Opposition to his presidency had been growing but came to a dramatic head after two new reports about a young man Falwell and his wife befriended at a Florida pool, went into business with and who allegedly was sexually connected to the couple. One report painted Falwell as the victim of an obsessive affair; the other as an eager participant manipulating a naive young man.
At the last minute, Falwell’s purported exit became complicated. Reached by phone Monday night, Falwell said he is not resigning. He referred further questions to his public relations team, which has not issued a comment. According to the university official, a resignation process had started, then broke down. Discussions between the two sides continued into Monday evening.
Falwell had been placed on paid leave Aug. 7 after he posted a provocative picture of himself and his wife’s assistant on social media. Both had their zippers partially down and Falwell was holding a dark beverage he joked was nonalcoholic and “a prop only.” Drinking or being around alcohol as well as sexual promiscuity are banned for students under Liberty’s personal code of conduct. Liberty board members had said in a statement Friday that they were investigating.
Liberty University was founded in 1971 to “train champions for Christ,” and many at the school revere the memory of Falwell’s father, Jerry Falwell Sr., the prominent evangelist who was one of the school’s founders. Monday was Liberty’s first day of classes.
For many years, Falwell was best known for lifting the university out of debt, shoring up its finances, improving its physical campus and leading a dramatic growth in enrollment.
He made national headlines when he endorsed Trump in 2016, one of the first prominent evangelicals to do so. He also garnered criticism for the endorsement from students and graduates. A former chairman of Liberty’s executive committee, Mark DeMoss, resigned over the endorsement, saying Trump’s campaign was a rejection of the values the university promotes.
A series of scandals increased concern among some graduates, students and other supporters of the university.
At a Liberty convocation in 2015, Falwell said the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting that year could have been prevented if people had concealed-carry permits and had guns to “end those Muslims before they walked in killing.”
In May, Falwell tweeted a photo of a face mask decorated with an image of a person in Ku Klux Klan robes and another in blackface, in an attempt to taunt Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) over his blackface scandal in connection with a medical school yearbook. Falwell deleted the tweet and apologized, but several students and staff members left the school in protest.
The board faced increased pressure to take action, with pastors and influential supporters including Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), a Southern Baptist minister and former Liberty instructor, calling for his resignation. A group of graduates, Save71, called…
Read More: Jerry Falwell Jr. agrees to resign as Liberty University president