Despite public health concerns surrounding COVID-19, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Liberty University is planning for 5,000 students to return to campus this week. This decision bucks the trend of most American colleges that are canceling all on-campus activities indefinitely.
Liberty has already shifted classes online under Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s ban on gatherings of more than ten people. It currently plans on allowing students to access dormitories, office hours with professors, and most campus facilities. Dining hall services will be take-out only. However, another recent order from Governor Northam requiring all non-essential businesses and services to close this week might complicate this plan, as it is not clear what this means for the university.
Liberty has taken some precautionary measures in preparing for their students to return. Professors who are elderly or have underlying conditions can avoid returning to campus with health exemptions. Likewise, most students do not have to return to campus since classes are online (except for a few labs that have less than ten people).
Nevertheless, many are critical of the University’s decision. According to Fox News, the City of Lynchburg felt misled by the University. City officials believed that the University would keep on-campus services open for the handful of international students forced to stay due to travel concerns, and were unaware of Falwell’s plan to reopen the dorms.
Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy said, “I was very surprised and disappointed to later learn of President Falwell’s most recent decision to allow students back on campus. We are in the midst of a public health crisis. I am concerned for the students, faculty, and employees at Liberty University, and I am also very concerned for the residents of the Lynchburg community.”
Liberty English Professor Marybeth Davis Baggett was also critical of Falwell’s decision. “Liberty is not a bubble where the virus would be contained,” Baggett wrote. “Instead, its population comes into regular contact with those in the Lynchburg community, putting their health and lives at risk as well.”
In explaining the University’s reasoning behind their decision to reopen their facilities, Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. said, “I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life.”
Falwell also said, “I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together. Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”
This would seem like a nice sentiment under normal circumstances. Falwell is correct that most students paid to experience college life rather than to take classes remotely, and that much of Liberty’s populace is not at risk of dying from the disease.Nevertheless, as nationwide quarantines, mass cancellations of events, and a slew of government mandates should reveal, these are not normal circumstances.
Amid nationwide efforts to flatten the curve to prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed, Liberty’s decision seems short-sighted and potentially puts the Lynchburg community at risk. It also fails to follow President Trump and the CDC’s Coronavirus guidelines that call for Americans to engage in work and school from home whenever possible.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, the state currently has nine deaths and 391 confirmed cases of COVID-19. These numbers seem poised to grow rapidly as more tests are administered. Virginia has already declared a state of emergency in response to the virus.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.