First published at Newsweek on April 1, 2020
As the coronavirus crisis continues, we must all do our share to limit the spread of the virus. It’s exactly what every American was called to do by President Trump when he extended his social distancing guidelines by another 30 days.
As a Christian university, we also consider it our duty to continue to act with compassion in the midst of this crisis—and we’re proving that we can be in total compliance with the law under this current emergency while also fulfilling our Christian mission. We’re living up to our duty—not shirking it—by allowing a small percentage of our residential students to stay safe on our campus.
As the nation began to appreciate the full scope of this crisis a few weeks ago, our students were just departing for Spring Break. This allowed our executive team to labor tirelessly to develop a proper plan that would keep our students, faculty, and staff safe from the virus. Our planning had to continually adapt to the constantly evolving narrative from leaders in Washington and Richmond, as the guidance shifted from limiting group gatherings of 100 down to 10.
So, we got to work on a whole-of-campus approach to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including:
- Our entire course selection moved to our online platform.
- Students were given the option to learn from home.
- No classes are conducted in person, except for a few labs limited to 10 or fewer students.
- Faculty have the option of working from home and conducting their office hours remotely.
- All food services are takeout only. All other non-essential facilities, such as fitness and social centers, are closed.
- Every touchpoint is wiped down and disinfected by our dutiful staff throughout the day.
- Our computer centers only have every third computer operational for social distancing.
- Our police force has a campus-wide presence ensuring that people follow our strict rules.
- We have designated a former hotel, currently vacant, as a quarantine site if it is needed.
Last week, students were allowed the option to return to campus. Out of a population of 15,500 students, approximately 1,100 returned, including hundreds of international students who truly have nowhere else to go. They are now living a nomadic life, keeping a strict distance from others in their dorms and in public spaces, and they’re continuing their coursework through Liberty University Online Programs, our online education program that already had 100,000 students enrolled prior to the crisis.
Last Tuesday, we were subject to a surprise inspection from the Central Virginia Health District to determine if we were in compliance with Executive Order 53, Governor Northam’s order placing new restrictions on restaurants, businesses, and gatherings. Virginia’s Environmental Health Manager determined we were in full compliance with the Governor’s emergency order—even though the requirements to end in-person dining and close non-essential establishments hadn’t even officially taken effect yet at the time of the inspection.
Misinformation tends to cloud things in a crisis. A lot of well-intentioned but misinformed observers have criticized our plans, though all along we have effectively adjusted to the requirements from Commonwealth of Virginia officials, which were changing by the day at the start of the crisis.
Ironically, Governor Northam singled out Liberty University when he quoted scripture at a press conference and called on me to reverse my decision to allow students, most of whom have nowhere else to go, to return to campus. Northam neglected to mention the 900 students who are residing on the Virginia Tech campus or the 300 students at the University of Virginia.
Instead of “bearing false witness” at a press conference, if Governor Northam was able to visit the Liberty University campus himself he would see that we don’t need to follow the standard set by other schools — we have set the standard here and have created a model for how institutions should respond to a crisis now and in the future. We have also more than fulfilled the requirement that “those who have been given a trust (must) prove faithful” to our entire campus community.
While President Trump has set an example of bold and unflinching leadership for a nation in crisis, and has even united a divided country in unprecedented fashion, he has still sustained attacks from the media. One reporter even had the temerity to ask the President in his daily press briefing how many deaths from the coronavirus are acceptable.
Here at Liberty University, we have followed the President’s example and guidance explicitly, and have fully complied with Governor Northam’s emergency orders, while also caring for our students who needed to return to a very safe place and continue their studies online, largely in isolation.
At Liberty University, we’re doing our share to limit the spread of the coronavirus responsibly and ethically, while also fulfilling our Christian mission. We will do whatever it takes to help our nation and Commonwealth in crisis, set an example for others, and protect our campus family all at the same time.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. is the President of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.