On Sunday, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. announced that unlike virtually all other colleges and universities in the United States, Liberty would soon be reopening and permitting thousands of students and faculty to return to campus even as the coronavirus continues to rage and the city where the school resides discouraged the move.
I think we have a responsibility to our students who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board theyve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life, Falwell, Jr. said in an interview with a Richmond-area newspaper on Sunday.
To be sure, the abrupt closures enacted by thousands of other colleges and universities resulted in major problems for many, with international students and students in need of housing left scrambling as dorms closed and cafeterias shut.
But Liberty faculty have already been on campus during this time, asked to teach to empty rooms while the university and Falwell Jr. give wildly differing stories about the universitys coronavirus strategy to news outlets and to members of the university community. While the university says that students will be taking all classes online, Falwell told ABC Tuesday that about one to two thousand students have returned to campus dorms and cafeterias major gathering places where coronavirus could easily spread. In short, the university will be both open and, according to Falwell Jr., closed, more like an apartment complex than a university during this time. That incoherent strategy has left many at Liberty confused and upset. I reached out to Liberty University for comment and will update if and when I hear back.
As President Trump starts to voice a desire to return to some semblance of economic normalcy by Easter, the president of one of the largest Christian universities in the world (and a major supporter of Trump) is using his campus as a testing ground to prove that the pandemic is no real concern. In a March 23 press release, Falwell Jr. said, Our thinking was, Lets get them back as soon as we can despite a surge of coronavirus cases in the state of Virginia.
Ultimately, its a failure of leadership and communication, a Liberty University professor who wanted to remain anonymous told me.
Liberty University is one of the worlds largest Christian universities, with roughly 15,000 students on campus but more than 95,000 students taking classes online. Founded in 1971 by Falwell Jr.s father, Rev. Jerry Falwell, as Lynchburg Baptist College, the school has become a massive institution of higher learning with hundreds of graduate programs and colleges under its aegis.
But under the leadership of Falwell Jr., who has served as the schools president since 2007, its also become a platform for advancing political evangelism. As I wrote last year:
Its important to remember that despite being often described as a Christian leader, Jerry Falwell Jr. never became a pastor a fact hes not shy about sharing even while leading one of the largest Christian universities in the world. According to the agreement made with his father, upon the Rev. Jerry Falwells death in 2007, Falwell Jr. took the helm of Liberty University while his brother, Jonathan, took over the church their father helped to found in 1956, Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Falwell is also not shy about his fundraising efforts for the university, or his role within the world of what Id call political evangelicalism the effort to combine evangelical Christianity with bare-knuckle politics in order to get evangelical priorities into law and evangelical politicians (or politicians willing to accede to evangelical interests) into office.
Falwell is also a longtime supporter of Donald Trump (because of the presidents purported business acumen). Because of that alliance during the 2016 presidential campaign, Falwell Jr. said that he was offered the role of secretary of education.
And its that fervent support for Trump that some believe may have influenced Falwell Jr.s decision-making regarding coronavirus, a pandemic he told Fox and Friends was both largely an overreaction by mainstream media and potentially a Christmas present from North Korea. In an interview with Fox News radio host Todd Starnes, Falwell Jr. said, Shame on the media for trying to fan [coronavirus] up and destroy the American economy. Theyre willing to destroy the economy just to hurt Trump.
On campus, Falwell Jr. and other leaders downplayed the pandemic during convocation on March 13 (convocation is a mandatory assembly for students held twice a week), referring to coronavirus as a flu and saying that Liberty would be remaining open while eschewing large gatherings. I dont see us doing the same thing other schools have done, Falwell Jr. said, referring to colleges and universities that had already closed in the wake of coronavirus.
You guys paid to be here, you wanted to be on campus, I wanted to give you what you pay for, he continued, while saying that students should be cautious about those with respiratory illnesses and the elderly. While his recent rhetoric toward national outlets has been less dismissive of the virus mirroring Trumps shift on the issue the messaging at Liberty has been incredibly mixed.
But as one faculty member I spoke to told me, students are in fact getting a clear message from the university: [Coronavirus is] not that serious or not as serious as the quote-unquote media makes it out to be.
And for faculty, the situation has been doubly challenging as they have been expected to continue teaching on campus even while students arent present in the classroom. Marybeth Davis Baggett, a professor of English at Liberty, described the confusing situation in an op-ed for Religious News Service:
Faculty and staff are also required to report, despite the fact that telecommuting options are readily available. As a Liberty faculty member, I have been told that my colleagues and I must conduct our classes from our offices, even though that instruction is now being delivered virtually. We are also expected to hold office hours and welcome students for face-to-face interaction.
In response, Falwell Jr. tweeted the page linking to Libertys coronavirus response while referring to her as the Baggett lady.
