News & Events

News & Events

June 1, 2017
News & Events

News & Events

June 1, 2017

Convo on the Lawn

The back steps of the Montview Student Union were transformed into the Liberty University Convocation stage as students, faculty, and staff gathered on the new Academic Commons Lawn for the final Convocation of the year on April 28. It was the first time in decades that the event had been held outdoors.

Students from the School of Music shared the stage with the Liberty Worship Collective as they led the crowd in renditions of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Amazing Grace.”

President Jerry Falwell started the event by talking about the history of the early days of Convocation. He recounted how students would meet in a giant tent for chapel services and for some classes. Falwell also recognized members of the university’s Board of Trustees, who were on campus for their semiannual meeting. Board members and fellow Liberty alumni William Graham (’97), grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham, and Steve Snyder (’82) shared stories of their time at Liberty and gave students messages of encouragement as the semester came to a close.

In a historic moment at the end of Convocation, the university’s replica of the Liberty Bell, which was mounted in place on top of the new Freedom Tower the day before, rang 71 times in honor of the year Liberty was founded. (Read more about the bells below.)

LU receives highest-possible financial responsibility score

Liberty University not only passed a U.S. Department of Education financial-responsibility test for private universities for the 2014-15 academic year, but also earned the highest possible score.

The department looked at 3,374 nonprofit and for-profit institutions, evaluating their debt and assets and assessing their overall relative financial health. (The Higher Education Act of 1965 requires institutions to submit audited financial statements, demonstrating adherence to the standards of financial responsibility necessary to participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs.) Scores are a composite of three ratios (primary reserve, equity, and net income ratio) and range from -1 to 3, with scores lower than 1.5 considered failing. Liberty received a score of 3, joining 809 schools on the test, including Harvard University, Temple University, and Princeton University. Liberty scored higher than Yale University and Boston University.

Liberty continues to receive positive reports on its financial stability. In 2016, Standard & Poor’s affirmed an ‘AA’ long-term rating on Liberty’s taxable bonds with a stable outlook. In 2015, Moody’s Investors Service affirmed the university’s Aa3 rating with a stable outlook, taking into account Liberty’s expansive growth, superior operating performance, strong liquidity, and manageable debt burden.

In December 2012 (41 years after its founding), Liberty became the first evangelical Christian university to surpass $1 billion in net assets.

First televised debate on campus features Virginia’s GOP governor candidates

Audiences across Virginia tuned in to watch the Commonwealth of Virginia Debate for Governor at Liberty University on April 13. The event, hosted by Liberty’s new Center for Law & Government, was the first televised debate at Liberty and the first for governor in this election cycle. Virginia’s gubernatorial race is among the first statewide elections since the recent presidential election.

All candidates vying for the Republican nomination — Frank Wagner, Corey Stewart, and Ed Gillespie — took the stage at the concert hall in Liberty’s new Center for Music and the Worship Arts. The event was broadcast and fully produced by Liberty’s Event Production team. Sinclair Broadcast Group partnered with Liberty to carry the event on several TV stations across Virginia.

Len Stevens, Liberty’s executive director of External Communications, and WSET-TV news anchor Mark Spain served as moderators.

Robert Hurt, former U.S. Congressman and executive director of the Center for Law & Government, welcomed guests, calling the event “a robust debate of issues of national significance.”

Topics included the economy, revitalizing Virginia’s coalfields, regulating businesses, gun control, Medicaid expansion, expected job losses due to automation, illegal immigration, and improving transportation.

Hurt said he was honored to be a part of Liberty’s first televised debate.

“I don’t think any university in the country could have done a better job, which speaks volumes to the quality of the employees who work here,” he said.

He added that the event demonstrated what Liberty aims to do through the Center for Law & Government.

“We want to educate the public on important issues, to inform them so they can elect good men and women to public office,” he said. “We expect to host more events like this and continue to be a platform for the exchange of ideas.”
The debate was also a learning experience for dozens of student volunteers from the Helms School of Government and Liberty University School of Law.

Liberty has become a popular stop for those seeking political office — among them Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Gary Johnson, and Bernie Sanders. Gillespie and Stewart each spoke at Liberty Convocations earlier in the semester.

Work begins on new School of Business building

Artist rendering

Demolition will start this summer on the Elmer Towns Religion Hall to make way for a new 78,000-square-foot, 3-story building for the School of Business.

This facility will have a public entrance facing U.S. 460 and a student entrance in line with Reber-Thomas Drive. The building will complement the classical Jeffersonian architecture of Liberty’s main campus, as reflected in nearby DeMoss Hall, and will serve as an aesthetic landmark for drivers passing by.

Artist rendering

Features will include executive boardrooms, a 500-seat auditorium, a grand lobby, a coffee bar, and a number of innovative classrooms and meeting spaces, from information technology labs to networking and data centers, a simulated stock trading room, and a 2,000-square-foot Entrepreneurship Center for Innovation that will serve students as well as the local community.

