Jerry Falwell Jr called the reaction to the Coronavirus epidemic "overblown" with his appearance on Fox & Friends on Friday morning. Just before March break, he was vowing to keep face-to-face classes open at the Evangelical university, saying this was what his students wanted. Evidently they don't, as thousands signed an online petition almost immediately, calling for an end to in-person classes.
LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)-- Defying a trend among local colleges and universities, Liberty University's president Jerry Falwell Junior told students Friday that the school would continue to hold face-to-face classes on campus amid concerns about the global Coronavirus pandemic.
Spring break will be held next week for Liberty's residential population of 15,000 students. When they return to campus March 23, Falwell said modifications will be made on campus but classes will resume as normal.
"Unless everything changes in the next week, I don't see us doing what other schools have done," Falwell told Liberty's senior vice president for spiritual development, David Nasser, during a recorded interview that was made available online.
The interview was aired during the school's thrice-weekly convocation, a required event for students that is normally held in the school's Vines Center. Friday's ceremony was live-streamed from a television studio and students watched the broadcast in smaller groups around campus.
During his interview with Nasser, Falwell said the school's decision to continue a normal class schedule was made after hearing requests from students.
"You wouldn't believe all the messages that Becki and I have received from students saying please don't cancel classes and put us home, online," Falwell told Nasser. "You guys paid to be here, you wanted to be on campus. I want to give you what you paid for."
Meanwhile, for thousands of reality-based Liberty students this news came as an unwelcome shock and an online petition gathered thousands of signatures in protest of keeping business as usual. Said freshman Alexis Valle:
"I don't want to risk taking it home and spreading it to my family because with the cancer they have, that could potentially really hurt them and potentially even result in death," she explained.
That's why she signed a petition that asks Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. for an extended break and a switch to online classes.
Valle commented on the petition: "This is a serious issue and Jerry needs to treat it as such."
"It's a little annoying for the fact we're still open when all the other colleges have closed, and even high school, like K-12 have closed, and Jerry is still not closing it," she said.
Valle is one of thousands who have signed the petition that a Liberty student started. The petition's creator spoke to WDBJ7 off-camera and wanted to stay anonymous.
A screenshot of the online petition .