Liberty University Students Return to Campus Amid COVID-19 Crisis
Lynchburg mayor calls Liberty University’s decision to bring back students “reckless.”
Lynchburg, Virginia — Despite the fact that most U.S. colleges have closed their campuses to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Liberty University officials welcomed back thousands of its students from spring break last week.
“We’re operating as an apartment complex. That’s all we are. We’re not operating as a school,” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. told WDBJ7.
He also said the campus is taking proper precautions even though its dorms, academic buildings, library and fitness center remain open. The university is moving most classes to online formats and banning gatherings of more than 10 people. All meals served by campus restaurants are now carryout.
Faculty and students appear to be confused on how they should respond because Falwell has been making conflicting and confusing comments on television and to news organizations.
Faculty members without valid health exemptions are required to come to campus to hold office hours and conduct online courses, reports the News Advance.
Last Monday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all non-essential businesses to close by Wednesday. Falwell, however, has downplayed the threat of COVID-19.
Some students, faculty members, associates of Liberty University and most local government officials say the move is a bad idea.
“You have … 16,000 petri dishes he’s inviting back to Lynchburg, who have gone out all over country for spring break—he’s inviting them back into our city, our community, knowing that at some point they’re gonna have to interact with the public,” a long-time Falwell associate told Politico.
Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy called Liberty University’s decision “reckless,” saying she is “very concerned for the residents of the Lynchburg community,” reports News9.
“The city unequivocally does not agree with Falwell’s decision,” Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek told Politico. She also alleged to the Daily Beast that Falwell misled her into believing Liberty University was abandoning its plans to bring back students to the campus after spring break.