Painful Evolutions Required: Wayne’s Story

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Wayne” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

I am a graduate of Patrick Henry College. Moreover, I am a recent graduate – I didn’t go through the schism. Many of the stories critical of PHC come from those who lived through that time, and many of those defending the school come from those currently attending.

I hope to offer a perspective that “splits the difference.”

There will be many in the PHC community who will immediately write this off as the complaint of yet another of the “bitter alumni.” That’s an in-house pejorative frequently applied to PHC grads who openly criticize the school. To preempt this narrative, I would like to observe up front that I am not a disaffected former student taking out my recession-inspired frustration on the institution. At PHC, I worked hard, received good grades, and graduated with honors. I participated on multiple forensics teams, including the celebrated moot court squad, and was accepted to my top-choice graduate program. By most metrics, I had a very successful outcome.

In many ways, I regret attending PHC. In others, I do not.

(Some background: I did not have the extremely conservative homeschooling background many on this website experienced. My parents are successful professionals and committed Christians who truly live out the call of their faith to love others. They are two of the most exceptional people I’ve ever met. Accordingly, my homeschool experience was both spiritually positive and academically enriching. I’m also a straight white male, so my perspective is certainly limited compared to the experiences of others who have written here.)

As a student interested in pursuing a public-policy career, I thought PHC was a perfect fit. I was, unfortunately, incorrect. In my view, PHC must confront and overcome three major issues if it hopes to succeed in the future and avoid the serious problems of its past: 1) lack of meaningful academic engagement, 2) administrative authoritarianism, and 3) corrosive student culture.

Before discussing these, however, I wish to highlight some of the positive aspects of my time at PHC.

Positive Elements

During my time at PHC, I met a number of very exceptional people with similar backgrounds and, in many cases, similar convictions. (I still consider myself a committed Christian, though I have renounced the “evangelical” subculture). Furthermore, the school’s Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Frank Guliuzza, served as both a mentor and a personal friend to me. Over and over, Dr. Guliuzza exemplified the very best ideals of Christianity, offering both compassion to the broken-down and guidance to the highly motivated.

I do not know if I would have met the same concentration of incredible people elsewhere. In some ways, PHC’s lack of “diversity” ensured that many of us shared common ground and common experiences. Accordingly, when we faced challenges, we developed uniquely close bonds. I can say with complete honesty that I would die for many of the friends I made at PHC.

And despite the presumed inferiority of any supposed “liberal arts” education delivered within such a rigidly doctrinaire framework, PHC is not an easy school (something which many of its detractors fail to appreciate). The coursework is objectively rigorous (at least in many upper- level government major classes), and the success of the school’s forensics programs speaks for itself.

Having outlined many of the positive elements of my experience, I move now to consider the challenges the school faces.

Lack of Academic Engagement

I first developed concerns on this front during freshman year. Even as a new student, I understood that censoring Michelangelo’s “David” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” – with black boxes around the genital areas – was contrary to the purposes of a classical liberal arts education. PHC’s overprotective and intrusive Internet filtering system extended to “tasteless” material (as defined by whom?) and blocked any discussions of drug legalization as a matter of policy. The perspectives of contemporary Catholics and Orthodox Christians were largely absent from the curriculum, as were the contributions of minorities and non-Western cultures to philosophy, history, science, religion, and the arts. Moreover, students were expressly forbidden from making a case for same-sex marriage, even as purely a matter of public policy (Student Handbook

This is not how any “liberal arts education” should be conducted, but it is the inevitable consequence of maintaining a rigid Statement of Faith interpreted solely by the College’s senior leadership.

Administrative Authoritarianism

The school’s priority, above all else, appeared to be maintaining its pristine image as the “Christian Ivy League.” This objective naturally conflicted both with valuing students as individual persons and producing scholarly research which may challenge the established consensus.

I frequently felt that my political views and opinions, which emphasize personal liberty in one’s private life and affairs, were unwelcome on campus. Moreover, I was constantly afraid that any expression of views deemed “problematic” would be relayed to the ever-present Office of Student Life. It is impossible to convey the particularly sickening, stomach-churning dread that somewhere, someone is judging your attitude and spiritual condition. No student in higher education should face that kind of fear on a daily basis.

I hold the Office of Student Life directly responsible for creating a climate of paranoia among students whose views differ from the established consensus. There was no counterpoint to this authoritarianism; the college “newspaper” was censored beyond belief, clearly forbidden to print anything critical of the College or the administration (this last point was not the fault of the staff or supervising professor, but of the College’s higher authorities).

