Members of the Lynchburg community are extending their thoughts to Liberty University’s staff and students in the wake of the resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr.
Liberty University announced Tuesday that its board of trustees had accepted Falwell’s resignation as the university’s president, chancellor and member of its board of directors, effective immediately.
“Liberty University has built a very impressive institution and I think it’s up to the Liberty board,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said after hosting a socially-distant event with Lynchburg leaders on Tuesday afternoon. “But clearly it had become a bit of a distraction, I think, for all of Liberty University.”
Former Lynchburg mayor Rev. Carl Hutcherson Jr. said he feels deep regret for the university, students, Falwell family and the city.
“We are all human and we all have shortcomings,” Hutcherson said noting that Falwell and his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., were helpful to him when, over a decade ago, he faced his own public scandal and resigned from his post as city council member and mayor of the city. Hutcherson said he wishes Falwell and his family well in this time.
He said his thoughts go out to the thousands of Liberty University students who “deserve solid leadership.”
Ward II Lynchburg City Councilman Sterling Wilder, the executive director of the Jubilee Family Development Center, said Tuesday he was shocked to hear Falwell had resigned.
Wilder said he’s had “limited” interactions with Falwell and Liberty University in his role on city council, much of which occurred during quarterly Town and Gown meetings between area college presidents and city leaders. However, Wilder said, Liberty University has partnered with Jubilee for the last two decades as it’s largest provider of volunteers and interns.
“I continue to pray for the college,” Wilder said. “They do a lot of great things in the community, so I continue to pray for them and their leadership.”
In a statement to The News & Advance Monday, Alison Morrison-Shetlar, president of the University of Lynchburg, said: “We wish the university well in this transition time. We do not wish to comment on President Falwell’s personal life.”
In July, faculty, staff, students and alumni from the University of Lynchburg expressed concern over the university’s relationship with Liberty University and association with the Falwell name.
Falwell Sr. briefly attended what was then known as Lynchburg College in the 1950s, and a rooftop terrace at Westover Hall, a campus residence hall that opened last fall and was built in part with money donated by Liberty, is named after Falwell Sr.
In a July statement to The News & Advance, then-president of the University of Lynchburg Kenneth Garren, Morrison-Shetlar and board chairman Nathaniel Marshall said, “The University’s relationship with Liberty is one that benefits and enhances our students’ experience.”
Christopher Bryant, vice president of institutional advancement at Central Virginia Community College, said the college does not have a position regarding Falwell’s resignation but the school would continue to partner with Liberty.
“Our collaborative partnership with Liberty University is strong,” Bryant said. Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar College, and officials at Randolph College would not comment.
Lynchburg Mayor MaryJane Dolan said she hopes Falwell is acting in the best interest of the university, his family and himself. She hopes the Liberty University student body will be able to move forward with their education during this time of transition.
How the national attention on the city’s largest higher education institute might impact the city, remains unclear.
“When anything like this happens, it puts a stain on our city,” Hutcherson said.
Dolan is much more optimistic.
“Scandals come and go,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact directly on the city.”
– Sarah Honosky contributed.