Many universities across the country have closed campuses in an effort to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus. But Liberty University, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, is reopening its doors to some 5,000 students returning from spring break this week, and Lynchburg school officials are voicing their discontent with LU President Jerry Falwell Jr. after he implied that the officials had given him the go-ahead to reopen the university, according to The Daily Beast.
In an interview with Liberty University News Service, Falwell implied officials were grateful for his decision.
“They thanked us for making that decision,” he said, adding that while there had been a call to move classes online, there was also encouragement to move his students “back as soon as we can — the ones who want to come back.”
But some officials say that’s not the whole story.
Lynchburg city manager Bonnie Svrcek says that while she did indeed thank Falwell for moving classes online, she was led to assume the school wasn’t going to invite students back into residence halls after spring break. Svrcek added that she and Mayor Treney Tweedy agreed with Falwell’s decision to reopen the university dorms.
In a Tuesday interview with The Daily Beast, Svrcek said Falwell wasn’t “totally transparent with her or Tweedy” during a March 16 conversation where he apparently told the two officials his school would “move to an online platform.”
“He added that some food services would remain open for on-campus international students who have not gone home and some lab classes and the school of aviation will continue,” Svrcek said. “The Mayor and I thanked him for this shift that we believed meant that students would be told not to come back to campus with a few exceptions.”
Falwell, an avid Trump supporter, has continued to downplay the severity of the pandemic, even insisting at one point that attempts to control its spread are nothing more than a plot to undermine Trump’s presidency.
Falwell’s apparent waffling on the situation has some students frustrated.
“It’s the constant overemphasis of the effectiveness of the university’s mitigation measures and a constant downplaying of the dangers posed by this virus,” Liberty University senior Calum Best told The Daily Beast. “I don’t envy [Falwell’s] decision, it’s a tough one to make and ultimately he’s going to be criticized no matter what he does. But he can work through that decision without being misleading.