If I had been female, it would have been far worse. I witnessed the shaming of girls by their Resident Assistants – who obsessively sought, as a “Mean Girls”-style means of social retribution, to dress-code them for made-up modesty violations. I listened to chapel messages stating that the responsibility of women was to “control their beauty.” Further discussion of the gender issue is properly the domain of others, however.

As a final example, the administration recently decided to institute an electronic “card scan system” to monitor chapel attendance. The rationale? Attendance numbers reflected that 81% of the student body was attending chapel, rather than the (apparently more acceptable) 85%. I find such an approach – as well as the policy of mandatory daily chapel – a disgrace to worship.

Frankly, I find much of the “big issues” on campus laughable in retrospect – but at PHC, they’re spoken of with dead seriousness and an absurd level of self-righteous pomposity.

Corrosive Student Culture

This is necessarily a highly subjective question, but one which I feel warrants some discussion. A few highlights based on instances I personally witnessed:

  • My personal focus on obtaining good grades and planning for my future career was condemned by other students as unspiritual and utilitarian.
  • Some students outright refused to argue certain topics, even hypothetically, in parliamentary debate rounds (i.e. resolutions in which they may be required to construct a theoretical case for abortion rights). They were subsequently celebrated for their moral courage, rather than encouraged to think through both sides of crucial issues or advised to leave the league. (PHC tuition dollars funded the cross-country travel of these students.)
  • Student “Resident Assistants” betrayed personal confidences to the Office of Student Life, which in turn betrayed those confidences to other Resident Assistants.
  • A large subset of PHC culture expected that fathers give permission for their adult daughters to go out on dates.
  • Many students attributed mental health issues to “spiritual warfare” and “demonic activity,” creating a climate of distrust for modern medicine.
  • Students were taught, and routinely promulgated to others, the toxic idea that the school administration may claim spiritual authority over its students. The school rules expressly forbid public criticism of professors, based on the rationale that such activity “violates the Biblical principle of submission to the authorities whom God has put over us.” (Student Life Handbook, 2.1.2).


My objective in writing this is not to exact some sort of retribution. After all, I and my friends are graduates. I seek to identify some serious problems that persist at PHC and suggest that the school recognize these, taking steps to reform itself accordingly. Such changes are absolutely not incompatible with the Christian faith that the school professes, but may require some painful evolutions: as long as the school’s current administrative figureheads remain in power and remain committed to inflexibility, genuine reform will likely be stonewalled.

I deeply care about many of the people involved in my PHC experience – both those currently attending and those who have graduated. If you are a current student at PHC and this story resonates with you, I hope you realize that you are not alone. Others have wondered the same things, asked the same questions, and faced the same unknowns. Do not accept the narrative that all alumni are angry, pathologically bitter individuals whose post-PHC lives have stalled; I think I speak for many PHC graduates when I say that we sincerely care about you. Please reach out to us. Hear our stories before you make snap judgments about our character or motivations.

When all is said and done, there are two directions a Christian college such as PHC may pursue: embrace the simplistic model of Bob Jones University/Pensacola Christian College, and choke off dissent in the name of ideological purity; or take the path of Wheaton and many others, encouraging cultural engagement while recognizing that all students will not fit into cookie-cutter molds. PHC is clearly caught between these two competing impulses.

One can only hope the school chooses to take the harder, but necessary, road toward reform.

When Michael Farris Threatened To Send The FBI After A Homeschool Kid

When Michael Farris Threatened To Send The FBI After A Homeschool Kid

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


“Once upon a time, long before Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, there was a web blogging service called Xanga.”

~NBC, June 2013


It was the beginning of December last year when the words lit up my computer screen like lights on a Christmas tree:


I had no idea what QueerPHC was. But I knew Patrick Henry College. It was that college I thought about going to back when I competed in NCFCA. Honestly, apart from a few friends from my debate days going to PHC, I hadn’t given as much as a passing thought to PHC in the years since.

In fact, I probably would still be unaware of happenings at PHC — still unaware of the existence of QueerPHC — if it were not for Michael Farris.

So in a sense, I need to thank Michael Farris for bringing QueerPHC to my attention. If Farris never threatened to sue the group, I — like a lot of people, probably — wouldn’t have known anything about it.

But threaten to sue he did. And that is why I am writing this story.

