by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Christian Barnard writes for the Martin Center about problems plaguing Liberty University.
A recent cascade of investigative reporting on the shady business dealings of Jerry Falwell Jr. has raised some troubling questions about the controversial evangelical figure and his vision for Liberty University, the conservative Christian institution he has led for more than a decade.
Reports from Politico and Reuters, with university staff and administrators as sources, allege that Falwell has repeatedly used university assets to enrich family and friends—and created a campus culture of fear where he holds unbridled authority.
While Liberty has long been presented as an alternative to mainstream liberal academia, the university offers a useful case study in how higher education institutions that pursue unique missions can also be susceptible to unique governance pitfalls. …
… During his tenure, Falwell has dramatically grown university assets—from $259 million in 2007 to more than $3 billion by 2018. But as this financial growth occurred, Politico reports that Falwell also significantly consolidated power over university administration in a way that has led many who work closely with him to question his leadership.
Critics argue that Falwell has created a culture of fear where people are unable to speak out. They point to examples such as how faculty outside of the law school cannot obtain tenure and the routine use of non-disclosure agreements that stop current and former staff and board members from discussing sensitive matters around Falwell’s leadership.
Documented incidents of retaliatory firings when staff criticize university leadership make this fear a legitimate reality.
Students live under scrutiny and fear along with the staff. Other stories from students and alumni detail his micro-management of the campus newspaper—claiming that he reserves the right to edit or reject any columns of which he disapproves. The school newspaper isn’t even student-run anymore.