Yesterday, I wrote about faith and church attendance in the time of coronavirus. In it, I spoke about religious leaders defying government mandates in order to congregate at church and how unfortunate that was, given the current pandemic we’re all facing.
But with President Trump urging people to “get back to work” in order to stimulate the economy, church might be the least of our worries going forward.
Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, is re-opening their school to its 5,000 students after spring break this week.
According to The News & Advance, the school’s President Jerry Falwell Jr. invited students back to campus and has ordered faculty members to resume teaching…on campus. This goes against that national trend other colleges and universities are following, which has transitioned its students and faculty to strictly online format.
In an interview, this past Sunday, Falwell said students are expected to return to dorms where they will continue coursework online. Instructors without health conditions will hold campus office hours.
Falwell 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.”
The reach of the coronavirus became more severe in Virginia this weekend when the Virginia Department of Health announced that there were cases in Amherst and Bedford counties. More than 250 have contracted the disease in the state and 7 have died.
Gatherings on campus will be capped at 10 people, in accordance with an order from Governor Ralph Northam. Dining halls are only serving students in a take-out capacity. Campus visits have been suspended.
In the past few weeks, Falwell has claimed that he is confident that the university has taken the steps to ensure there will not be an campus outbreak. University officials have designated an old hotel owned by the school to serve as a place of quarantine for the students who are ill.
“I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together,” he said. “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.”
While Falwell seems very self-assured, not all of his faculty members share his opinion.
English professor Marybeth Davis Baggett wrote an opinion piece for the Religion News Service which called for Liberty’s board of directors to overrule Falwell’s decision to reopen campus.
“Many students, faculty, and staff have health conditions that would make COVID-19 difficult to fight,” Baggett wrote. “And of course, Liberty is not a bubble where the virus would be contained. Instead, its population comes into regular contact with those in the Lynchburg community, putting their health and lives at risk as well.”
Baggett refuses to return to campus until the pandemic has run its course. She plans to begin teaching at the Houston Baptist University this fall.
“Lives are at stake. I think this decision is a recipe for disaster and I have been trying to push that as much as I have been able to internally.”
The news of Falwell’s decision has left the religious community. Liberty’s opening is trending on Twitter. See what people had to say about all of this on the following pages.