Jerry Falwell Jr, Trump ally, isn't closing his Virginia university

Liberty's professors will reportedly be on campus holding office hours, students will be in dorms, and the library and fitness center will remain open.
Image: Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks at the Republican National Convention in Ohio on July 21, 2016.
Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks at the Republican National Convention in Ohio on July 21, 2016.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared on Fox News a couple of weeks ago and left little doubt about his impressions of the coronavirus crisis. The Virginian said he considers it "strange" that many Americans are "overreacting," adding that the "hype" surrounding the pandemic is intended to hurt Donald Trump politically.

Falwell went on to wonder aloud whether COVID-19 was a weapon concocted by North Korea and China.

It's against this backdrop that the News & Advance in Lynchburg reported yesterday that the evangelical university Falwell's father founded is remaining open and welcoming students back from their spring break.

Defying a national trend of campus closures, President Jerry Falwell Jr. has invited students to return to residence halls and has directed faculty members to continue to report to campus even as most classes move online. In an interview Sunday night, Falwell said somewhere between several hundred to more than 5,000 students are expected to live in campus dorms, where they will continue coursework online rather than in classrooms.

While many of the nation's institutions of higher-ed shut down weeks ago, Liberty will be open. While the school has accepted some limits -- dining halls are now limited to take-out service, for example -- some professors will reportedly be on campus holding office hours, students will be in dorms, and the library and fitness center will remain open.

It's a difficult decision to understand, especially as the Virginia Department of Health announces new infections in nearby areas.

It's also an extraordinary gamble based on what appears to be an ideological decision.

An English professor at the university has called on Liberty's board of trustees to intervene, override Falwell's decision, and close the school. At least so far, that hasn't happened.

"The leadership's willingness to enable Falwell's self-professed politically motivated decision bespeaks a spirit of fear, or worse, that shames the mission they ostensibly pursue," Marybeth Davis Baggett wrote for the Religion News Service. "I beg the deans, senior leadership and board members to think more long-term. They are compelled by what is genuinely best for the university to act, to say nothing of their altruistic obligations as Christians. These leaders may think they are helping the institution, but in fact, they are sowing the seeds for its devastation."