Resistance is mounting in Northfield to the prospect that a campus once owned by a local prep school could soon belong to a university founded by Jerry Falwell, the late Moral Majority founder.
The fate of the Northfield campus, formerly owned by Northfield Mount Hermon School, remains uncertain as its Oklahoma owners continue to receive proposals from Christian organizations across the country.
About 25 Northfield residents gathered Sunday at a Main Street home to discuss concerns about a possible transfer of the 217-acre campus to Liberty University of Lynchburg, Va. They agreed to request a meeting with the property’s current owners and launch a website to keep the community informed on who is looking at the campus.
“What makes [Liberty] a really bad fit is the matter of bigotry against certain groups, [namely] gays and lesbians,’’ said Northfield resident Nancy Champoux, a retired teacher who attended the meeting. “Unless we’re all involved [in finding a good fit], it’s really unlikely this is going to work out well for anyone.’’
Liberty emerged last month as a leading contender to receive - free of charge - the campus that the Northfield Mount Hermon School sold for $100,000 in 2009 to the billionaire Green family of Oklahoma City. The Greens, who own the Hobby Lobby craft store chain and have donated to Liberty in the past, have invested $5 million in improvements to the Northfield campus and intend to give it to one or more Christian institutions.
Sunday’s meeting came on the heels of other efforts to make sure Liberty is not chosen. Last week, more than 1,000 Mount Hermon alumni petitioned the school’s board of trustees to protest the prospect of Liberty getting the campus.
In their petition, Mount Hermon alumni described Liberty as “an extremist, homophobic, and intellectually narrow institution’’ that would not honor the legacy of evangelist D.L. Moody, who built the campus as a school for girls in 1879.
The Northfield Mount Hermon board of trustees, however, has no plans to intervene.
“As the owner of the Northfield campus, Hobby Lobby naturally has the right to determine the new user or owner of the Northfield campus,’’ the board said in a statement Friday.
Liberty University declined to comment on the petition, according to Liberty spokeswoman Mitzi Bible.
Jerry Pattengale, a college administrator hired by the Greens to help find a new owner for the property, said concerns expressed about Liberty’s compatibility with the local community may factor into the decision about who will get it.
The Greens bought the property with the intention to give it to the C.S. Lewis Foundation, which planned to establish a college on site. But those plans stumbled in December, when the foundation, based in Redlands, Calif., fell far short of its $5 million fund-raising target. Since early January, the Greens have been soliciting new proposals.
Liberty’s 40-year track record and enrollment of 80,000 students, including almost 70,000 online students, make it a strong contender.
But the Greens are not treating the campus’s destiny as a fait accompli. Last week, California’s Olivet University sent a delegation to tour the campus, which the evangelical school would operate along with two partner institutions.
“It was a very large group - very, very promising,’’ said Pattengale.
Recent visits suggest the Greens are considering a diverse set of candidates within orthodox Christianity, as defined by adherence to all of the tenets of the Nicene Creed. They have hosted the Atlanta-based Interdenominational Theological Center, a consortium of six historically African-American seminaries and theology schools. Two pastors representing Presbyterian churches in Massachusetts have also toured, Pattengale said.
He did not identify all the institutions.
This week, a mainline Protestant denomination is expected to visit, Pattengale said.
The Greens could make a decision this spring, he said.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald can be reached at email@example.com.