Liberty University’s timeline of decisions regarding the campus response to COVID-19
Liberty University has faced backlash in the past few weeks for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, staff, government officials and news organizations have released content in the past weeks criticizing the university’s approach to the situation.
During a March 25 ABC News interview, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. addressed the concerns regarding the safety of Liberty students and the community. As of Sunday, March 29, 1,045 students remained in residence halls.
“It’s more like an apartment complex now with all restaurants on campus doing takeout only. We emphasize safety first. We are cleaning surfaces every hour that are touched often (and) we increased police protection on campus. We’ve taken other measures that make it 100% safe for our students,” Falwell said to ABC News.
Liberty University denied the report made in a New York Times article that students returned to campus with coronavirus and the New York Times corrected the article on March 30.
As of March 31, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residential Liberty students. A current online student who is also a former student-athlete and Liberty graduate has tested positive for COVID-19. Officials are working to understand if the student was on campus leading up to his test.
As of March 31, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residential Liberty students.
Some of Liberty’s social distancing measures on campus include limiting dining locations to serve takeout only, blocking off indoor dining and seating, banning all gatherings over 10 people, employing safety officers to enforce social distancing, sanitizing well-traveled areas frequently and not requiring non-essential staff to work on campus.
Falwell said, “It’s not business as usual,” since professors and non-essential staff have the decision to work from home.
Some students have opted to stay on campus for a variety of reasons. Sophomore mechanical engineering major Alan Uy’s home country, the Philippines, is under a travel ban, and Uy cannot return to his home and family.
“I really wanted to be home right now, but that’s not really a choice for me,” Uy said.
Uy is disappointed the volleyball courts have closed to restrict large gatherings and said his hall in Commons I is “practically dead.”
“We had a lot of students who have no other place to go than their dorm rooms,” Falwell said in the ABC interview. “We didn’t want to tell them no and push the problem off to someone else.”
Liberty senior Calum Best has gained media attention because of his public response to Liberty’s decision. Best remained on campus to work and not put his parents at risk after traveling to Florida over spring break.
“Generally speaking, it is an atmosphere that (it) is possible to be safe (in) if you take self-isolation and social distancing seriously, but there are some students (who) are not and that worries me,” Best said.
He said he expects the “general population” of those who returned did not have another place to go, did not want to put their parents at risk or already had a job in Lynchburg.
Best said Liberty has done well in compliance and shielding themselves from liability, but that some students do not always abide by the university’s social distancing guidelines.
“Students are absolutely responsible for their own behavior, their own willingness to break social distancing,” Best said. “… Whatever it takes to get students to actually comply with social distancing guidelines is what the university should do … they could police it better than they are doing right now.”
Liberty junior Christian Lasval said the university is doing its part to enforce regulations. He said the media’s attack on the university’s approach has been “unfair and unwarranted,” as the university is the safest option for many students. He said most students agree that the criticisms of the university are illegitimate.
“Campus right now is a ghost town. You have a greatly reduced number of people actually working on campus,” Lasval said. “… There is parking at every single lot at all hours of the day and you barely find people walking down the halls either … everything on campus is adhering to the CDC’s guidelines.”
Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order on March 30 that will remain in place until Jun 10, restricting all Virginians to stay home and leave only for “extremely limited circumstances,” according to the governor’s website.
For updates regarding Liberty’s response, check the university’s website.
Here is Liberty University’s timeline of decisions regarding the campus response to coronavirus, so far:
March 10 – Liberty University canceled all university-sponsored international travel for the spring and summer of 2020.
March 13 – After a wave of school closures in the wake of coronavirus, Liberty University announced during a live Convocation streaming on Friday, March 13, that students would return to residential classes as normal on March 23 after spring break. Falwell announced the end of all large gatherings for the semester.
March 16 – Falwell announced on Monday, March 16, that all residential classes, except in the School of Aviation, would transition to an online format after spring break, beginning on Monday, March 23, in response to Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to limit gatherings over 10 people.
March 28 – All students who arrive to stay on campus after Monday. March 30, will be required to quarantine for two weeks in the Annex, an off-campus hotel building previously used as Liberty housing. Food and essentials will be provided for them. Some students have already been quarantined at home or off-campus.
March 30 – The School of Aviation will also transition online and the university will adjust its curfew and checkout process to comply with the restrictions, according to the university’s statement.The university said it will comply with all applicable government orders.
Continue following the Liberty Champion for more COVID-19 updates.
Emily Wood is the Editor-in-Chief of the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRWood17