Virginia mayor slams Liberty University’s ‘reckless’ move to welcome students back during ‘crisis’
The mayor of Lynchburg, Va., the home of Liberty University, is condemning the school and its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for welcoming students back to campus amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, calling the decision “reckless.”
“We are in the midst of a public health crisis,” Treney Tweedy (I) said in a statement on Tuesday. “I am concerned for the students, faculty and employees at Liberty University, and I am also very concerned for the residents of the Lynchburg community.”
“Liberty University is an important part of this community; however, I believe it was a reckless decision to bring students back on campus at this time. It is unfortunate that President Falwell chose to not keep his word to us and to this community.”
The novel coronavirus, which originated in China, has since spread to the United States and infected more than 55,000 people, according to a Johns Hopkins University database, leading hundreds of colleges to move classes online to help contain the spread.
Falwell, an ally of President Trump who has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the disease, initially refused to shut down Liberty University’s Lynchburg campus. But he relented last week after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) enforced restrictions against gatherings of more than 100 people, announcing that Liberty would move its classes online.
He said in a statement on Monday, though, that he would begin welcoming students back to campus who wanted to take online classes at the university’s facilities.
“Our thinking was, ‘Let’s get them back as soon as we can — the ones who want to come back,’ ” Falwell said, adding that he’s been in communication with state leaders to comply with social distancing requirements.
He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the university was protecting the students by having them on campus. While the campus is open to students, faculty, staff, prospective students and their family members, it will be closed to visitors.
A Liberty spokesman told The Associated Press that approximately 1,100 students were back living on campus as of Tuesday morning. A former hotel the university owns is being designated as a potential quarantine site, the spokesman said.
Falwell’s decision sparked backlash within the university and the Lynchburg community. Tweedy used the move to urge residents “take this pandemic seriously” and to follow guidelines issued by the state and federal health organizations.
In an op-ed for Religion News Service, Marybeth Davis Baggett, a professor of English at Liberty University, wrote that it is time for the “University board to stop him and shut the campus down before it’s too late.”
About 300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Virginia. Northam earlier this week ordered that all nonessential businesses close by Wednesday.
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