LYNCHBURG, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam publicly criticized Liberty University after its leadership announced that they would reopen parts of the Lynchburg campus to students during the coronavirus pandemic.
LU President Jerry Falwell announced on Monday that the university would reopen residence halls and some campus services — like dining — to students who would prefer to finish their semester on campus. Although certain parts of campus have reopened, instruction has been shifted online. LU — a Christian college — has also stopped public convocations.
During a Wednesday press conference, Northam called Falwell’s decision to reopen residence halls one of “too many mixed messages around the country about COVID-19.”
“Our message has been clear, and it will continue to be clear: stay home unless you have to leave for essential reasons,” Northam said. “We appreciate our colleges and universities making accommodations for students with special cases, but that is very different from inviting students to leave their homes and come back to campus.”
Northam also quoted a passage from the Bible saying, “We’re told in First Corinthians, it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Proving faithful means providing clear and consistent guidance, and it means respecting the duty that Liberty University has to its students, its staff, the Lynchburg community in which it is located, and our Commonwealth.”
Northam asked Falwell to look to other Virginia colleges and universities for examples of how they are handling the COVID-19 crisis and to reconsider his message in inviting students back to campus.
A statement was posted to LU’s website in response to Northam’s criticism on Wednesday. The statement said that LU is in compliance with Northam’s COVID-19 directives and federal guidance, and that the campus passed a surprise inspection from the Virginia Department of Health on Tuesday.
“The Governor was quoting scripture today about Christian duty to protect our students,” the statement said. “That’s exactly what Liberty has been laboring tirelessly to do over the last couple of weeks. We really think it’s un-Christian to turn students away and push any problems off on someone else.”
According to the statement, about 10 percent of LU’s students are on campus, including many international students. LU students are staying primarily in their residence halls, doing classes online, and taking food to-go from campus dining services.
The statement also said that students haven’t been working out at fitness centers — which was not the message originally put out by LU on March 23. In the original statement, LU said that fitness centers were open, but were observing Northam’s 10-person directive to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We invite Governor Northam to come and see our compliance for himself, rather than making false accusations in press conferences from Richmond. As the Ninth Commandment says, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,'” the statement said.