Tags: Coronavirus | Liberty University | Jerry Falwell Jr.

Falwell Defends Decision to Keep Liberty University Open

jerry falwell junior in a red tie and suit stands at a podium during the commencement ceremony
President of Liberty University Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during Liberty University's commencement ceremony May 13, 2017 in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 17 April 2020 11:41 AM

While universities were closing campuses down and encouraging students not to return after spring break, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. was inviting his students and staff back.

As the coronavirus continues to spread in Lynchburg, VA, Falwell is still defending his decision to keep the school open, The New York Times reports. 

Since the first Liberty student was diagnosed on March 29, the number of cases has increased among students, staff and the local community. There has been one reported death and 78 cases in the Central Virginia health district, according to records. 

Liberty reported two employees tested positive on Wednesday night, two more were awaiting test results and seven were quarantined at home. Staff have been working from home for the past two weeks. Several students are waiting on pending test results. Liberty confirmed an infection in one student, who is not enrolled in classes and has not been on the campus.

“The facts are that Liberty University’s response to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic is indistinguishable from that of many, if not most, universities, and, more importantly, it had not experienced a single on-campus student or employee testing positive for COVID-19,” Falwell said this week in a statement. 

Despite facing heat from the media, local government officials, and a class action lawsuit from a student, Falwell has continued to defend his decision. 

Last week, Liberty University took out full-page advertisements in regional newspapers saying its decision to reopen after spring break put the school “in pretty good company” with Virginia Tech, the University of California at Los Angeles, Texas A&M, and Arizona State University. Virginia Tech and UCLA officials said Liberty’s portrayal of their on-campus population after spring break in the ad was inaccurate and inflated.

Falwell attempted to get two journalists arrested for trespassing for covering a story on the school’s decision to reopen. He enlisted a New York law firm to threaten legal action against media outlets including The Times. 

About 1,900 Liberty students returned to campus after spring break, but it is unknown how many more returned to off-campus apartments. As of Wednesday, Liberty reported that 1,060 students are still living on campus. 

Students attended in-person classes until Gov. Ralph Northam shut them down.  

A class-action lawsuit filed in a federal court in Virginia by a Liberty student states the school and Falwell “placed students at severe physical risk and refused to refund thousands of dollars in fees owed to them for the Spring 2020 semester.”

Falwell announced that residential students who did not return to campus would receive a $1,000 credit toward fees for the next school year, but lawyers leading the lawsuit against him say that is a fraction of the lost residential fees, which were between $9,200 and $16,000 for the 2019-2020 academic year.

“We think the law is clear that these claims are without merit,” Liberty affirmed in a statement put out Wednesday acknowledging the lawsuit.

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While universities were closing campuses down and encouraging students not to return after spring break, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. was inviting his students and staff back. As the coronavirus continues to spread in Lynchburg, VA, Falwell is still...
Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr.
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2020-41-17
Friday, 17 April 2020 11:41 AM
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