In his youth, the story goes, Bob Jones Jnr was offered a Hollywood contract. But he declined, convinced God would not be best pleased. Instead he went into the family business - the eponymous Christian university founded by his father in 1927, to save the children of Bible belt fundamentalists from the temptations and corruption of secular education.
Jones - "Dr Bob" as he was later known - ran the university for four decades, before moving in 1971 to the largely ceremonial post of Chancellor and devoting much of his energy to preaching. In this sophisticated and "enlightened" late 20th century, the institution is all too easy to mock. Its campus at Greenville, South Carolina, where tobacco, alcohol, and television - not to mention interracial dating and unseemly displays of affection between the sexes - are banned, is Fifties America in aspic: a demure vista of girls in long skirts and bobby socks, boys with cropped hair, immaculate lawns and borders, where all is perfect and nothing quite real.
In Britain, Bob Jones University is best known for putting the Dr into Dr Ian Paisley, in 1966, when the Ulster Unionist politician was in jail for civil disobedience. "Wouldn't you have given Paul a degree when he was in prison ?" he argued to his somewhat apprehensive board. Later Jones and Paisley formed the World Congress of Fundamentalists and Jones died four days before he was due in Belfast for the opening of Paisley's new church.
For Americans, however, Jones is famous for having refused to end his university's ban on interracial dating, after the Internal Revenue Service removed its tax-exempt status in 1970, on the grounds that it practised discrimination. Jones the Creationist yielded no ground. Literally interpreted, he insisted, the Bible banned relations between couples of different races.
But the ruling had small impact on the fortunes of the university, now headed by his eldest son, Bob Jones III. The largest fundamentalist college in the United States, it draws its 5,000 students from all over the country, offering them a choice of some 100 courses. Every discipline has a strongly Christian slant, but graduates have gone on to Harvard, Yale, and the like, highly prized by future employers for their diligence and sobriety.
- Rupert CornwellReuse content