A little background information:

In July of 2012, a group of Patrick Henry College alumni got together and created a blog. Their very first blog post was on July 3, where they said:

“This is a collaborative blog produced by several Patrick Henry College (PHC) students, current and former. We, being a group of people, do have varying opinions and beliefs, but one thing we do share in common is our desire to help and encourage other Patrick Henry College students, current and former, in any way that we can.”

The purpose of the blog was to provide education and information about LGBT issues, because PHC itself did not offer such education and information:

“Patrick Henry College does not offer courses in Queer Studies, Sex Ed, or Gender Equality. However, these are issues that are of pressing importance in our culture today and are of importance to us personally. We hope to use this blog to provide information on those topics that are taboo at PHC.”

For the next few months, Queer PHC posted about a variety of issues, all without any public disturbance from PHC itself. The pseudonymous writing team of Kate Kane, Captain Jack, and Alan Scott wrote about growing up queer, people denying the existence of LGBT people, ex-gay therapy, and how the student newspaper, Patrick Henry College Herald, addressed homosexuality issues.

But then the proverbial shit hit the metaphorical fan.

Over the first weekend in December, Michael Farris, the college’s chancellor, used his own Facebook page to contact Queer PHC and threaten them with a lawsuit:

Photo from Queer PHC.
Photo from Queer PHC.

Text is,

This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College. You are hereby notified that you must remove this page at once. On Monday we will began [sic] the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In this process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.

Find another way to communicate your message without using the term ‘Patrick Henry College’ in any manner.”

The problems with what Farris said and did are astounding. Not only is this a completely nonsensical interpretation of copyright law, not only is it slightly outrageous that Farris would pretty much threaten to “out” the individuals behind the group, but Farris used a personal Facebook page to communicate a legal threat on behalf of an entire college. Did he consult with the college’s board before making a legal threat on behalf of the college? Did they approve of the Facebook message? (Were they even aware of it beforehand?) These are important questions, especially considering what happened next.

What happened next was the Streisand effect. So incomprehensible was Farris’ strategy of internet bullying and censorship based on false legal issues that his threat suddenly exploded — Gangnam style — across the Internet.

On December 3, New York Magazine immediately scooped the story. Then the local newspaper. Then a flurry of bloggers, including Libby Anne at Patheos. Then Inside Higher Ed. Then the Chronicle of Higher Education. Even the New York Times picked it up.

Of course, as soon as the controversy started (and probably once the PHC board realized what a bizarre and inappropriate action Farris had undertaken), Farris recanted — this time through a public comment on Queer PHC’s status:

Photo from Queer PHC.

But it was too late. The PR damage had begun.

When I heard about Farris threatening a perfectly legal Facebook group with an unfounded, frivolous lawsuit, I was floored. What better way to damage the credibility and reputation of not only PHC, but the homeschooling movement, by using abusive techniques like threatening fellow professed Christians with erroneous legal action? Not only fellow professed Christians, but your own former students?

But something about what Farris did to Queer PHC didn’t feel surprising. In fact, it felt familiar.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I was having a sense of deja vu.

Eventually, it struck me. And I went searching through my vast archive of saved emails from my old Hotmail account. And I found it.

In the early 2000s, when all of us homeschool speech and debate alumni were either still in high school or just beginning college, we socialized on Xanga. Xanga is to social media what Grandmaster Flash is to rap: really, really old school. Created in 1999, Xanga was around before Facebook, even pre-dating when most of us were on Myspace. Xanga was kind of like an public online diary: you could make posts, like other peoples’ posts, and subscribe to other people to stay connected. And that was about it.

(And yes, if you’re morbidly curious, my Xanga is still up. So feel free to search my teenage angst and amateur attempts at poetry, philosophy, theology, and public diary-writing for evidence you can use against me in the future.)

I created my Xanga profile on March 18, 2004. Most of my close friends from NCFCA and CFC had Xanga accounts as well. As this was really the beginning of social media, there weren’t really any parents using Xanga. It was primarily a teenage activity.

After a few months, two separate individuals created parody Michael Farris accounts. One was created on May 28, 2004. The other was created on July 26, 2004. (As you can see from these links, the accounts have since been scrubbed clean.) I don’t really remember much from the later account that was created, but I remember the first one because a friend of mine made it. It was clearly marked as a parody account, did not attempt to impersonate Farris to deceive anyone, and wasn’t even “offensive.” While a lot of us debaters were “punks” in one sense or another, we were still conservative Christian homeschoolers. So my friend’s parody account of Michael Farris did not involve things like dick jokes. I remember Fake Farris’s posts being along the lines of “I AM MICHAEL FARRIS AND OMG HOMESCHOOLING WILL SAVE THE WORLD!!!”

