gun control initiatives?
4. What specifically will Cedarville students be taught in these marksmanship classes?
5. Why is it necessary to host the gun range on campus? Given certain prominent incidents of gun violence at schools and universities, this seems unwise.

I encourage other alumni to direct similar questions at the university. The timing of this organization and associated campus facility is highly suspect given the university’s insistent claims that it has no money to spare for the development of its existing academic programs.

The ideological inconsistency should be of additional concern. As the nation reels from the Trayvon Martin trial and mass murders facilitated by guns, it is inconceivable that a Christian university would throw its support behind an unnecessary firing range, and not the social justice and peace and reconciliation efforts the area actually needs.