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 27 – The university announced Friday, March 27, that students who moved off campus by March 28 would receive $1,000 housing credit on their student account.
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
Would there be anyway to get the 1,000.00 credit on the remaining balance for this semester’s bill? Instead of rolling it over to Fall 2020? This would be such a blessing for our family, who have felt the impact of this crisis greatly!
Good Job, Emily! You did an excellent job of reporting the facts clearly without a biased slant. Be proud and stand strong!
Great job! The only discrepancy I see, I was under the impression that not only Aviation students, but Nsg and DO students needed to come back for clinicals. This was, of course, before the hospitals announced their precautions.
Note: anyone can research VA cases by county and we DO Not have more cases do to the students’ return.
Yes, Jerry often speaks in harsh ways, but the school leadership does not go into decisions like this lightly. They are all community members and have a personal investment in their choices.
Thank you for pointing this out! I know the nursing students never returned for residential classes, but I am not sure when this decision was made. Do you know if there is any documentation for when they made the decision about the School of Nursing for me to include for further clarification? Thanks.
I have a student in nursing school. LU announced distant leaning on day 1 for all students except Nursing and Aviation. Then on day 2, the very next day, they announced that all Nursing and Aviation students will also do distant learning.
You have a large gap in your documentation from March 16 to March 27. Please don’t look at me as a hater but this is the timeline I have and it comes directly from email communications sent out to students. You missed the point in LU’s policy after they went to on-line instruction on March 16 that the campus was OPEN to all students if they chose to return. There was no mandate to leave with the exception to stay (This was the policy of other Virginia Universities: CLOSEDwith the option to stay if your could not go home).
“I don’t want to pick a fight or knock down LU. My wife and I are graduates of LU and one of my daughters goes there now. I am one that argued for a prorated refund of room and board fees and LU at least changed its position from no refunds to $1000 credit. That being said neither the press reports nor Jerry Jr.’s account of the events at Liberty are accurate.
Timeline of events:
1. March 13, 2020: the day before LU students go on spring break Jerry Falwell, Jr. goes on Fox news and downplays COVID-19; he states LU will be open with only large gatherings cancelled. At this very time other Virginia universities either announced they were closing with the option for students to stay or they were taking a two week break while the situation developed. LU students went on spring break with the idea they would come back to LU fully OPEN aside from large gatherings like convocation.
2. Restrictions changed rapidly over that weekend and restrictions went from 100 to no more than 10 people gathered at once allowed.
3. Liberty was behind the eight-ball at this point because Jerry Jr. had announced on Friday they would be open. They made the decision to go to on-line classes at the beginning of spring break week and sent out a communication to students that they had the OPTION to stay home or come back to LU to finish the semester with classes being all on-line except for some labs. They told students in this communication they were “encouraging [students] to stay home”. They had to sign a letter of intent form by Friday, March 20 as to their intent to return to LU or stay home.
4. In the meantime students and parents asked if prorated refunds for room and board fees would be given if a student went home. LU sent out official communications that NO refunds would be given if you CHOSE to leave” because the school was OPEN!
5. LU then sent out a second email to students that what exactly they meant by “encouraging” in the first email. Senior leadership had not authorized those words in the first email. Basically, LU said they were putting the onus on the students to make the choice to leave or stay but the students were welcome to stay on campus for the remainder of the semester.
6. By decision day on Friday, March 20 many students chose to leave campus.
7. Information leaks to the media that Liberty was OPEN and welcoming back students. This is partially true as that was the position at the beginning of spring break. It was also true as Liberty did not tell students to stay home. All 15,000 resident students could have chosen to remain on campus.
8. Beginning this week of March 22nd Jerry Falwell, Jr. rebuts news reports that LU is open. He states to CNN that LU only has about 1000 students on campus built for 15,000. They are a shelter in place with take out food service. People in support of Falwell, Jr. are making claims that the media is falsely attacking him and it is good that LU is open for international students.
9. The problem with that narrative in point 8 is the only reason LU could come close to complying with COVID-19 safety precautions is because 14,000 students CHOSE to leave campus. If they all had stayed per their choice then LU would have had a difficult time managing the situation. The problem with praising Falwell, Jr. for keeping the school open for international students is two fold: 1. It was open for anyone who wanted to stay (which was a bad policy) 2. LU was not unique in this policy – all universities in Virginia I checked were allowing students who could not go home the opportunity to stay on campus until the end of the semester.
10. So LU was OPEN with the option of leaving and thankfully many students left allowing LU to operate safely with the remaining students. Other universities were CLOSED with the option of staying.
Bottom line this could have been handled better from the beginning with more decisive leadership. The story in the media is not entirely true but neither is Falwell, Jr.’s account of LU’s status this past week. Facts matter, no person is above scrutiny. Hopefully, this is a lesson learned for the future but I am hoping something requiring these decisions never happens again.”
I heard Jerry Falwell has the Virus!
Is this true?
I am an Alumni…graduated in 01
Not all 15,000 students reside in on-campus housing. Many live off-campus or commute. About 6k live on campus when the university is at normal operations making it far easier when 9000 people are not on campus at one time.
I know many Liberty graduates and they are all good people. But Christians in general are NOT looking good regarding their response (or lack of) to the COVID-19 crisis. Liberty is no exception to this behavior, as Michael points out.
Behaving in a manner that puts you or your family members at risk is an open display of a Christian’s personal DEATH WISH. There are non-christian cults that forbid you to be STUPID. Christians should also rise to this standard of behavior, but clearly this crisis shows they are not.
Michael Duffy is correct in his assessment above. Most of these issues would have not blown up if it weren’t for all of Jerry Jr.’s tweets and appearances on political news shows. When you say on national news that a random guy at a restaurant tells you this could be a Christmas Present from North Korea and you believe him or if you say that this is the exact same thing as the flu, you should be prepared to rightfully be scrutinized.