Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has resisted shutting down the campus in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. In an op-ed published at Religion News Service LU English professor Marybeth Davis Baggett, writes that Falwell Jr.’s “foolhardy decision” is reflective of his “conspiratorial thinking about COVID-19 and smacks of defiance.”
“He has repeatedly made clear that he canceled residential classes for legal, not moral, reasons. In fact, his public comments on the pandemic have manifested bravado, self-congratulation, and callousness in the extreme, as he even this week on the Todd Starnes radio show spewed far-fetched, unsubstantiated, and misleading information about the coronavirus outbreak.”
“For one charged with leading a Christian institution of higher learning, these are troubling qualities, fundamentally at odds with both Christian faith convictions and an academic mindset,” she added. “For a leader dealing with such a situation of such magnitude, they are outright terrifying.”
Baggett writes that she has no animus towards Falwell Jr, but he “simply should not have a monopoly on this decision.”
“I think he is dangerously wrong here and seems unable or unwilling to recognize it,” she continues. “For that reason, the decision must be taken out of his hands. I speak up for his benefit as well, since his current plan is courting a disaster for which he would be primarily to blame.”
Nevertheless, thousands of students are expected to return to LU this week. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Falwell Jr. has invited students to return to their dorms and has directed faculty members to continue to come to work.
“I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” Falwell said.
There are plenty of students who share Bagget’s feelings. Speaking to a local news outlet this weekend, freshman Alexis Valle thinks the decision is a bad idea.
“I’m from the area and I have a lot of family that have cancer or lung problems in general,” she said. “I don’t want to risk taking it home and spreading it to my family because with the cancer they have, that could potentially really hurt them and potentially even result in death.”
Thousands have signed a petition calling on Falwell Jr. to implement an extended break and move classes online. As of this writing, the petition has surpassed 11,000 signatures.