Liberty University Announces Investigation Involving Jerry Falwell Jr.
An investigation into Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tenure as president of Liberty University will be conducted by an outside agency, something we believe is necessary in order to get to the bottom of the scandals that have rocked the institution in recent weeks. Given that Falwell is a second-generation leader, there could well be overlaps with his father’s tenure that may require exploration and we hope that the investigators have been given leave to explore any and all abuses of power that have occurred at Liberty.
This situation reminds us of a case at a megachurch in California’s Silicon Valley. The leader of Menlo Church, John Ortberg, was forced to step down when it became known that he left his own son in ministry after the son had confessed to having a sexual fixation on children. Like Menlo Church, Liberty University had been led in a monarchical fashion that could have led to other abuses of power. Similarly, there are elements of both sexual abuse and cover-up at Liberty too, especially as they relate to how Becki Falwell allegedly preyed on at least one young college student. It is important that the sexual aspects of the Liberty case, and how far back they go, are examined.
We do have doubts that this investigation will be truly independent, especially since the board at Liberty has yet to identify the outside firm they hired to handle the investigation. At the same time, this is at least a step in the correct direction and will hopefully identify areas where secular involvement is needed.
Liberty is a university that we believe has benefited from the generous student aid programs underwritten by US taxpayers. The use and potential abuse of those programs should be explored by the investigators. This situation is analogous to that of the Catholic Church, an entity that controls a vast network of universities and high schools and was able to collect billions of dollars in PPP grants. If the PPP funds or any donor or government student aid funds were diverted for Falwell's private use, those facts need to be made public and a restitution plan created.
Power corrupts, as it may have here, and an honest and transparent report is necessary. What has become public in recent weeks appears to be a long-standing pattern of the abuse of power with allegations of sexual impropriety, financial impropriety and what one insider has called an institution being run "as a monarchy." The problem with monarchies is that the leader is almost always accountable to no one. We hope that in this case, accountability comes not only from the investigation, but also from an ensuing outcry for reform and change from Liberty students, alumni, and other members of the community.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)