June 20, 2005


GOD AND COUNTRY: A college that trains young Christians to be politicians. (HANNA ROSIN, 2005-06-27, The New Yorker)

In the last days before the 2004 Presidential election, Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville, Virginia, excused all its students from classes, because so many of them were working on campaigns or wanted to go to the swing states to get out the vote for George W. Bush. Elisa Muench, a junior, was interning in the White House’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, which is overseen by Karl Rove. On Election Day, she stood on the South Lawn with the rest of the White House staff to greet the President and Mrs. Bush as they returned from casting their votes in Texas. Muench cheered along with everyone else, but she was worried. Her office was “keeping up contact with Karl,” and she knew that the early exit polls were worse than expected. Through the night, she watched the results, as Bush’s electoral-vote total began to rise. The next morning, after Kerry conceded, she stood in the crowd at the Bush campaign’s victory party, in clothes she’d been wearing all night, and “cried and screamed and laughed, it was so overwhelming.”

I found Muench in the Patrick Henry cafeteria at lunchtime one day a few months later. She is twenty-one years old and has clear, bright hazel eyes and sandy-brown hair that she straightens and then curls with an iron. Patrick Henry is a Christian college, though it is not affiliated with any denomination, and it gives students guidelines on “glorifying God with their appearance.” During class hours, the college enforces a “business casual” dress code designed to prepare the students for office life—especially for offices in Washington, D.C., fifty miles to the east, where almost all the students have internships, with Republican politicians or in conservative think tanks. When I met Muench, she was wearing a cardigan and a navy skirt. The boys in the cafeteria all had neatly trimmed hair, and wore suits or khakis and button-down shirts; girls wore slacks or skirts just below the knee, and sweaters or blouses. Most said grace before eating, though they did it silently and discreetly, with a quick bow of the head. [...]

Muench, like eighty-five per cent of the students at Patrick Henry, was homeschooled, in her case in rural Idaho. Homeschoolers are not the most obvious raw material for a college whose main mission, since its founding, five years ago, has been to train a new generation of Christian politicians. Politics, after all, is the most social of professions, and many students arrive at Patrick Henry having never shared a classroom with anyone other than their siblings. In conservative circles, however, homeschoolers are considered something of an élite, rough around the edges but pure—in their focus, capacity for work, and ideological clarity—a view that helps explain why the Republican establishment has placed its support behind Patrick Henry, and why so many conservative politicians are hiring its graduates.

Patrick Henry’s president, Michael Farris, is a lawyer and minister who has worked for Christian causes for decades. He founded the school after getting requests from two constituencies: homeschooling parents and conservative congressmen. The parents would ask him where they could find a Christian college with a “courtship” atmosphere, meaning one where dating is regulated and subject to parental approval. The congressmen asked him where they could find homeschoolers as interns and staffers, “which I took to be shorthand for ‘someone who shares my values,’ ” Farris said. “And I knew they didn’t want a fourteen-year-old kid.” So he set out to build what he calls the Evangelical Ivy League, and what the students call Harvard for Homeschoolers.

In fifty years Harvard will be calling itself Henry for Heathens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 20, 2005 3:27 PM

When I was an MIT undergrad I was jealous of one of my friends, who had a t-shirt from T-shirt that sported the MIT logo and the words: "MIT: Tennessee Tech of the North".

I'd like to have a "Harvard: Patrick Henry College for Heathens" t-shirt to wear around the Yard.

Posted by: pj at June 20, 2005 3:47 PM

"During class hours, the college enforces a business casual dress code designed to prepare the students for office life"

Well, that sounds like a barrel of laughs.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at June 20, 2005 3:54 PM

The secret is that Harvard is living off its reputation. It provides a worse education to undergraduates than almost any other big name school (other than Brown, which doesn't even pretend to try). It is almost certain that an undergraduate will recieve a better education at almost any of the mainline state universities (e.g. Ohio State, UNH, U Mass, U Nameit).

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 20, 2005 4:02 PM

That Muench chick is a scream.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 20, 2005 4:15 PM

it sounds like it is preparing battery hens for a life of laying (pace ali). with telecommuting so prevalent nowadays, these stay at home types won't ever have to face that mean old world.

Posted by: cjm at June 20, 2005 5:24 PM

This is not very different from how universities were run prior to the canker sore that was the 1960s, so I don't understand why people are getting so snarky.

As for me, I don't believe colleges should provide housing and certainly shouldn't be imposing rules on adults away from home. The wisest thing any kid can do is move off campus, especially in the phony world that colleges have created for their kids. At one time, they were like Patrick Henry, too strict, but today they are like letting people live in a theme park, which is if anything more harmful.

But that's a matter of personal opinion, not something I would make a part of the law.

Posted by: bart at June 21, 2005 7:34 PM

They are theme parks. The educations available are worthless outside of the hard sciences.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 8:10 PM

anyone who doesn't have the time of their life at college/uni is a sad soul indeed. guess they are saving up to go wild when they hit 50, and get the corvette and gold chains.

Posted by: cjm at June 21, 2005 11:13 PM