Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., went so far as to request criminal arrest warrants after journalists visited the school’s campus.
A lawsuit has accused the evangelical Liberty University of profiting atop coronavirus by reducing on-campus services without offering any refund on fees.
Liberty University, notes CNN, was founded by Jerry Falwell, Sr., and is run by his Trump-supporting televangelist son. Unlike most other colleges, Liberty has kept its Lynchburg, Virginia, campus open amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“Liberty University is, in a very real sense, profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic—keeping its campus and campus services ‘open’ as a pretext to retain Plaintiff’s and the other Class members’ room, board and campus fees, despite no longer having to incur the full cost of providing those services,” the lawsuit alleges.
The complaint asserts that, despite Liberty’s pretense of business-as-usual, its campus has effectively shut down. All of the school’s courses have moved online; its recreation halls are shuttered, graduation ceremonies have been delayed or canceled. Student activities and sports leagues may no longer meet.
Students who’ve remained on campus are not allowed to congregate in groups larger than 10. And cafeterias won’t let students receive meals if they’re not carry-out.
And Liberty has, in fact, offered students $1,000 credits to move out of its residence halls. However, the lawsuit says that credit does nothing for students who will no longer be able to come back to campus next semester, or who missed the cut-off application date of 28 March.
The lawsuit, framed as a prospective class action, was filed by “Student A,” who opted for anonymity because he or she feared anonymity. In the filing, Student A said Liberty’s unwillingness to suspend operations has the potential to endanger students.
“Liberty’s decision to tell its students they could remain on campus to continue to use their housing, meal plans, parking, and the benefits of the services and activities for which their fees paid, was not only illusory and empty—because there were no more on-campus classes—but it was also extremely dangerous and irresponsible,” Student A said.
Adam Levitt, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, opined that Falwell, Jr., has “disingenuously” kept campus open to avoid refunding fees.
“This pandemic has already placed tremendous financial strain on many of Liberty’s students and their families,” Levitt told CNN. “And the fact that Mr. Falwell would disingenuously keep the campus open as a pretext for holding onto student fees while putting their finances and health at risk is a stark illustration of where his true priorities are.”
Falwell, adds The Hill, is an “outspoken supporter of President Trump.” He’s also been aggressive critic of the pandemic response, claiming that fears of mass infection are unwarranted. In fact, Falwell went so far as to request that law enforcement arrest journalists who visited Liberty University to document its lack of response to coronavirus.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Liberty has denied the allegations in the class action.
“Liberty University has tirelessly attempted to balance the needs of students, employees, and the community as it has navigated through the unprecedented health challenges presented by COVID-19,” Liberty University said in a statement. “We have also taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved. While it’s not surprising that plaintiff class action attorneys would seek to profit from a public health crisis, we don’t believe this law firm or its single client speaks for the vast majority of our students.”