Jerry Felwell Jr. is taking a leave of absence from Liberty University, the school announced on Friday evening. The executive committee of the Board of Trustees of Evangelical University met on Friday and requested that Felwell be temporarily removed from his roles as president and chancellor, according to a brief statement issued by the junior school. Felwell Jr. agreed, effective immediately.
The college statement did not mention a reason for the board’s request. But the announcement comes at the end of a week in which Felwell faces unprecedented public pressure to resign from key colleagues in the college. Last weekend, Felwell Jr. posted a picture on his Instagram account in which he posed around a pregnant woman with her arm in a private party on a yacht with a naked babysitter. The college president’s shirt is taken off and his pants are untied, revealing a triangle of underwear. He is holding a glass of what appears to be an alcoholic beverage, although he refers to it as “black water” in the caption.
Falwell Jr. quickly removed the photo from his account, but the screenshots quickly spread. In a bizarre, brief interview with a Virginia radio station on Wednesday, he said he had “apologized to everyone” and promised his children, “I’m trying to be a good boy from here.” Felwell identified the woman as his wife’s assistant, and other photos from the weekend show his wife and several of his children and their spouse on the excursion. (Other family photos of the weekend showed Felwell Jr.’s daughter, Carolyn, a Liberty student’s engagement.)
Students are prohibited from drinking alcohol at Liberty’s campus, and are instructed to dress. A poster on Reddit compiled Falwell Jr.’s potential violations in the ferry photo and an accompanying video, and calculated that a student caught at the same scene received more than $ 9,000 in school fines and 900 hours of required service, and potential May be accused of expulsion. .
Faculty and alumni, who have been critics of the school’s direction under Felwell Jr., were both surprised and grateful by the news of his absence. “For at least a decade, the faculty of Liberty has worked under Felwell’s increasingly autocratic leadership and is further embarrassed by his public behavior,” said Marybeth Davis Baggett, who taught English at Liberty for 17 years And resigned this spring after publishing an op-ed call. To remove Fonwell Jr. on the grounds of dealing with the coronovirus crisis. “A man cannot act this way without many enablers, and any meaningful improvement of the school will require thorough and sincerely honest investigation into the LU culture.”
“One man cannot act like this without many Supporter. “
– Marybeth Davis Baggate, who taught English at Liberty for 17 years
Felwell is the jubilant founder of the junior school, the oldest son of a radical pastor and conservative activist. Felwell Jr., a businessman with a law degree and no pastoral experience, took over the college when his father died in 2007. He has built the school into a sports powerhouse with a campus full of luxury facilities, and conservative activists and politicians speak regularly. there. The school now boasts more than 15,000 residential students, and more than 100,000 students online.
But Liberty has also been under almost constant national scrutiny since Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump in early 2016, months before other white evangelical leaders adopted the candidacy of crude casino magnates. Falwell Jr. began calling for the separation of parts of Virginia from the state and joining West Virginia from 2020. As the coronovirus crisis overlapped, Felwell Jr. initially dismissed it as “propaganda” and called a Liberty parent, who questioned him on Twitter “The dummy. “He was then criticized for welcoming any students who wanted to return to campus after spring break. (15,000 residential students out of 2,000 eventually returned, and Liberty has avoided any outbreaks. ) In May, Felwell Jr. tweeted a racist image in an attempt to inject Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. He eventually deleted the tweet and apologized, but several black employees quit their jobs in public shortly after; Several high-profile black athletes also departed. None of these media dust-ups saw Felwell Jr. in the eyes of his hand-picked Board of Trustees.
The ferry photo was different. It was the first time a large number of prominent white conservative campaigners had publicly criticized Falwell Jr. Mark Walker, a former South Carolina pastor and North Carolina Republican congressman. Tweeted Felwell Jr.’s “ongoing behavior is horrifying” and called him to step down. (Walker is the vice president of the House Republican Caucus.) Incera, a prominent pastor in Florida and Dean of Liberty, Tweeted That “leadership at the top is tragic” and urged the board to “show some courage”. Colby Garman, a Southern Baptist pastor and also a member of the executive committee of the denomination in Virginia Falwell Jr. was asked to resign.
“It annoys a lot of Southern Baptist pastors,” said DJ Jordan, a Liberty graduate with strong ties to the alumni community. “The scene is very stunning. And more so for these conservative retired clergy and business leaders ”who form an important part of the board.
“The Board of Liberty has shown us that their only public offenses relate to alcohol and liquor Gender. “
– 2018 Liberty graduate Dustin Wahl
“This is a very encouraging moment for the Liberty community,” said Dustin Wahl, 2018 Liberty graduate Helped to gather A 501 (c) (4) advocacy group to pressure the board to remove Failwell Jr., but questioned why a ritual photo was considered more damaging than previous disputes. “Why did the board decide that this was the last straw? Because of a photo that was making him uncomfortable, and the following public humiliation. He allowed everything to be done up to that point. The Board of Liberty has shown us that their only public belief is related to alcohol and sex. “Callum Best, who graduated this spring and collaborated with Wahl in the new advocacy group, said that while Felwell Jr.’s leave” certainly feels like a win, “she was upset that the board The petition led by recent alumni did not respond with nearly 40,000 signatures, but rather Republican congressmen and clergy behind the scenes.
Still, the board’s resistance to countless previous calls for Felwell Jr.’s departure is what really made Friday’s announcement so important. “It’s an incredible setback,” Jordan said. “Many of us who have been close to Liberty for years never thought that this board of trustees would take this action, or any form of discipline, against Mr. Falwell.”
It is unclear how long Felwell’s leave will last, or whether he will return to school. However, for the first time since its founding in 1971, the school is without a failure on its head. “This is the perfect call for @LibertyU students and family,” Rep. Walker. Tweeted Friday night. “I pray for Jerry Jr. and the Falwells, and I take solace in the Christian doctrine that forgiveness and redemption are available to all.”
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