Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has come under criticism for allowing hundreds of students to return to campus following spring break. Around the country, schools have moved online and asked students to stay home in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In Virginia—where Liberty is located—the state government has put tight limitations on gatherings of a few dozen or more people.
Now, city officials are saying that Falwell misled them about his plans. Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek told The Daily Beast that “Neither she nor Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy said they signed off on Falwell’s decision to re-open Liberty’s dorms” despite Falwell saying they “thanked us for making that decision.”
Svrcek said city officials actually thanked Falwell for telling them that many classes would be moved online and the dorms would only be open for a few students.
She told The Beast, “He added that some food services would remain open for on-campus international students who have not gone home and some lab classes and the school of aviation will continue. The mayor and I thanked him for this shift that we believed meant that students would be told to not come back to campus with a few exceptions,” adding that she believed Falwell wasn’t “totally transparent.”
In a press release, Falwell said that instead of closing the campus after spring break like many schools, “Our thinking was, ‘Let’s get them back as soon as we can — the ones who want to come back.”
In a statement, Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy explained, “First of all, I want the residents in this community to know that at no time did I or the City Manager endorse having the students return to Liberty University’s campus or any of the other college or university campuses in our community. In fact, it is quite the opposite. When we asked President Falwell to close his campus, he explained that he had to remain open for on-campus international students who had not gone home, some lab classes and the School of Aviation. President Falwell also noted that the University would be moving to an on-line platform for instruction.”
She added, “I was very surprised and disappointed to later learn of President Falwell’s most recent decision to allow students back on campus … It is unfortunate that President Falwell chose to not keep his word to us and to this community.”
Even a member of Liberty’s faculty spoke out.
Professor Marybeth Davis Baggett penned a piece for Religion News Service saying, “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.”
She added, “This foolhardy decision tracks Falwell’s conspiratorial thinking about COVID-19 and smacks of defiance.”
Falwell later tweeted a Liberty press release about their decision to keep the campus open to some students and the measures the school is taking to clean the facilities. It claims, that they “let the Virginia Secretary of Education’s Office know that the school had decided to move all instruction online, except for some particular programs and labs, effective on the next day of classes, today, Monday, March 23.
He then said he bets “the ‘Baggett’ lady”—a member of his own faculty—is “embarrassed now.”
All the facts here were provided to @newsadvance reporter Richard Chumney more than 24 hours ago at his request. He thanked us but conveniently still has not published after claiming he was busy! Bet the “Baggett” lady is embarrassed now! https://t.co/nlmhyVCCO0
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) March 23, 2020