Page 2 of 5   <       >

Taking the Bob Out of Bob Jones U.

"I don't think so," he says, laughing. "I will be praying for the opposition."

This raises the question: What next? Will Bob Jones University start permitting students to play rock-and-roll? Or hold hands? Or even, God forbid, kiss?

Rules Are Rules

"It's not that there's anything wrong with kissing," says Jonathan Pait, BJU's community relations coordinator. "It's not a sin. It's just that we have a different focus."

Pait is explaining the famous dating rules. The outside world is fascinated by BJU's rules but Pait gets tired of talking about them.

The rules are codified in the student handbook, but the rules forbid giving the handbook to outsiders. "Outsiders don't understand the context of the rules," Pait explains.

The context is BJU's mission, which is to give students a "Christlike character." Anything that interferes with that goal is forbidden. That includes smoking, drinking, dancing, gambling, TVs in dorm rooms, uncensored Internet access and most modern music, including rock, rap, country, jazz -- even Christian music if it has a "sensual" beat. The rules also forbid coming to class in jeans, shorts or skirts that don't cover the knee. No late-night dorm-room bull sessions either; at midnight it's lights out and keep quiet.

These rules are not controversial on campus, Pait says. More than 80 percent of the 4,800 students come from either Christian schools or were home-schooled, and they're used to strict rules. Also, many of the students are the offspring of BJU graduates. "There are a lot of third -generation students," Pait says.

It's a sunny spring afternoon, and he is driving slowly around the impeccably groomed 200-acre campus in his red BMW, pointing out the sights. There's the computer science building . . . the fitness center . . . the greenhouse . . . the 7,000-seat "amphitorium," where students stage elaborate productions of operas and Shakespeare plays . . . and the university museum, which contains one of the world's greatest collections of baroque religious art.

Pait points out the university's academic spinoffs: a Bob Jones preschool, Bob Jones Elementary School, Bob Jones Junior High School, and a 600-student high school called Bob Jones Academy.

It's possible to go from preschool to a PhD and never attend a school that isn't named after Bob Jones. In fact, BJU's next president, Stephen Jones, did exactly that.

BJU also runs a textbook publishing company and a business that produces video classes for Christian schools and home schools. BJU won't reveal how many textbooks it sells, but it will reveal how many pounds of books it sold last year: 3.5 million.

The textbooks help attract students to BJU, which offers 120 majors -- such secular subjects as accounting, English and interior design, plus religious courses like Bible evangelism and missionary aviation.

<       2              >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company