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With the majority of colleges and universities around the US canceling classes or moving to an online forum, Liberty University in Virginia has elected to take another route. Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., has welcomed back all students despite the social distancing guidelines installed by the White House and the state of Virginia.
“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. Falwell will prioritize wishes of students at a university over the global concern for the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But Falwell has his defenders.
According to The Hill, Falwell had been in touch with the “Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia to determine how to allow students who wanted to return to the evangelical college's Lynchburg campus to do so while still following the guidelines that have been put forward.” It was estimated that somewhere between several hundred and 5,000 students would be living in the dorms when classes resumed after spring break.
Despite the vast majority of Liberty’s classes being moved online, staff and faculty are expected to report to campus as usual. The university announced on its website that it would be closed to all non-family visitors for the remainder of the semester, with “No Trespassing” signs posted at the entrances to ensure the policy is followed.
Falwell has a history of making uninformed decisions that cross into conspiracy theory. In early March, Falwell appeared on Fox News and said, “You remember the North Korean leader promised us 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.” No evidence emerged to support the claim North Korea had anything to do with the contagion.
The state of Virginia, at time of writing, has 254 confirmed cases of the virus and 6 fatalities. Falwell has attempted to calm anxieties about the situation by saying “I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together. Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.” Falwell did not note whether or not he has confirmed that 99 percent of the student body at Liberty University do not have underlying health conditions.