You know, immature attempts at ironic comedy that failed miserably. But again, nothing that even came close to slander. Nor identity theft. As it clearly stated it was a parody account, it didn’t even violate Xanga’s technical terms of use.

In 2004, on Xanga, you could “subscribe” to other peoples’ accounts. This would be the equivalent of “liking” or “following” a Facebook page today. Since I was one of the only people that used my real name on Xanga, and I was subscribed to the michael_farris parody account, I was the only person that Farris could recognize to contact about the account.

Oh yes, he contacted me about the parody account! Perhaps I just got ahead of myself. In 2004, Michael Farris — President of Patrick Henry College — was apparently monitoring what high school homeschool debaters were doing on a social media site. And as soon as he saw a parody account of himself, he went into militant mode.

On Wednesday, July 28, 2004, nearly a decade before he employed erroneous legal threats against Queer PHC, Michael Farris emailed me. In another way that this parallels the QueerPHC debacle, Farris contacted me with his official “PHC Office of the President” email address. The following is a screenshot of what he said, along with the text:

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 1.50.00 AM

Text is,

From: “PHC Office of the President” <>

To: <>

Subject: Ryan is this you?

Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 17:17:34 -0400


This is Mike Farris–the real one from Patrick Henry College.

I see you as a subscriber to a xanga website named Michael_Farris. Your posts there seem to indicate that you know who this is who is running this.

I just went through a difficult time shutting down another xanga site called “michaelfarris”.

I am prepared to take civil and criminal legal action against this person. Identity theft is a crime. It is also subject to civil action (if for no other reason) than it violates Xanga’s terms of use. I want your acquaintance to save himself a lot of legal grief.

Here’s what he needs to do. Delete absolutely everything from the site. Then, send me the password to the site so that I can take control of it so that neither he nor anyone else can ever steal my identity in this manner again. If he does this I absolutely promise I will take no action of any kind against him. If he does not do so (and do so promptly) I will go after him with vigor.

It may seem funny to some, but it is not funny in the least to me. I will turn this over to the FBI if I have to. But seems it seems pretty obvious that this person is or was an NCFCA debater I wanted to try to quietly end the problem without the need for drastic measures.

Can you help?

Mike Farris

Yes, almost a decade before Michael Farris tried to bully and threaten Queer PHC with a frivolous lawsuit because he didn’t like what they were doing, Farris also threatened a Christian homeschool kid with civil and criminal action — even going so far as to invoke the FBI. As if the FBI would’ve given a @#$% about some kid’s Xanga account in 2004. But we were young. We had no idea. I was terrified. I immediately told my friend. He was terrified as well. What Michael Farris hoped to accomplish — using inaccurate legal concepts to coerce a highschooler into turning over the account information to a perfectly legal parody account — was successful.

A decade later, Farris apparently still uses the same tactics.

The funny thing is, this email I received would’ve likely slipped away into oblivion, covered by the dust of my long-forgotten memories. But in the same way that Queer PHC’s existence occurred to me because of Farris’ threat against the group, my remembrance of the email was likewise resurrected. To some, the very fact that I am bringing it into the open might seem petty and vindictive. But I do not reveal it for those purposes.

I am publicizing this email because of the trend I have repeatedly seen from the leaders of the Christian homeschooling movement. I am remembering the censorship employed by NCFCA leaders when forensics alumni, coaches, and students attempted to protest BJU’s history of institutionalized racism. I am remembering a personal censorship, which I will talk about next week during our Resolved: series. I am remembering how Farris went after Queer PHC. I am remembering how HSLDA chose to block former homeschool students from its Facebook page for speaking up about abuse during our #HSLDAMustAct campaign.

What I experienced a decade ago, what Queer PHC experienced last year — these are not isolated incidents. They are symptoms of a problem: the problem of how this movement chooses to interact with its whistleblowers. It has groomed us to “take back the culture.” Yet when we try to do so, the movement suddenly realizes “the culture” we want to take back is not the Evil Candyland of Liberalism, but our very own home — homeschooling itself.

If you are not toeing the line, if you question the movement’s assumptions, if you even dare to make parody accounts — the movement wants to shut you down and silence you. And Michael Farris led the way, is leading the way, by the choices he made and continues to make.

Considering Farris’ railings against Obama’s “tyranny” as of late, I cannot help but wonder: how exactly does bullying and censorship of young people demonstrate the ideals of freedom?