Liberty University is a private Christian college located in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was founded in 1971 and continues to grow and develop at an exponential rate, receiving an abundance of monetary donations and increasing its enrollment of students to tens of thousands in the past decades. The evangelical school is mostly known for its religious values and its emphasis on living a Christian life under the decree of its president, Jerry Falwell Jr.
The institution has, for the most part, been positively received by Lynchburg and welcomed with open arms. Liberty students find many ways to give back, whether it be through donations or free medical screenings performed by students to aid families struggling financially. However, Liberty’s latest actions have soiled their reputation and changed the way in which the words “Liberty University” will be perceived by many.
Contrary to most every other university, Falwell decided to go against the status quo and keep the doors of Liberty University open long after plenty of other universities were shutting their doors and sending their students home following the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.
Falwell claimed that they made this decision out of the goodness of their hearts, and not from a purely ignorant standpoint, claiming that other universities who shut down were the “irresponsible” ones, sitting back and lounging “in their ivory towers.”
Of course, no one wants to think of those in the business of education as being lazy or selfish, but there just simply isn’t any evidence pointing towards the decisive actions of universities to shut down as being self-interested.
If anything, the move to keep a university open while a viral pandemic wreaks havoc across the nation seems much more selfish. The close quarters that students live in and the academic buildings that entertain countless professors, students and employees act as an easy breeding ground for diseases such as COVID-19 to spread.
One would love to believe that Mr. Falwell had each and every inhabitant of Liberty University’s best interests in mind when making the controversial call to prolong in-person classes, but it is extremely difficult to reach that conclusion. Virginia’s public health directives had made the serious threat of the coronavirus clear, and Falwell had even been in touch with the head physician of the school to discuss this pressing issue. Nonetheless, Falwell kept the doors of Liberty open.
This decision would be troublesome even if Liberty remained virus-free since it so obviously put so many people at risk, but 11 students soon contracted symptoms of the virus after the decision was made. Some were sent for testing and others self-isolated. Nonetheless, it would still be nice to try and justify this inexplicably reckless decision.
Perhaps Liberty simply was not prepared to transition to an online format in such a short amount of time. After all, it is a huge change to go through, a statement that I’m sure plenty of students and professors nationwide will attest to. It would make sense if Liberty’s excuse was that it had no experience with online formatting. This idea, unfortunately, is stricken down by the plentiful advertising Liberty does in support of their online schooling. Liberty even has an entire section on its website dedicated to the top ten reasons why people should choose Liberty for their online college. If only Liberty had listened to its commercial pleas and chosen this path for the safety of its students earlier on.
Another issue that has been forced into the limelight is that of religion. While keeping religion out of the conversation would be the respectable thing to do, Falwell himself is the one who dragged religion into it. The president of the university stated that “If Liberty sneezes, there are people who don’t like the fact that Liberty sneezed.”
As if his attempt to escape blame with an unflattering religion card wasn’t enough, Falwell also claimed, “We’re conservative, we’re Christian, and therefore we’re being attacked.” Although I hate to burst this protective bubble Falwell has so precariously built around his image, I can absolutely assure that the reason Liberty University is being “attacked” is not because of its religious affiliation, but because of its undeniably poor handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Plenty of other private religious institutions closed their doors out of concern for their students and employees, placing their safety first, as any college should. Fordham, for example, was one of the first to send students home after countless coronavirus cases in the greater New York City area, and Fordham is undoubtedly a Jesuit institution.
It is bad enough that Falwell handled the affairs of Liberty University so badly during such a worrisome and confusing time for students, but it is even worse that he refuses to own up to his own mistakes. He would rather point at others for attacking a Christian institution than admit to his faulty handling of the crisis. If he feels such a strong need to drag religion into it, maybe he should realize that the true “Christian” way of handling Liberty University would have been to prioritize the safety of its people.
Taylor Herzlich, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major from Mt. Sinai, N.Y.