Liberty University
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia

Liberty U Opens Investigation to Public, Focusing on Business Practices, not Sexual Misconduct

By Julie Roys and Christina Darnell

The first public stage of an independent investigation into alleged wrongdoing at Liberty University is now open. And while some Liberty students and supporters are praising the new development, others are upset that the investigation seems to focus solely on business practices and is ignoring potential victims of sexual misconduct.

Liberty confirmed in a statement Tuesday that the Virginia-based school has retained Baker Tilly US, a global forensic accounting firm, to conduct a wide-ranging review of business practices during the tenure of Jerry Falwell Jr. The inquiry, as first announced by the school board at the end of August, will cover financial, real estate, and legal matters.

The school has also launched a website to report any potential misconduct to the investigative team. The website, hosted by a third-party vendor, allows for “employees, contractors and business affiliates” of the school to file confidential submissions, according to the statement.

Calls for an investigation mounted following Falwell’s departure as the university’s president in August, a post he held since the death of his father and the popular evangelical school’s founder, Jerry Falwell Sr., in 2007.

Jerry Fawell Jr and pool boy
Jerry Fawlell Jr. and his former business associate, Giancarlo Granda.

Falwell Jr. resigned after Reuters published an interview with Giancarlo Granda, a business partner who claimed he had a yearslong sexual relationship with Becki Falwell and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons by watching. The Falwells acknowledged the affair, though Falwell Jr. denied participation.

The announcement of the affair came while Falwell was on indefinite leave from his role as president for provocative social media posts that violated the school’s behavioral code. Falwell told the Washington Post he will receive $10.5 million as part of his severance.

Following his resignation, Politico published an article based on stories from dozens of “current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates” alleging Falwell had directed “university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains,” amongst other improprieties.

Politico also published an account by a former Liberty student alleging that Becki Falwell had been an aggressor in a sexual relationship with him.

In addition, The Roys Report published a bizarre exercise video showing Falwell doing pelvic thrusts on a bar holding two university coeds. We also reported that Falwell had “liked” pictures of bikini-clad students that were posted on social media.

Liberty’s recent announcement about the investigation was met with mixed reviews from the public. Some expressed gratitude that Liberty had hired a reputable, third party firm to look into business matters. One person on social media commented that accounting firms have “very high standards for independence . . . and extremely high ethical standards. If a forensic audit is being done, the finances are being looked at with a much more critical eye than a ‘basic’ audit.”

But others complained that the investigation did not invite victims of sexual misconduct to report their stories.

“Will they center on victims and trauma care?” Sarah Bucy Klingler, an advocate for sex abuse victims, tweeted. Ruth D. Hutchins, another advocate and writer, responded, “I certainly hope they’re hiring a separate firm to investigate the issues with sexual abuse. Very different skill set.”

Also expressing skepticism was Save71, a group of Liberty alumni, students and faculty calling for new leadership at the university. The group objected to Liberty’s statement that students and employees should not use the new portal to report “complaints of misconduct where the University has an established complaint procedure.”

“This is arrogant, willful blindness,” Save 71 tweeted. “Liberty’s ‘established complaint procedures ‘need to be investigated themselves.”

According to Liberty, the investigation website for confidential submissions will be open until December 20, 2020, and those with reports are encouraged “not to delay.” The website names only financial categories for “types” of reports, but also has a category for “other.”

“Those with information they believe might be useful to the forensic investigation into potential misconduct in business operations of the University and/or any improper decisions or actions by current or former members of University leadership, are encouraged to visit the portal,” the university statement said.

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to MinistryWatch, WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.

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5 thoughts on “Liberty U Opens Investigation to Public, Focusing on Business Practices, not Sexual Misconduct”

  1. To some extent these are separate issues, perhaps with different third party expertise required for investigation.
    Maybe the sexual misconduct investigation will happen separately.

  2. This is a good move–I do not know precisely what the alleged improprieties are vis-a-vis sexual assault and Title IX, but I do know that many things look very ugly from a financial accountability point of view. The sexual improprieties of the Falwells are part of that, but don’t appear to be the central issue yet. Let ’em look at the books, and then proceed to a Boz-style investigation if that becomes more clearly needed.

  3. Honestly, I’m… I hesitate to say “encouraged”… maybe not discouraged? by the fact they are actually looking at the books considering the schools booming “success” is likely the main reason the board never took action on Falwell’s poor leadership in the past. If they could be willing to lose money over the truth that would be a good thing. As Bike said above, perhaps a separate investigation of sexual misconduct will follow. I would hope so. I worked with Boz Tchividian at the law school after graduating from Liberty and he is a trustworthy, godly man. I pray Liberty hires G.R.A.C.E.

  4. Is there any accusations of sexual misconduct? I am sure some have occurred with such a large university. But have not heard of any that have not been dealt with. If there are open investigations, or any that need to be opened, I hope they are quickly and resolved. There is no place for sexual misconduct in a Christian environment. Unfortunately, it is all to common.

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