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Chancellor Falwell announces Towns will step down for sabbatical

Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr. addressed the student body for the first time this semester during Wednesday’s Convocation, welcoming students and recounting the “unbelievable miracle story” of Liberty University’s history for new students.

A man who played a key role in that story is Dr. Elmer L. Towns, who co-founded the university with Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. in 1971 and has most recently served as dean of Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary and the School of Religion. Falwell announced that Towns is going on sabbatical, effective Thursday, Aug. 29, to write books, travel, and spend time with his family.

Towns will no longer be in the classroom, but will still maintain his role in mentoring Liberty’s leadership and will actively develop a transition plan and search for new deans, talking with many prominent Christian leaders he knows across the country.

Dr. Elmer Towns, Liberty University co-founder, speaks during Convocation Wednesday following the "bittersweet" announcement of his sabbatical.

This will be the first sabbatical for Towns, 80, who was the only full-time teacher during Liberty’s first year. He has written more than 170 books and has lectured and taught seminars at more than 110 theological seminaries and colleges nationwide and abroad.

Calling it a “bittersweet day,” Falwell said he didn’t know of “anyone who’s more deserving of some time to do the things he loves away from the classroom than Elmer Towns.”

“He is one of the founders … who has sacrificed so much for this school, for you, and for future generations of students who will attend this university,” Falwell told students, as he welcomed Towns to the podium to speak, a tradition for him at the start of every school year.

Towns told students he was proud to be a part of Liberty’s history.

“I was excited about what we could do to reach the world for Jesus Christ, and because of Dr. Falwell and his vision, I got excited about what we have done in the past and what we can do in the future, and I am so thrilled to have been a part of Liberty University and what God has done here.”

He commended Falwell, Jr. for his leadership and said he is looking forward to the future.

Elmer Towns with Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Becki Falwell.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. (right) and his wife, Becki, stand with Dr. Elmer Towns following an emotional Convocation message.

“I think the educational future is great, I think God’s going to do something (at Liberty), and God began to get me excited about a transition. I’m going to write, I’m going to travel, and I want you to pray for me … pray that I would find that right person to take over the duty of the dean of the School of Religion and the dean of the seminary.”

He encouraged students to find God’s plan for their lives, as he began to find for himself as a college student, keeping Jeremiah 29:11 close to his heart.

“God has a plan for your life. I want to challenge you this year: Find that plan, and do it.”

During his search for new deans, Dr. Gabe Etzel will serve as the acting dean for the School of Religion, and Dr. David Hirschman will be acting dean of the seminary.