And the guidance professors and faculty are receiving from the university seemingly changes by the hour, even based on media appearances by Falwell Jr. himself.
For example, in interviews with CNN and ABC News, Falwell Jr. said that all faculty were working from home due to the pandemic, but I reviewed emails sent to faculty that clearly stated they needed to request permission and provide a rationale for why they should work from home rather in their on-campus offices. My source told me that either Falwell Jr. is lying, or he hasnt communicated the new guidance to faculty but has been more than willing to do so to media outlets. Now my colleagues are wondering if we are supposed to go in or now we can stay home.
One faculty member said that this lack of clarity was par for the course at Liberty. To be honest, thats kind of how things go at Liberty. It doesnt work that well when theres not a crisis, [and] it goes especially wrong when there is a crisis, were finding out. Liberty does things on the fly.
Read this article:
- Ranking the top 50 Liberty football players of all time: 50-41 - A Sea of Red - June 22nd, 2020
- We Can Find Common Ground on Gay Rights and Religious Liberty - The New York Times - June 22nd, 2020
- Two Liberty football players cite racial insensitivity in decision to transfer - ESPN - June 22nd, 2020
- Police: Man scratched an expletive on the replica of Liberty Bell at the Idaho Statehouse - KTVB.com - June 22nd, 2020
- The True Extent of Religious Liberty in America, Explained - The Dispatch - June 22nd, 2020
- Tolsma reflects on legacy, accomplishments in lengthy career at Liberty - Lynchburg News and Advance - June 22nd, 2020
- I Suppressed So Much of My Humanity in Being Here - Slate - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Kitchen's virtual dinner brings questions of race, inclusion in New Orleans to the table - NOLA.com - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Leaf to Acquire Nova Mentis Biotech Corp. - Liberty Leaf Augments Portfolio with Entrance into the Emerging Psilocybin Therapy Market - Yahoo... - June 22nd, 2020
- Man charged in connection with Liberty kidnapping, robbery - KCTV Kansas City - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Oilfield Services Inc. (LBRT) the Stock that gain 10.25% this week! - The News Heater - June 22nd, 2020
- What Liberty Meant to the Pilgrims - National Review - June 22nd, 2020
- Time to give liberty and justice to all - Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel - June 22nd, 2020
- Independence opens newly constructed section of Liberty Playground - cleveland.com - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty University Commit Jony Munoz Named 2019-20 Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year - SoccerNation.com - June 22nd, 2020
- Stewart: Amid protests and reform, we truly need 'liberty and justice for all' - Standard-Examiner - June 22nd, 2020
- This day in sports: Sparks fall to Liberty in WNBA's first game in 1997 - Yahoo News - June 22nd, 2020
- Heres Some Upbeat Coverage of the Philadelphia Parade That Became a Super-Spreader Event During the 1918 Flu Pandemic - Slate - June 22nd, 2020
- Liberty University President defends keeping the school open amid the coronavirus pandemic - - KUSI - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Media's John Malone still believes in the future of live events despite coronavirus - CNBC - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty's Top 5 DBs of all-time - A Sea of Red - May 22nd, 2020
- Dryville Hotel being converted to Liberty at Dryville | Berks Regional News - 69News WFMZ-TV - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty recruit Merritt 'going to come in and work hard' - Lynchburg News and Advance - May 22nd, 2020
- PHS' Kyle Moore headed to West Liberty | News, Sports, Jobs - Parkersburg News - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty Arena targeted for early October completion - Lynchburg News and Advance - May 22nd, 2020
- UConn's Kelly (Schumacher) Raimon took a winding path to a WNBA coaching job with the Liberty - Minneapolis Star Tribune - May 22nd, 2020
- 17-year-old charged with burglary in Liberty - Bluebonnet News - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty in the Time of Corona - publicseminar.org - May 22nd, 2020
- West Liberty to conduct its own ball season - Bellefontaine Examiner - May 22nd, 2020
- Liberty London | Designer Department Store | Luxury Brands ... - May 19th, 2020
- Best Banks in Connecticut | Liberty Bank - May 19th, 2020
- Mill Creek, Liberty rated as CLAS School of Distinction - The Madison Record - themadisonrecord.com - May 19th, 2020
- Liberty and Liberty North celebrate class of 2020 with two graduation parades through town - fox4kc.com - May 19th, 2020
- State Supreme Courts Stand Up for Economic Liberty While SCOTUS Falls Down on the Job - Reason - May 19th, 2020
- Department of Labor Strengthens Religious Liberty Protections for Faith-Based Organizations Partnering with Government - GlobeNewswire - May 19th, 2020