The building is expected to be completed by Fall 2018.

Let Freedom Ring: Bells top city’s tallest landmark

A carillon of 25 bells, weighing approximately 8 tons, was hoisted more than 275 feet above the Liberty University campus on April 27 before coming to rest atop Freedom Tower, now the tallest building in Lynchburg.

At the center is the university’s replica Liberty Bell, which was unveiled in 1976 in recognition of America’s bicentennial and the renaming of Lynchburg Baptist College to Liberty Baptist College (years before it became Liberty University). It was previously housed in a pavilion near Elmer Towns Religion Hall. The Liberty Bell alone weighs about 3,000 pounds and is 30 inches in diameter.

The Liberty Bell was played for the first time in its new location on April 28, during Liberty’s last Convocation of the spring semester, which was held on the Academic Commons Lawn. It tolled 71 times for the year Liberty was founded — 1971. (Listen to examples of what the carillon will sound like when in use in the above video.)

The carillon will be electronically controlled from a remote keyboard and can be programmed to play a number of melodies.

The bells are protected from wind and rain by a glass panel enclosure and pyramidal glass roof.

The 17-story Freedom Tower will be completed this fall and will be used primarily for academic programs in the Rawlings School of Divinity, housing 45-seat classrooms on each floor.

Worship Collective works with popular Christian artists to release first album

The Liberty Worship Collective released its debut album this spring, featuring the single “Run,” written by students in collaboration with professional artists Phil Wickham and Josh Auer, along with Louis Fabrizi, Worship Collective director.

The self-titled debut album was produced by Shane & Shane through their Worship Initiative project with Wellhouse Publishing.

“Run” began as a lyric by rising junior Fiona Barbosu, inspired by Psalm 63, and then was developed in a writing session with Wickham, Auer, Fabrizi, and seniors Judd Harris and Ashley Kidd.

In addition to the Collective’s original song, the album includes nine covers of contemporary worship hits, including Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father” and “At the Cross;” Hillsong United’s “This I Believe” and “Hosanna;” and “No Longer Slaves,” originally written by Bethel Music.

The album is available on iTunes and Spotify. Copies are sold at Liberty’s bookstore and at Worship Collective events.

The Liberty Worship Collective is made up of 45 student worship leaders, songwriters, and musicians who lead worship at a number of campus events as well as at conferences, youth events, festivals, churches, and other venues across the country. The Collective plans to release another album featuring all original songs in the future.

Digital media students deliver cutting-edge storytelling in new virtual reality course

Recent graduate Dylan Harrell tests out a VR headset, guided by John Rost, assistant professor of digital media and communication arts.

Students pioneered the digital art of storytelling using virtual reality (commonly referred to as VR) in a pilot course last semester. The elective course through Liberty’s B.S. in Digital Media program was led by visiting guest lecturer Kam Diba, founder and president of Reverge, a digital marketing company that is one of the world’s trailblazers in virtual reality production and distribution.

“This is about changing the entire way that you think about capturing content,” Diba said. “This is new. It’s never been done before.”

Diba said he was willing to share his expertise at Liberty because of the students’ potential to influence the future of the industry.

“It is important to empower the next generation of VR filmmakers,” he said. “It is really great to empower creatives who are going to do awesome secular work, but I want to expand that into amazing faith-based creative work as well.”

Coursework included making a 360-degree thriller, documentary, and faith-based VR experience.

“Liberty has made it easy for us to be desirable to employers,” recent graduate Jeremie Grandemange said. “We get access to a lot of high-end equipment that many students don’t get access to. And I can add ‘virtual reality’ right on my résumé under specialty skills.”

Liberty plans to offer the course again in the future. View class projects at

 Changes announced for academic leadership posts

Liberty announced the following changes during the spring semester:

Dr. Ron Hawkins

Hawkins now holds the title of provost and chief academic officer, a position that most accurately defines his role as Liberty’s senior academic administrator.

Dr. Ben Gutierrez

Gutierrez was appointed co-provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. Gutierrez has served at Liberty in teaching and academic leadership roles since 2001. He most recently served as vice provost for undergraduate education. He now focuses primarily on the oversight and improvement of the online program, helping to ensure that Liberty continues to comply with the accreditation standards that require online and residential academic programs be comparable in scope and quality.

Dr. Gabe Etzel

Etzel is Liberty’s new vice provost for undergraduate education. He most recently served as administrative dean of the Rawlings School of Divinity, where he has taught since 2004.

Dr. Scott Hicks

Hicks has assumed the role of vice provost for graduate education after leading the School of Business for five years as its dean. Hicks joined Liberty as a business professor in 2007.

Dr. Peter Bell

Peter A. Bell, DO, MBA, HPF, FACOEP-dist., FACEP, took the helm as the new dean of Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) on April 10. Dr. Bell came to Liberty from the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM), where he most recently served as assistant dean for undergraduate and graduate medical education. Bell is board-certified in both family medicine and emergency medicine.

