Liberty students, alumni split on Falwell’s scandalous exit

By Luis Andres Henao and Sarah Rankin
Liberty University
A sign marks an entrance to Liberty University, as students returned to campus during the coronavirus outbreak in March. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Some say he has sinned but should be forgiven. Others want an investigation.

Jerry Falwell Jr.’s resignation as president of Liberty University following revelations of a sexual relationship between his wife and a business partner of the Falwell family has stirred conflicting emotions among those with close ties to the school founded by his father. While some students, graduates and former employees were appalled by his behavior in the latest of a series of scandals, others defended him. His fiercest critics, meanwhile, called for an outside probe and a broader leadership shakeup at one of the largest Christian universities in the world.

“Any steps toward healing at Liberty must involve an unflinching investigation of the extent of the damage Falwell’s leadership has wrought and the institutional figures and forces that enabled it,” Marybeth Davis Baggett, an alumna and recently departed professor of English who taught at Liberty for 17 years, wrote in an email. “Many have been deeply wounded, and a thorough house-cleaning is in order.”

Falwell had been on leave since earlier this month after he posted and later deleted an image on social media that showed him with his pants unzipped, stomach exposed and arm around the waist of his wife’s pregnant assistant, who was in a similar pose. He said the photo was taken at a costume party during a family vacation.

“I wasn’t surprised by the follow-up scandal because this is exactly the type of culture that all Liberty students were used to,” said Alexa Whaley, 20, a senior who transferred from Liberty to the University of New Mexico in May.

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“It kind of became like a university joke that Jerry was this crazy uncle we had who would say stupid things, and we never took it too seriously,” she said.

But that changed, she said, after a series of news articles in recent years about Falwell’s business dealings and personal relationships.

Liberty students, alumni split on Falwell's scandalous exit
Former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. during convocation at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in 2019. (Emily Elconin/AP, File)

Liberty said Falwell offered to resign Monday, hours after news broke that Giancarlo Granda was claiming he had a years-long sexual relationship with Becki Falwell and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur. Falwell, who denied any participation, later reversed course on his resignation and began telling news outlets he had no intention of leaving.

After yet another change in direction, Liberty announced Tuesday that its board had met and accepted Falwell’s resignation. The school said in a statement that the board “used most of its meeting to focus forward on the university’s future and steps that could be taken to ensure it remained true to its mission.”

The board is expected to select a search committee for its new president at its next meeting, the statement said.

Jerry Prevo, the acting president, is not conducting interviews, school spokesman Scott Lamb said.

Falwell, who didn’t respond to an inquiry from AP, is a stalwart backer of President Donald Trump and the son of the late evangelist the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. He played a major role in transforming Liberty into a conservative Christian mainstay, shoring up Liberty’s finances, overhauling the campus with more than $1 billion in construction projects, growing its endowment and increasing its online enrollment since taking over as president in 2007.

He’s also stayed in the news for a series of controversies. Earlier this year, Falwell apologized for a tweet intended to needle Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam over his mask mandate. The tweet included a racist photo that appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page decades ago showing a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

Falwell’s apology came after 35 Black Liberty University alumni rebuked him, saying that he had “repeatedly violated and misrepresented” Christian principles.

Mitchell Fischer, a junior at Liberty, said it didn’t seem like the latest Falwell scandal wasn’t a huge deal on campus, where students’ first day of class was Monday.

“Obviously, we see in the news everywhere. But right now, I think the students are trying to focus on what really matters, you know, growing our faith,” Fischer said.

He said students were grateful for Falwell’s contributions and that people should withhold their judgment.

“Obviously, he’s made mistakes, we’ve all made mistakes, and it’s wrong. But he’s suffering the consequences for that.”

Prevo, a retired Baptist minister who stepped into the interim president role Aug. 10 after serving as the longtime chair of Liberty’s board of trustees, briefly acknowledged Falwell’s departure in remarks Wednesday during convocation, a twice-weekly gathering of the student body that often features high-profile speakers.

Prevo said Falwell had “helped build this university into a world-class institution,” calling him the “inspiration and builder of this great campus.”

“Now as we kick off this new year, I want to assure you that you are at the best place on earth to get your academic training and to grow in the Lord,” Prevo said.

But some Liberty graduates say the school needs a serious overhaul. “Save71,” a newly formed nonprofit that references the year of Liberty’s founding and is designed to mobilize alumni, students and faculty behind reform at the university, issued a statement this week urging several specific next steps, including an outside investigation into “the claims of financial corruption documented in previous reporting” as well as a probe by Liberty’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

“I think the issues go deeper than just Jerry,” said Liberty graduate Jonathan Carone, who is not affiliated with “Save71.”

Carone, 33, attended Liberty for both his undergraduate studies and seminary and also held student employee roles during his time there. He criticized what he described as a board unwilling to hold university leadership accountable. He also called for an independent investigation.

“The reason it needs to be independent is because people at Liberty are scared to talk,” he said.

Another Liberty graduate, Garet Robinson, said: “I believe in the vision of Liberty to help change the world to make it a better place. That’s not possible right now. But I think we could get back to it.”



