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 “just a prop.” 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.
Monday was the first day of classes for Liberty students this fall.
Liberty University was founded in 1971 to “train champions for Christ,” and many at the school revere the memory of his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., the prominent evangelist who was one of the school’s founders.
For many years, Falwell was best known for lifting the university his father helped found 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 President Trump in 2016, one of the first prominent evangelicals to do so.
He also garnered criticism for that: 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.
And a series of scandals increased concern among some alumni, 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 from 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. An alumni group, Save71, called for Falwell’s permanent removal. “We put no faith in riches or comfort, in status or power,” they wrote. “We put our faith in Christ alone, and we want Liberty University to follow Him.”
Neither Falwell nor his wife, Becki Falwell, returned calls for comment Monday.