During 13 years under the stewardship of Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, has grown into a powerhouse with an endowment of over $1.7 billion, more than 15,000 on-campus and over 94,000 virtual students and a Division I athletics program.
However, Falwell’s tenure at Liberty has become increasingly controversial. On Tuesday, he resigned as university president after the latest in a series of scandals, this one involving an extramarital affair by his wife and allegations from her lover that Falwell participated as a voyeur.
A look at key moments in Falwell’s life and relationship with the university:
- June 17, 1962: Jerry Falwell Jr. is born in Lynchburg to the Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. and Macel Pate Falwell.
- 1971: The Lynchburg Baptist College is founded, beginning as an institution of just 154 students. It would be renamed Liberty Baptist College in 1977 and Liberty University in 1985.
- 1984: Falwell Jr. graduates from Liberty with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and history.
- 1987: Falwell Jr. earns a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. A few months later he marries Becki Tilley, also a graduate of Liberty, according to his university bio.
- May 15, 2007: Falwell Sr. dies at age 73. Falwell Jr. is named president of Liberty soon after.
- 2007-present: With Falwell Jr. at the helm, Liberty dramatically expands its enrollment, curriculum and academic, residential and athletic facilities, including with the 2014 opening of the Center for Medical and Health Sciences. Today the university has net assets of over $2.3 billion, up from $220,000 in 2008, and is one of the largest Christian universities in the country and a force in Republican politics.
- Jan. 26, 2016: Falwell endorses Donald Trump for president, becoming one of the first conservative Christians to do so. In the spring, longtime Liberty trustee Mark DeMoss criticizes the endorsement and later resigns amid disagreement with the board.
- Oct. 10, 2016: Falwell calls Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape comments about sexually assaulting women “reprehensible,” but sticks with his endorsement and defends Trump as “somebody bragging in a locker room-type environment about something they never did.”
- May 13, 2017: Trump gives a Liberty commencement address before a crowd estimated at about 50,000.
- Aug. 20, 2017: Falwell defends Trump after the president says there were “very fine people on both sides” at a white supremacist rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Virginia, while allowing that Trump could have chosen his words more carefully.
- June 18, 2019: A news report alleges that Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen attempted to get rid of purported compromising photos of the Falwells. The Falwells do not comment for the story, though he has denied the existence of such pictures.
- Aug. 27, 2019: Falwell is reported to have “personally approved” a Liberty land deal that benefited his personal trainer. The school defends the deal’s propriety.
- Sept. 9, 2019: In an explosive article in Politico, more than two dozen current and ex-university officials “describe a culture of fear and self-dealing” at the college.
- Sept. 10, 2019: In response, Falwell says he has asked the FBI to investigate what he calls a “criminal” smear campaign by disgruntled members of the university community.
- Sept. 13, 2019: Liberty students protest over the alleged improper benefits from university dealings.
- Oct. 7, 2019: Falwell agrees to pay an undisclosed amount of money to settle a federal lawsuit over a Florida real estate venture.
- May 27, 2020: Falwell tweets a picture of a mask bearing a racist photo and calls Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam “Governor Blackface,” a reference to an old yearbook page scandal that nearly forced Northam from office. Falwell’s post prompts nearly three dozen Black alumni of Liberty to call for his resignation. He later apologizes and deletes the tweet, and is endorsed by the board of trustees. Nevertheless, some Black student athletes announce transfer plans, and some Black faculty members resign.
- Aug. 7, 2020: Falwell goes on an indefinite leave of absence after posting a photo on social media of him and his wife’s pregnant assistant, both with their pants unzipped. Falwell says it was taken at a costume party. Critics call it evidence of hypocrisy by the head of an institution that holds students to a strict moral code of conduct.
-Aug. 23, 2020: Falwell issues a statement saying his wife had an extramarital affair and alleging that the man involved was threatening to “embarrass” the family and Liberty unless they paid him “substantial monies.”
- Aug. 24, 2020: Reuters publishes an interview with Giancarlo Granda, who says he had a long sexual relationship with Becki Falwell and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur. Jerry Falwell has said Granda’s version of events was false.
- Aug. 25, 2020: Falwell resigns as Liberty president, telling The Associated Press he doesn’t want “something my wife did to harm the school I’ve spent my whole life building,” and maintaining that he “never broke a single rule that applies to staff members at Liberty.”
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