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18 thoughts on “Liberty students, alumni split on Falwell’s scandalous exit”

  1. “Obviously, he’s made mistakes, we’ve all made mistakes, and it’s wrong. But he’s suffering the consequences for that.”

    “Falwell told The Washington Post that his contract entitled him to $2.5 million over 24 months—the equivalent of two years’ salary. During that time, Falwell reportedly has agreed not to work for a competing university. After two years, Falwell will receive around $8 million in retirement.”

    Now that’s “suffering the consequences” that we all could use!

    1. @ Arthur Fhardy – “Mistakes”? How about calling it what God would call it, “SIN”. I’m really tired of hearing Christians using that euphemism. A mistake implies an act done once or twice without really knowing they made the wrong decision. Not even including the statements or info from the pool guy, I’d say Jerry Falwell and his wife knew exactly what they were doing was wrong, but thought they were too important to be reprimanded by either the board at Liberty, the students, or the parents of the students.

      But what really upsets me is their trying to brush these sexually immoral acts aside. They’re wondering why people in the Christian community are so hard on them. Mr. & Mrs. Falwell seem to see their kind of behavior similar to that of a little white lie of embarrassment rather than grieving the Holy Spirit and causing the name of Jesus Christ to be ridiculed by the media for all the world (at least the U.S.) as just another example Christian hypocrisy. And money they’re walking away with? Well, it just emphasizes what the Liberty board and the school values.

  2. “Some say he has sinned but should be forgiven. Others want an investigation.”

    Couldn’t it be both? And couldn’t he be forgiven – by anyone he has harmed and by God – but still be removed from his position? If “forgiveness” means “no consequences,” how are any wrongdoers ever to be discouraged?

    1. $10.5 Million severance? Is there any way to know if Falwell will also receive a pension when he “retires”? Those are usually very generous….

  3. “he sinned, but should be forgiven”

    The above quote is exactly why I have so much suspicion now regarding Christian leaders and the so-called Boards that often play a huge part in the background of enabling their sin.

    Why do people immediately talk about Forgiveness?

    Forgiveness involves the vertical relationship between God and Jerry Jr and/or God and his wife.

    His wife said in a People magazine that criticism about her conduct stems from the unwillingness of “Christians to forgive her”.

    EXCUSE ME !!

    But the same Christians that you are bashing in a secular, People’s magazine are the very same Christians who paid money so you and your husband can receive an EXIT Payout of 10 Million Dollars for your Unbiblical and unhealthy threesomes spanning multiple years.

    Why do church culture immediately talk about Forgiveness?

    Even IF God forgives Jerry Jr and wife, there is still the Reality of Horizontal relationships that are Broken.

    You will NOT hear the following from the pulpits of James Macdonald and/or Jerry Falwell Jr and/or any of the Celebrity Pastors, but the fact remains:

    Sin has consequences. The consequences on the Horizontal level can Not be un-done.

    Christians are prone to immediately try to “Spiritualize” the seriousness of this topic by saying, “well, Jerry acknowledged his need for forgiveness, blah…blah….”

    Jerry Jr should Never be in a spiritual Leadership position again. A full, extensive Forensic Audit needs to be done so that an outside, independent entity can determine if there was fraud or wrong-doing in the Finances of this NOT – FOR – PROFIT entity called Liberty U. Also, Liberty U needs to seek out and ask hard questions if there are any possible victims.

    Jerry Jr is a wolf. The Board at Liberty U enabled this Wolf to thrive at a Christian University.

    Jerry Jr and wife are wolves.

    They are laughing all the way to the bank, and the parents who paid for Liberty U are being “played as the Fool”.

  4. “He said students were grateful for Falwell’s contributions and that people should withhold their judgment.” Isn’t that the kind of pragmatism we see in the political realm as well? Who cares what kind of person he is, just look at how he has benefited us!

  5. From all I’ve read, he has not admitted any wrong-doing; he’s just resigning and the Board is fulfilling their contractual agreement to him. So from that perspective, there is nothing to forgive.

    The watching world should stop spiritualizing the situation. Liberty University is big business. The Board is handling it like a business transaction. Enough has leaked out about his personal life that he no longer represents what they are selling. Time to cut ties. End of story.

  6. “Liberty students, alumni split on Falwell’s scandalous exit”. It’s hard to write good titles for an article like this, but here, that usually-bland title actually tells the real news, which might also be stated as “Some Liberty students, alumni, refuse to criticize Falwell.” That’s pretty surprising.

  7. LLE- those first two quoted bits were taken from articles cited on this site. The first one from an LU student.

    I would call this episode sinful, debauched, and needing some further scrutiny by the Board, as I suspect you would confirm.

  8. Bingo! Mark nailed it! The name of God is blasphemed among the unbelieving world on account of the falwells behavior. End of story. The “fallout of Falwell” will continue as parents like myself will not send their children there with a board that turns a blind eye to sin and ungodliness.

  9. Why does the article state: “is a stalwart backer of President Donald Trump”. This has nothing to do with Falwelll Jr. choice to sin.
    Totally unnecessary to mention the president.

  10. Nowhere on this site has the issue of what $11 million buys. I doubt it was a parting ‘gift’ because Falwell is in no financial need – and is will continue collecting rents from Liberty. So something was purchased with that money.

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