Despite warnings from city and health officials, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. went ahead and reopened the campus last week. Now, according to a report from the New York Times, “nearly a dozen” students at the evangelical school have developed symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 as of this Friday.
“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Falwell said this Sunday after being confronted with the numbers, adding that any student returning to campus would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
As the virus began to dominate the headlines, Falwell Jr. was dismissive of the threat. During an appearance on Fox & Friends earlier this month, he spoke about the spate of college campus closures in the wake of the outbreak and explained why he chose to initially keep the school open. According to him, it was “strange” that “so many” people were “overreacting” to the outbreak.
“It makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that. You know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and [the 25th Amendment] didn’t work, and so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump,” he said. “I had the owner of a restaurant ask me last night—he said, ‘Do you remember the North Korean leader promised a Christmas present for America back in December? Could it be they got together with China and this is that present?’ I don’t know, but it really is something strange going on.
Liberty University, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, reopened its doors to some 5,000 students returning from spring break last week, as Lynchburg school officials are voiced their discontent with Falwell Jr. after he implied that the officials had given him the go-ahead to reopen the university, according to The Daily Beast.
“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 said that while she did indeed thank Falwell Jr. 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.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Svrcek said Falwell Jr. 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.”