- Sabrina Ionescu should have been dazzling loyal Liberty fans at Barclays this weekend - Yahoo Sports - May 19th, 2020
- Remember When: Liberty and Palace theaters compete with Tarzan films - Lancaster Eagle Gazette - May 19th, 2020
- NJ police do the right thing for liberty at gym that opened up (Opinion) - New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio - May 19th, 2020
- Benjamin Constant's Writing Reaffirms the Value of Ancient Liberty - City Journal - May 19th, 2020
- Still standing at 70: Here's the story behind Tulsa's Statue of Liberty - Tulsa World - May 19th, 2020
- Liberty athletics notebook: Maine pitcher DeLaite transferring to LU; Byron to honor duo at Coca-Cola 600 - Lynchburg News and Advance - May 19th, 2020
- Opinion: Five steps to protect public health, regain trust and ensure liberty - The Detroit News - May 19th, 2020
- C&I Live Tweet: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on INSP - Cowboys and Indians - May 19th, 2020
- Andy McCarthy: 'Burden of proof' is on government to show why 'liberty' must be taken - Fox News - April 27th, 2020
- Letter: Personal liberty doesnt give you the right to endanger others - Deseret News - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty versus the virus | Diana Barshaw - The Times of Israel - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty Center man to be released from Marion prison - Sentinel-Tribune - April 27th, 2020
- Group Conversion Therapy And Its Aftermath At Liberty University - rvamag.com - April 27th, 2020
- The real problem with the manufactured coronavirus liberty protests - Seattle Times - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty University's Board of Trustees should remove Jerry Falwell Jr as the school's president - LGBTQ Nation - April 27th, 2020
- Stephen Sings officially signs with Liberty - A Sea of Red - April 27th, 2020
- Beloved Liberty coach Jesse Woods remembered for life of giving - Chron - April 27th, 2020
- Letter to the editor: Destruction of life, liberty, happiness - TribLIVE - April 27th, 2020
- Coronavirus has led to the erosion of religious liberty - White Mountain Independent - April 27th, 2020
- Former Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden ready to hear his name called in NFL Draft - Lynchburg News and Advance - April 27th, 2020
- Why the New York Liberty sent so many front office staff to watch Sabrina Ionescu, how they plan to use the f - OregonLive - April 27th, 2020
- 'Liberty and freedom' | Other counties say they will not require masks like Harris County, Houston - KHOU.com - April 27th, 2020
- A Second Amendment Challenge in the Green Mountain State - Cato Institute - April 27th, 2020
- 'Freedom and liberty to work' rally is canceled; or is it? - Martha's Vineyard Times - April 27th, 2020
- Liberty Health Sciences Announces Expansion of its Cannabis Brand Portfolio - Yahoo Finance - April 24th, 2020
- Deja Gaston and Alex Murphy: Coronavirus protesters demand 'liberty' at the expense of the rest of us - Salt Lake Tribune - April 24th, 2020
- $2.11 $2.37: is It Good Range to Buy Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings, Inc. (LTRPA)? - The News Heater - April 24th, 2020
- Lansdales Liberty Bell Trail Named Region Project Of The Year - Montgomeryville, PA Patch - April 24th, 2020
- The Debate Between Liberty-Minded and Common-Good Conservatives Is Nothing New - National Review - April 24th, 2020
- Connecting Liberty Lake ready to help: Citys volunteers wait for calls from those in need - The Spokesman-Review - April 24th, 2020
- Rallying for the 'freedom and liberty to work' - Martha's Vineyard Times - April 24th, 2020
- Is One Liberty Properties, Inc.'s (NYSE:OLP) ROE Of 6.4% Impressive? - Yahoo Finance - April 24th, 2020
- Liberty end up with 4 of top 12 picks after draft-night deals - ESPN - April 24th, 2020
- Yes, government can restrict your liberty to protect public health - Los Angeles Times - April 24th, 2020
- Carnival Liberty | Deck Plans, Activities & Sailings ... - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty AV Solutions - Your Best Source for Pro AV ... - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty University to offer $1,000 credit to students who leave dorms by Saturday because of coronavirus - Richmond.com - March 31st, 2020
- Falwell says concerns about students returning to Liberty University are overblown - CNN - March 31st, 2020
- Two COVID-19 cases confirmed aboard Liberty of the Seas - Galveston County Daily News - March 31st, 2020
- KHS grad Robinson had found a spot on NCAA Tournament-bound Liberty - Kearney Hub - March 31st, 2020
- Fire Oak Distillery in Liberty Hill has produced nearly 600 gallons of sanitizer for Williamson County first responders, community - Community Impact... - March 31st, 2020
- History's Headlines: The Liberty Bell stopped here - 69News WFMZ-TV - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty urged to help smaller F1 teams survive shutdown - RACER - March 31st, 2020
- Liberty - IMDb - March 26th, 2020
- Thousands of Liberty students expected to return to campus amid coronavirus outbreak - Richmond.com - March 26th, 2020