Mea Sorta Culpa

Recently by Gary North: Tricked on the Fourth of July

In 1982, Pat Robertson invited me, Francis Schaeffer, and lawyer John Whitehead to have dinner with him. He wanted advice on what to do with his ministry.

He flew us in and paid for our rooms. That was the extent of out remuneration.

I wrote a paper for him on how he could take over Christian higher education in the United States. He had CBN University operating (now Regents University).

First, he would hire the best Christian college professors in America. He would videotape their lectures. They would write workbooks. The professors would make their money from royalties on the workbooks.

Second, he would invite churches to set up local branches of his college. They would install cheap satellite dishes — the old 12-footers.

Third, they would buy videotape recorders.

Fourth, he would broadcast lectures on his satellite network after midnight, California time — cheap time.

Fifth, the pastors would set the recorders to turn on automatically in slow-recording mode.

Sixth, Robertson would charge a low fee to enroll.

I told him he could recruit thousands of students this way, and make money.

He turned my paper over to an employee. I never heard from Robertson again, although I saw him periodically.

I knew the man he turned it over to. In 1971, he was the president of Spring Arbor College in Michigan. He interviewed me for a teaching job. I did not yet have my Ph.D. I got in in 1972. He told me that I might not meet the school’s high standards. I then told him that I had just been offered a job at Michigan State University. Without blinking an eye, he said, “We would be glad to have you here.” In short, Behemoth U’s opinion counted in his mind.

He approached me during my 1982 visit. He introduced himself. I had forgotten. He apologized for not hiring me. He said he had not been a Christian at the time.

He was unable to persuade Robertson to follow through.

So, I published my paper the next year in a journal I edited. The article was tiled: “Levers, Fulcrums, and Hornets.” The journal is here. In the introduction, I wrote:

It is my view, as I told him, that he is in a temporarily unique position. He has mastered the satellite television medium and has a powerful tool at his disposal. No other Christian leader presently in possession of such a tool has a broad enough vision of the kingdom of God to use it in the way I have outlined in this article. . . .

Mr. Robertson asked me to meet with two of the men in charge of CBN University the next day. We met for an hour, and one of them wrote a report. I do not know what happened to it. I believe that the preliminary phases of the following proposal could be implemented within a year, and that the whole program could become a reality within five years. I believe that it is technically and financially possible for Mr. Robertson’s various organizations to implement it. It might not receive the public support I envision, but it should nevertheless be attempted.

The article went way beyond college education. It was on what Robertson could do with his network.

I did not see this. He later sold it to a secularist for what became stock worth $90 million — personally. Total investment on his part? $180,000.

Ron Godwin at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University read it. The school was in deep financial trouble. Godwin proposed that the school set up “University Without Walls.” It would offer degrees by correspondence. It would use videotapes. Falwell agreed. He needed money.

That program saved the school. Godwin later wrote to me telling me this story.

He is still with Liberty U. Liberty U has 58,000 correspondence students, second only to the University of Phoenix’s 500,000.

As for me, I made nothing.

It was a good idea. I just didn’t see that it could be done with videotapes and the Post Office rather than a satellite distribution system. Godwin put the pieces together. He deserves the credit. Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Entrepreneurship identifies the good ones and puts together the marketing package.