As faculties and universities throughout the nation moved courses on-line to fight a pandemic, Liberty College’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., tried to face defiantly towards the tide.
Falwell, an in depth ally of President Donald Trump, downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak, speculated whether or not it was a political stunt from Trump’s opponents and puzzled aloud if the virus was a part of a secret plot concocted by North Korea and China ― all within the span of 1 “Fox & Buddies” look on Friday.
And regardless of Liberty College’s sturdy on-line schooling program, Falwell staunchly defended the college’s try and have 15,000 residential college students return to its Lynchburg, Virginia, campus after spring break ― calling one father or mother who questioned the college’s method a “dummy” on Twitter.
However by Monday afternoon, after backlash from some college students and Lynchburg residents, the evangelical college reversed course, agreeing to maneuver most courses on-line.
In an announcement, Falwell pinned the reversal on a call by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) a day earlier to ban gatherings of greater than 100 folks within the state.
“We initially believed it was most secure to return our college students following their spring break as an alternative of getting them return following larger publicity alternatives from leaving them in numerous elements of the nation for longer intervals,” Falwell mentioned. “However, the Governor’s latest resolution to restrict sure gatherings has left us no sensible alternative as a result of we’ve so many courses of greater than 100 college students.”
“Liberty is making an allowance for the generally conflicting orders and steerage of presidency officers and public well being specialists relating to greater schooling and our distinctive inhabitants. As this dynamic scenario adjustments once more, the college will proceed to reassess,” he added.
The college’s change in course was introduced because the Trump administration launched new tips for holding the unfold of the virus, together with having younger and wholesome folks keep away from teams of greater than 10 folks and “interact in education from residence, when potential.”
Virginia now has greater than 50 circumstances of COVID-19, the sickness attributable to the novel pressure of coronavirus that first emerged in China final yr. None of these circumstances are in Lynchburg.
In an effort to sluggish the unfold of the virus, a number of neighboring universities in Lynchburg ― the College of Lynchburg, Central Virginia Neighborhood Faculty, Randolph Faculty ― took steps over the weekend to increase spring break and transfer courses on-line afterward. The state’s different giant universities ― George Mason College, Northern Virginia Neighborhood Faculty, Virginia Tech ― have additionally dedicated to transferring courses on-line.
On Friday, Northam ordered all Ok-12 faculties within the state to shut for at least two weeks.
That morning, Falwell appeared to be viewing media protection of the virus with a skeptical eye. He introduced on Fox Information that his college would stay open and steered that folks have been “overreacting” to the outbreak, in contrast with earlier flu pandemics.
“It makes you marvel if there’s a political cause for that. Impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work. And so perhaps now that is their subsequent try and get Trump,” Falwell mentioned on “Fox & Buddies,” with out offering any proof for his claims.
Falwell additionally speculated that the outbreak was a “Christmas reward” for America from North Korea. He attributed the speculation to the “proprietor of a restaurant” that he spoke to the earlier evening.
“May or not it’s that they bought along with China and that is that current, I don’t know, nevertheless it actually is one thing unusual occurring,” Falwell mentioned, with out presenting some other particulars.
HuffPost has reached out to Liberty College and Falwell for elaboration on these claims and additional particulars in regards to the college’s up to date coverage. College spokesperson Scott Lamb declined to reply particular questions, as an alternative referring HuffPost to the college’s press launch.
Liberty College was based by Falwell’s father, a televangelist whose activism helped cement white evangelicals’ ties to the Republican Celebration within the 1980s. The youthful Falwell is a longtime, loyal Trump supporter who has typically stepped in to defend the president’s controversial conduct and statements.
Over the weekend, Liberty College took a number of steps to curb giant gatherings at its Lynchburg campus and prohibit worldwide journey in mild of COVID-19. Convocation, a biweekly gathering of its pupil physique that undergraduate college students are required to attend, has been moved on-line.
Across the identical time that Northam was issuing his ban on gatherings of over 100 folks, Falwell defended the college’s resolution to stay open in a put up on Twitter. He mentioned Liberty would transfer courses to bigger rooms, gyms, arenas and outdoor, “so college students received’t be sitting elbow to elbow.” Meals could be “staggered to reduce crowding.”
″@LibertyU will develop into the mannequin for others to observe sooner or later,” he wrote.
He additionally derided a person claiming to be the father or mother of Liberty College college students.
The college’s plan to proceed to function campus courses as regular elicited backlash from some college students and Lynchburg residents ― particularly since Liberty has the capability to serve giant numbers of scholars on-line. Below Falwell’s watch, the college has develop into certainly one of America’s largest suppliers of on-line schooling, attracting as many as 100,000 online-only college students.
Greater than 11,000 folks signed a Change.org petition asking Liberty to reverse course and transfer its on-campus courses on-line.
Residents of Lynchburg have been additionally upset in regards to the prospect of 15,000 college students returning to campus. Penny Millson-Martula, a 71-year-old registered nurse who lives within the metropolis, complained that Falwell doesn’t perceive “how an epidemic works.”
“Liberty college students are in all places as college students within the hospitals, servers in eating places and different close-contact jobs,” Millson-Martula wrote in a letter to the editors of Lynchburg’s Information & Advance. “I’m being put considerably extra susceptible to dying by Falwell’s not following an infection management tips.”
Liberty’s about-turn signifies that when spring break ends on March 23, college students can select to take on-line courses from their houses or from dorms. College students in labs, or in sure packages similar to aviation and nursing, will nonetheless attend in-person courses. Nonetheless, the college pledged that the courses received’t contain gatherings of greater than 100 folks.
College and workers have been nonetheless anticipated to report back to work as regular. These with issues about COVID-19′s impact on older relations or kids have been instructed to make use of their trip or sick days.
“Please preserve the aged and the others at excessive threat with this virus in your prayers,” Falwell mentioned in his assertion Monday afternoon.