Liberty professor slams Falwell's decision to welcome back students, calls for campus to be shut down
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An associate professor at Liberty University is coming out against the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., after he said the university would be welcoming its students back to campus this week, despite the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

In an op-ed published by The Washington Post and the Religion News Service late Monday, Marybeth Davis Baggett, who teaches English at the university, said Falwell was “about to make a terrible mistake” and that it was “time for the Liberty University Board to stop him and shut the campus down before it's too late.”

Baggett criticized Falwell for what she described as a “lack of concern” over the outbreak and accused him of encouraging “reckless behavior in the university’s students” by “continuing to flout the danger of this novel coronavirus.” 

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“This foolhardy decision tracks Falwell’s conspiratorial thinking about COVID-19 and smacks of defiance,” she wrote, pointing to past comments made by Falwell that she said “have manifested bravado, self-congratulation, and callousness in the extreme" during the pandemic.

Falwell has gotten heat in recent weeks for comments he has made about the coronavirus outbreak, including remarks he made during in an interview with Fox News’s Todd Starnes earlier this month in which he knocked the media for its coverage of the pandemic.

“Thank God we have the best president we could possibly have to deal with a crisis like this,” he said during the interview. “Shame on the media for trying to fan it up and destroy the American economy. They’re willing to destroy the economy just to hurt Trump.” 

He also drew backlash earlier this month for pushing a conspiracy theory about the virus during an appearance on Fox News's "Fox & Friends."

“You remember the North Korean leader promised us a Christmas present for America? Back in December," he said on the show then. "Could it be they got together with China and this is that present? I don’t know. But it really is something strange going on." 

Baggett wrote in her op-ed that "for one charged with leading a Christian institution of higher learning, these are troubling qualities, fundamentally at odds with both Christian faith convictions and an academic mindset. For a leader dealing with a situation of such magnitude, they are outright terrifying."

“I have no animus toward Jerry Falwell Jr.,” she continued. “He simply should not have a monopoly on this decision. I think he is dangerously wrong here and seems unable or unwilling to recognize it. For that reason, the decision must be taken out of his hands. I speak up for his benefit as well, since his current plan is courting a disaster for which he would be primarily to blame.”

According to Falwell, Liberty University is expected to welcome up to 5,000 students as well as faculty and staff back to its campus this week as classes begin again.

The university has started offering most of its classes online, as health officials have advised the public to stay indoors and away from gatherings of more than 10 people amid the outbreak.

Still, Falwell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week that he feels the school is, in a way, "protecting the students by having them on campus together."

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"Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk, and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk," he said.

“I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” he said.

In her op-ed on Monday, Baggett acknowledged that while “Liberty’s students are mostly young, at low risk for serious complications from the virus,” a number of students and staff “have health conditions that would make COVID-19 difficult to fight.”

“It is unconscionable that the leadership of the university is fully implementing Falwell’s politically motivated and rash policy that unnecessarily risks an unmanageable outbreak here in Lynchburg,” she wrote, adding that she has “heard from many at the university who have health issues or loved ones with health issues and are distressed about the leadership’s insensitivity and profligacy with impunity.”

"I beg the deans, senior leadership, and board members to think more long-term. They are compelled by what is genuinely best for the university to act, to say nothing of their altruistic obligations as Christians," she wrote at the end of her piece. "These leaders may think they are helping the institution, but in fact, they are sowing the seeds for its devastation."