Liberty University Backtracks on Controversial Plan

Jerry Falwell's school was to resume in-person classes, but has since changed course
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2020 5:00 PM CDT
Citing Media Hype, Falwell's Liberty U Originally Had Controversial Plan
Garreidy Hamilton, a freshmen in governments and policy, holds a sign reading "I trust Jerry" during a student protest on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.   (Emily Elconin/The News & Advance via AP)

Colleges and universities across the US are shutting down campuses in droves amid the coronavirus pandemic, but not Jerry Falwell's Liberty University—at least not until President Trump issued his latest guidance. "The hype in the press" surrounding the COVID-19 situation could be designed, in part, to bring down the president, the late televangelist's son, university president Jerry Falwell Jr., had said in an interview Friday explaining why classes were to resume on campus Monday, once spring break ends. "We’re hopeful that that’s the case, that it’s overhyped, that it’s not as bad as everybody wants to think it is. We’re praying that that’s the case." He added that students have begged him not to cancel classes, per the News Advance: "You guys paid to be here, you wanted to be on campus and I want to give you what you paid for."

However, more than 11,000 people signed an online petition urging the school to reconsider, and by Monday afternoon Falwell had done so: "We originally believed it was safest to return our students following their spring break instead of having them return following greater exposure opportunities from leaving them in different parts of the country for longer periods," reads an official statement, which notes that it was actually Gov. Ralph Northam's emergency ban on gatherings of more than 100 people that prompted the change; classes will now be transitioned online, though residential students may still return to campus if they wish. The private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., has nearly 15,000 students who normally attend classes on campus, but the petition claims another 94,000-plus already utilize its online courses. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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