Dr. Ester Warren

Warren was named the new dean of the College of General Studies. Warren has served at Liberty for five years as chair of the Department of Psychology.

Dr. Bruce Kirk

Kirk has been named dean of the School of Communication & Digital Content, which includes the digital content, interpersonal communication, strategic communication, and journalism programs. Kirk began teaching at Liberty as an adjunct professor in 2003, joining the faculty full time in 2009. He previously served the SCCA* as a department chair and has had an extensive career in broadcasting.

Scott Hayes

Hayes now serves as dean of the School of Visual & Performing Arts, which includes the Cinematic Arts, Studio & Digital Arts, and Theatre Arts departments. Hayes has 18 years of teaching experience, having worked at six universities in the United States and England. He has more than 100 stage writing, directing, choreographing, acting, and producing credits to his name. Before his new post at LU, he served as an associate dean, and then interim dean, for the SCCA*.

Dr. Steve Warren

Warren has accepted the position of dean of the School of Behavioral Sciences after serving as its interim dean. He has been involved in administration for a number of years at Liberty, including as associate dean of undergraduate psychology and associate dean of graduate counseling.

Dr. David Calland

Calland has stepped up to serve as the interim dean of the School of Business. A faculty member since 2006, Calland most recently served as an associate dean for the School of Business.

*The former School of Communication & Creative Arts

New awards program honors student research

From left: Liberty University rising junior Blake Davis, rising senior Caroline Roberts, Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Ronald Hawkins, recent graduate Ruth Nair, rising senior Luis Quijano, and graduate student Connor Schonta.

The inaugural recipients of the Provost’s Award for Research Excellence were announced in March: rising junior Blake Davis (history), rising senior Caroline Roberts, (biomedical sciences), recent graduate Ruth Nair (pre-med), rising senior Luis Quijano (fashion design), and graduate student Connor Schonta (Master of Arts in History).

The program promotes, supports, and advances student research, scholarship, and creative endeavors at all levels and across all disciplines. Students were awarded grants of $2,500-$4,000 to continue their research, which will be completed this summer.

Davis will be researching the 1807 treason trial of Aaron Burr and will travel to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

Roberts is studying the genetic effects of folate on mice through an ongoing nutritional study on mice at Liberty under the supervision of Dr. Gary Isaacs, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Greg Raner, professor of biochemistry. Nair is studying the effects of curcumin (a plant-produced chemical) on fungal species that cause aspergillosis (an infection caused by a type of mold that usually affects the respiratory system).

Quijano will travel to Australia to research extracting starch from beets, yams, and sweet potatoes as a source of carbon to make bacterial cellulose; he is blending science with fashion to find more responsible ways to make textiles. Schonta will study the effect that the 1938 Munich Agreement had on Czechoslovakian Jews, both before and after it was signed. The grant will allow him to travel to the FDR Presidential Library in New York, the Princeton University Library in New Jersey, and the Library of Congress.

“We are an institution that values curiosity, and we want to encourage our students to be curious — to move the barriers of research out of the way and to do some exciting, cutting-edge work,” said Dr. Ronald Hawkins, provost and chief academic officer. Hawkins has encouraged undergraduate research, distinguishing Liberty from other universities that only focus on major graduate research.

Up to five recipients will be selected annually by a faculty panel. The program is directed by the Liberty University Fulbright Committee, which is administered through the Liberty University School of Law and supervised by the Office of the Provost.

The process of designing a research project, developing an application, and executing research will help students improve their chances of being selected for local, state, and federal grant opportunities.

Debate team continues winning tradition

Liberty’s Debate Team, consistently one of the country’s top collegiate teams, swept all three national debate tournament titles this year. For the eighth time, Liberty placed first for the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), the National Debate Tournament (NDT), and the American Debate Association (ADA).

Liberty remains the only school in the country to finish first in all three rankings in a single year. The team has placed first in the CEDA for the last eight years, first in the NDT for seven out of the last eight years, and first in the ADA for 13 out of the last 14 years.

2017 President’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching

These prestigious awards recognize faculty dedicated to outstanding teaching in both the residential and online classrooms. Several areas of teaching are considered, including the use of instructional technology, the integration of faith into learning, innovation, and a commitment to the personal growth of each student. Winners are selected based on peer recommendations, deans’ endorsements, nominee responses to specific prompts, and student letters. Recipients received monetary gifts and were formally honored at their school or college’s individual degree presentation ceremonies during Commencement.


Brianne Friberg, Ph.D., M.S. Associate Professor, School of Behavioral Sciences/Psychology


Robert Francis Ritchie, M.A. Assistant Professor, College of Arts & Sciences/History


Ellen L. Black, Ed.D., M.Ed. Professor, School of Education


Amanda J. Dunnagan, Ed.D., M.A. Instructional Mentor and Assistant Professor, College of Arts & Sciences/English

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