Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. came under fire after he announced he’s giving students the individual liberty to decide for themselves whether they’d prefer to continue classes from campus amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Even as schools across the nation closed its doors and launched online learning due to the spread of the global pandemic, Falwell announced that the decision to attend classes from campus dorms or remotely from home should be up to students and their families.
Falwell was ready to welcome back more than 5,000 students who would continue to learn online while staying in their campus dorm rooms, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“Meanwhile, hundreds of professors and instructors without a valid health exemption will come to campus to hold office hours,” the newspaper added.
The Lynchburg, Virginia university will keep its dorms, academic buildings, library and fitness center open to students, though the dining hall will only be providing take-out service.
“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 they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” Falwell told the Times-Dispatch on Sunday.
More than 250 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the state, and seven people have died as of Monday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Unlike other institutions, Liberty has continued to allow gatherings and some classes falling under the cap of 10 people, in compliance with orders by Gov. Ralph Northam who, on Monday, added that all non-essential businesses should close by Wednesday.
“I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together,” Falwell said. “Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”
But many disagree with the University president and have vocally called him out for the decision. Liberty Univ. English Professor Marybeth Davis Baggett fired off an opinion piece published by Religion News Service on Sunday urging the school’s board of trustees “to stop him and shut the campus down before it’s too late.”
Writing that Falwell is “about to make a terrible mistake,” Baggett argued that his “foolhardy decision tracks Falwell’s conspiratorial thinking about COVID-19 and smacks of defiance.”
She claimed the University president “encourages reckless behavior in the university’s students,” and does not portray the Christian values of the school by “enabling and at most an incentivizing the students’ decision to return.”
“Many students, faculty, and staff have health conditions that would make COVID-19 difficult to fight. And of course, Liberty is not a bubble where the virus would be contained. Instead, its population comes into regular contact with those in the Lynchburg community, putting their health and lives at risk as well,” Baggett wrote.
“I have no animus toward Jerry Falwell Jr. He simply should not have a monopoly on this decision. I think he is dangerously wrong here and seems unable or unwilling to recognize it. For that reason, the decision must be taken out of his hands,” she added.
After 17 years at Liberty, Baggett has decided she will be joining the Houston Baptist University faculty this fall, according to The News & Advance.
Not all saw Falwell’s move as a bad thing, however.
Christian Griffith, a Liberty University senior from Charlottesville, told the Times-Dispatch he was happy to have a place to stay, noting that few students were on campus.
“It’s a pretty empty campus,” he said. “The number of students staying seems to be low.”
“I’m not going to leave unless I need to,” he said, telling the paper that he plans to stay indoors and has stocked up on food.
Griffith indicated that living in the University dorm would be safer for him than living at home as his parents both work at the University of Virginia Medical Center.
Falwell’s decision defies a media onslaught against Trump that alleges he has not done enough to ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus infections. The same media that ignores reports from notables that seem to agree with Falwell’s line of thinking… while it’s smart to make adjustments and be extremely careful, much of the panic comes from media hype.
Nobel laureate with proven track record expects US slowdown of COVID-19 sooner than predicted, urges calm heads https://t.co/h70j3a6zWL
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) March 24, 2020
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