Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is pleading with Liberty University’s president to reconsider a move reopening the campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it’s risking lives and sending students the wrong message.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said this week the campus would reopen for students and employees, although classes would continue to be given online.
As of Thursday, 460 people statewide had tested positive for the coronavirus and 13 had died.
“We have heard too many mixed messages around the country about COVID-19, and this is yet another example,” Northam said at a press conference. “Our message has been clear and it will continue to be clear: Stay home unless you have to leave for essential reasons. We appreciate our colleges and universities making accommodation for students with special cases. But that is very different from inviting students to leave their homes and come back to campus.”
Northam also quoted Scripture.
“As we are told in First Corinthians, ‘It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful,’” he said, referencing 1 Corinthians 4:2. “Proving faithful means providing clear and consistent guidance. And it means respecting the duty that Liberty University has to its students, its staff, the Lynchburg community in which it is located, and our commonwealth.”
Liberty University, in a statement, said it remains in compliance with Northam’s orders and is keeping the campus open to provide housing for students who are not from Lynchburg safe. Only about 10 percent of its residential students are on campus, the university said.
“We really think it's un-Christian to turn students away and push any problems off on someone else,” Liberty said in its statement. “... These students are in their living spaces attending classes and convocations online, not in classrooms or the Vines Center. They are getting their dining plan food by takeout instead of eating in the dining halls. The campus is fairly spacious and uncrowded, so they are spread out and observing social distancing.”
Meanwhile, the university said the Central Virginia Health District visited the campus this week and found no violations.
“The only Liberty students who are here are adult students who have concluded that this is the only place they have or it is the safest and best place to be, among what may be limited options for them,” the university said.
Video courtesy: PBS News Hour
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.