Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian school in the southeastern U.S. state of Virginia, has invited students back to campus this week, despite the fast-growing coronavirus pandemic.
University President Jerry Falwell Jr. invited the school’s 5,000 students back to campus from spring break and ordered faculty to continue to work on campus, even as most classes move online. Falwell said students would complete their coursework online instead of in classrooms.
University spokesman Scott Lamb said about 1,100 students had returned to campus by Tuesday morning.
The move to return students to the Lynchburg campus seems to ignore social distancing guidelines from worldwide health officials and the state of Virginia. Moreover, the World Health Organization said Tuesday the U.S. is likely to soon become the world epicenter of the outbreak.
"14.4 percent of everyone in Lynchburg — about 12,000 people — is over the age of 65, if you want a sense of how many people Jerry Falwell Jr. is putting at risk," tweeted Jamelle Bouie, a New York Times columnist based in Charlottesville, Va.
14.4 percent of everyone in Lynchburg — about 12,000 people — is over the age of 65, if you want a sense of how many people Jerry Falwell Jr. is putting at risk. https://t.co/b1UisuEELk— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) March 24, 2020
The university said it is providing safe accommodations to students and employees and taking additional steps to ensure their good health.
But Lynchburg city officials said they are receiving complaints about Falwell’s decisions.
“People are saying, ‘This terrible. What can you do?’” City Manager Bonnie Svrcek said.
“We could not be more disappointed in the action that Jerry took in telling students they could come back and take their online classes on campus,” Svrcek added.
Falwell’s decision is at odds with many colleges and universities across the U.S. and the world that closed their campuses to help slow the spread of COVID-19.