About 30 student protesters gathered on the steps of Montview Student Union at Liberty University today to protest the alleged misconduct of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. Protest organizer, Elizabeth Brooks—a junior, politics and policy major at Liberty—told me she was prompted to action after reading articles in Politico and Reuter’s this week.
The Politico article outlined several instances of alleged self-dealing at the nonprofit institution, including Falwell hiring his son, Trey Falwell, to manage a shopping center the school owns. It also accused Falwell of nurturing a “culture of fear” at the school and of speaking of his wife in sexually explicit ways.
But what Brooks said especially bothered her was a Reuter’s article , which included texts by Falwell calling a Liberty student “retarded” and the school’s police chief a “half-wit.”
“This is a habitual pattern that we’ve seen from the president, whether on Twitter calling people ‘idiots,’ or in texts calling them ‘retarded,’” Brooks said. Fueled by disgust over what she had read, Brooks said she texted several friends Wednesday night, saying, “Guys, we can’t stand for this. This is not what Christ would have. This is not what Jerry Falwell, Sr. (the deceased founder of Liberty), would have.”
“Guys, we can’t stand for this. This is not what Christ would have. This is not what Jerry Falwell, Sr., would have.”
Brooks said about two dozen students responded positively to her appeal. But she said the greatest response came from alumni after news of the protest hit social media. “I got a lot of feedback from alumni, saying, ‘Thank you so much. I wish we could be there!'”
The protest took place at 11:45 a.m. as students and staff were exiting the university’s convocation service. According to Brooks, the group swelled to about 200 as three counter-protesters carrying signs saying, “Keep Jerry as President,” confronted the group.
But Brooks said removing Falwell is not the aim of #StudentsForChange—the name adopted by the protesters. Instead, she said the group wants an investigation into Falwell’s behavior, more transparency within the administration, and more accountability for Falwell himself.
Brooks said that once #StudentsForChange communicated their goals, the counter-protesters became less contrarian, and it sparked open and respectful debate. “It was a really beautiful dialogue,” she said. “There was no down-talking, no disrespect.”
Someone shot video of an interaction between students and posted it on social media:
— Itinease McMiller (@IMcMillerNews) September 13, 2019
When I talked to Brooks yesterday evening, she said she was nervous about possible retribution from Liberty’s administration. However, she said no administration or faculty attended the protest.
Scott Lamb, senior vice president of university communications, told me today that Liberty administration had approved the student protest. When I asked him if there would be any retribution for student involvement, he said, “Absolutely not. There’s no retribution for a peaceful protest.”
When asked about the allegations in Politico article, he said, “The board of trustees is aware of both the allegation in those stories and the full truth of the matter, and the truth will come out. However, those news stories are not built on the truth.”
On Tuesday, Falwell told The Associated Press that the leaked emails included in the Politico article belonged to the university and that he was asking the FBI to investigate what he called a “criminal” smear campaign. (The emails in the Reuter’s article reportedly were from Falwell’s personal email account.) Falwell also said he intends to hire the “meanest lawyer in New York” to sue the people who leaked the emails in civil courts.
When asked about pursuing legal recourse, Lamb said that Falwell and the school “are in alignment” and that the leaking of emails is “an institutional concern.” Lamb declined to comment on the actual content of the emails.
“I’m going to be me no matter what. That will never change and I will say whatever I think whenever I want to say it.”
However, yesterday Falwell defended calling his police chief a “half-wit.” “The chief of police spoke out against my idea to allow concealed carry on campus and that was the reason I was saying things that weren’t so nice about him. . . . I’m going to be me no matter what. That will never change and I will say whatever I think whenever I want to say it.”
Elizabeth Brooks says her group intends to keep voicing their opinions, as well. She said she doesn’t know what action will be next, but added, “Students for change isn’t going anywhere.”
Next Saturday on The Roys Report, a former department chair and dean at Liberty will be joining me to discuss these issues. I also extended an invitation through Scott Lamb for Jerry Falwell, Jr., to join us, but have not yet heard back.