As thousands of colleges across the country have shut their doors and transitioned to online learning thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least one college plans to resume operation: Liberty University, the private evangelical university founded by Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is inviting the college’s 5,000 students to return to campus to live in dorms, though some have returned from spring break to pack their bags and return home. While their courses will continue to take place online, professors are being asked to return to campus unless they have what the university considers a valid health exemption.
“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 said. Falwell said he believed the decision would be “protecting” students, who he said were not at risk of developing complications from the virus.
At least one Liberty University employee, however, has publicly disagreed. In an op-ed for Religion News Service, Professor Marybeth Baggett called the decision “foolhardy,” saying it ” tracks Falwell’s conspiratorial thinking about COVID-19 and smacks of defiance.” (Falwell went on the Todd Starnes radio show last week to espouse what Baggett referred to in her op-ed as “far-fetched, unsubstantiated, and misleading information” about the virus.)
Falwell’s decision to resume business as usual stands in stark contrast to that of most colleges and universities, which have canceled all classes and closed all dorms in an effort to flatten the curve of transmission.
In Virginia, where Liberty University is located, there are approximately 250 cases of coronavirus as well as seven deaths. In response to the crisis, earlier this week Gov. Ralph Northam called for all non-essential businesses to close, excluding grocery stores and pharmacies.