Liberty U. Sticking with Face-to-Face Instruction

It is hard not to see this as a politically driven move.

Via WaPo: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says in-person classes to continue

Even as many colleges and universities closed in response to the coronavirus threat, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. went on Fox News on Friday morning to suggest the virus was a plot to undermine President Trump and to say his school would open as usual when students return from spring break on March 23.

“It’s just strange to me how so many are overreacting,” Falwell said, comparing media coverage of the novel coronavirus to coverage of earlier epidemics. “It makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that. Impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work. And so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.”

Falwell also speculated in the “Fox & Friends” interview that North Korea and China may have cooperated on a secret plot to spread the virus without offering evidence to support his baseless rumor, which he attributed to a restaurant owner.

Here’s video from Fox and Friends

In the interview, he compares Covid-19 to H1N1, which is wholly irresponsible.

To be clear, Liberty University is not the only college/university that will be maintaining face-to-face instruction. I directly understand, from a professional point of view, the complex nature of this decision. These decisions need to take into account the impact on students, faculty, and staff as well as the general capability of the institution to adequately maintain instruction going forward.

However, what such decisions should not be based on are crass politics and conspiracy theories.

It is also bizarre to both downplay Covid-19 at not a big deal and also theorize that it is some kind of bioterrorism.

Liberty is taking some social distancing moves:

Liberty has taken some steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, it canceled attendance at its weekly convocation of students that brings together about 6,000 students to listen to a speaker. The event was streamed online. Earlier this week, it announced that all of its international study programs for spring and summer were terminated and called back Liberty students studying in Rome.

But, of course:

Falwell’s announcement that in-person classes would resume following spring break did not sit well with some students at the Christian evangelical university in Lynchburg.

I expect not. I will note that they have a week to change their minds, and I would not be surprised if this decision isn’t reversed between now and the 23rd.

As a closing note, it is worth pointing out that Liberty has a massive online operation and is better positioned than most universities to make the shift online. This makes this decision all the more dubious.

FILED UNDER: Education, Health, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. mattbernius says:

    Our of curiosity, does this type of decision leave a university open to future civil liabilities? Especially given how public Falwell is about the reasoning behind this?

    Given your position Steven, I was wondering if that topic has come into the decision making process.

    On a lighter note, I recommend the following for a dose of (very black) academic humor:

  2. Teve says:

    I support this decision 100%!

  3. Teve says:

    Liberty has a massive online operation

    I read one time that they’re basically like the Christian University of Phoenix.

  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Oh no. The University of Phoenix is significantly more credible than Liberty Online. There are diploma mills that have sued for being compared to Liberty Online.

  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    Maybe it’s that LU has a massive online presence, and most of their students are young and not very vulnerable, and so not closing classes is less consequential for them, so they can lean into the “this is all a conspiracy theory” stuff.

    Still, wow. I have a hard time believing this will end well for them. This is going to hurt, regardless of what we do, but I don’t see how this posture helps them.

  6. Teve says:

    @Teve: @Just nutha ignint cracker: I really meant in terms of volume.

  7. Gromitt Gunn says:

    What could possibly go wrong?

  8. CSK says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:
    I’m sure Liberty has some faculty in the higher-risk groups: Diabetics, cardiac patients, sufferers from lung ailments, people over sixty. And some students with chronic ailments.

  9. senyordave says:

    I never thought it possible, but Jerry Falwell, Jr. might actually be worse than his father.

  10. Teve says:

    @senyordave: There’s some hinky stuff going on related to a pool boy, too.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What the hell… If anybody dies they’re already saved. Right? Right??? They’ll be with Jeeeesus….

    If you are looking for rational thinking from an evangelical, you were lost a long time ago.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:


    I never thought it possible,

    I did.

  13. Liberal Capitalist says:

    “It’s just strange to me how so many are overreacting,” Falwell said, comparing media coverage of the novel coronavirus to coverage of earlier epidemics.

    It’s not an overreaction.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “I would prefer as much as we possibly could. I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.”

    “It makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that.

    That was last week’s talking point that has been abandoned by Fox News. It’s not political, it’s virology.

    Impeachment didn’t work…

    Inpeachment is not a “work” thing. The president was impeached. Period. Full stop.

    …and the Mueller report didn’t work…”

    This is not a “work” thing, either. I can give you a hammer, but if you try to use it as a screwdriver that likely will not work as well.

    …and Article 25 didn’t work.

    Did we TRY Article 25? Anyone? Bueler? Bueler?

    And so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.

    Republicans. SO paranoid. Sad.

    How can this person be the head of a “university”?

  14. Not the IT Dept. says:

    A number of GOP politicians over the weekend tweeted photos of themselves and family eating in crowded restaurants. I do get the “support our small business restaurant owners” thing, but that ship has sailed.

    But the GOP has an anti-pointy-headed-experts impulse that doesn’t take context into account. They just don’t trust the real world.

  15. Teve says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: I knew a guy who got a microbiology degree at one of those Christian colleges, and then he wanted to do a Masters at FSU, and FSU told him, yeah sorry dude but you don’t really know anything about evolution or microbiology much so you need about two years of remedial classes first. So it took him four years to get a Masters degree. If I remember correctly, it was Bob Jones University that he went to. His idiot parents said they would only pay for college if he went there.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    How can this person be the head of a “university”?

    Apparently Sr. set him up as prez. He has a board, but apparently Falwell keeps a tight grip on everything. POLITICO had quite a story on it last year. Self dealing, aides who know he’s a screw up but are afraid to act, NDAs all around, maybe a simmering sex scandal. Sounds like Trump. Maybe even a fake University.

  17. Kylopod says:


    Maybe even a fake University.

    If it’s going to be a fake university, why can’t it at least have the sense to be entirely online? Worst of both worlds.

    (But then, I’m half expecting the Prager people to suddenly announce in-person “classes,” just to own the libs.)