40th Anniversary: Lasting vision

Looking back — Over the past 40 years, Liberty University has experienced exponential growth in academics, number of students and campus expansions. From the first graduating class in 1973 to this year’s 2011 graduates, the university has maintained its core values and standards to train Champions for Christ.

Stage set for Liberty students to impact world

When most saw a mudhole, Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. saw a university.

Harold Knowles, a charter member of Thomas Road Baptist Church, said Falwell picked him up, along with his wife, Ann, and their children in 1972.

The family joined Falwell’s young kids, piled into his station wagon and rode to the Carter Glass dairy farm purchased for a Christian university.

“Jerry stood there and said, ‘I bought this property for Liberty,’” Knowles said. “It’s amazing that God used that man to build what is here.”

Falwell looked over the muddy property and pointed out building sites for dormitories, classrooms, a cafeteria and a gymnasium.

“He pictured it, and that’s the way it is today,” Knowles said. “Everything he described, that’s the way it is.”

Knowles, who was living in Fayetteville, N.C. at the time, said within weeks of the visit, bulldozers were clearing the land. Months later, foundations were laid for dormitories.

“He would start building buildings just to show he was serious,” Knowles said. “He went after it and God just opened the doors for him.”

Unprecedented growth

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said Liberty, celebrating its 40th anniversary, has grown into his father’s vision — a world-class Christian university.

1971 — Liberty's first graduating class poses in their caps and gowns.

“We are doing what my father said we were going to do from day one,” Falwell said. “It’s amazing to see that it happened so fast.”

The eighth largest college in the country, Liberty enrolls more than 72,000 students — both residentially and through online programs.

“I expected to see Liberty get where it is now, I just didn’t expect it to happen by 2011,”
Falwell said.

Since taking the university’s helm in 2007, Falwell has championed building projects and a $120 million bond sale.

The chancellor said the university’s unique education draws students.

“There is such a hunger for the type of education Liberty provides,” Falwell said.

After attending several academic forums, Falwell was impressed with the students’ intellectual abilities.

“I think we have some of the smartest college students,” Falwell said. “I think we are already attracting the students that are going to go out and impact the world.”

While managing unprecedented growth, Falwell remains committed to the school’s mission of “training Champions for Christ.”

Falwell said Christian colleges often move away from a biblical worldview for the sake of growth, a misstep Liberty will not make.

“Based on the history, we have to work hard to ensure that we stay true to our Christian roots. Too many once-Christian schools have strayed,” Falwell said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t keep striving to become a world-class university.”

‘God had other plans’

Developers first eyed the Liberty property for subdivisions, but Falwell purchased it as a future home for Liberty Baptist College, founded in 1971.

2010 — Students from last year's class celebrate and exemplify the school's exponential growth.

“It’s remarkable to me how God had other plans,” Knowles said.

A Liberty fundraiser for 34 years, Knowles said the university’s growth is amazing.

“It was unbelievable, the great start,” Knowles said. “That’s why we love it, we saw it from
the beginning.”

Knowles said Falwell felt the Lord’s calling to build the university.

“God spoke to his heart and he went after it,” Knowles said. “I knew that with Jerry’s vision and the way he went for things, it was going to change.”

Knowles remains committed to Liberty, serving as a special assistant to Falwell Jr.

“Jerry Jr. just picked up that mantle of vision and rolled on,” Knowles said.

‘The stage is set’

Lynchburg Baptist College utilized Thomas Road Baptist Church’s classrooms, abandoned public schools and old motels to teach and house students.

“It’s important to remind ourselves of where we came from,” Falwell said.

The chancellor said financial planning and offering an attractive education puts the university in a strong position.

Falwell’s father set a goal of building a $1 billion endowment in 2005.

“I don’t think any of us knew where that money would come from,” Falwell said.

The university has raised over 50 percent of the funds in six years.

“It’s amazing to see how fast God has moved us toward that seemingly unattainable goal,” Falwell said.

By providing a wide range of degree plans, Liberty places Christian graduates in a variety of fields, the chancellor said.

“We can place graduates in every profession to make a difference,” Falwell said. “It’s all part of the vision.”

Lynchburg Baptist College welcomed 154 zealous students the first year. Falwell sees the same zeal in Liberty’s students 40 years later.

“I do see the same zeal, but I see better opportunities for these students,“ Falwell said.

“The first graduates had all the enthusiasm in the world, but they didn’t have the same opportunities of our current students.”

Falwell said the university now has the resources to better equip students.

“The stage is set for Liberty students to make a huge impact,” the chancellor said.

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