Liberty University is a private, evangelical Christian university located in the southwestern Virginia town of Lynchburg. It has been a lightning rod of controversy during the Trump presidency due to its own president’s public support of President Donald Trump.
The university permitted college students to return to its campus, if they decided to, during the current coronavirus outbreak (also known as COVID-19). Yet the New York Times blasted the university for opening its campus back up to students who chose to return to the university’s campus.
The Times’ headline read, “Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus Fears, Too.” The newspaper cited the risk associated with re-opening the university and noted that at least a dozen Liberty University students who were sick with coronavirus symptoms and several others were told to self-isolate to avoid spreading it to other people.
Liberty University president, Jerry Falwell, Jr. told the newspaper that of the 1,900 students who returned to campus, at least 800 students left to go home. But that figure did not cover the numbers of students who live in off-campus housing.
The New York Times pivoted its narrative to highlight how the “nation’s far-right dismissed the seriousness of the pandemic” and portrayed conservatives and evangelical Christians in a negative light.
But that was not the sole example of anti-conservative criticism. The newspaper also quoted Lynchburg’s mayor, who blasted Falwell for ignoring state and local government health advisories to re-open the university’s campus to students.
The university also told students that it would issue a $1,000 credit to students who decided not to return to campus. It permitted some faculty members to work from home, after they were initially told to work on-campus.
But it has been well-documented that Liberty University administrators intimidate dissenting opinions of students, as Accuracy in Academia has covered previously. Similar instances of intimidation have allegedly occurred during the current outbreak.
Liberty University’s statement about shifting classes to an online format in part read, “If residential students choose to return to Lynchburg, most will be able to resume their classes in the online format or they can choose to remain where they are and complete their classes online. Most classes will be able to finish out the spring term in an online format.”
Other universities and colleges across the country have undertaken similar measures to deter gatherings of large amounts of people, such as Harvard University in Massachusetts, and other public universities across the United States. Yet the New York Times zeroed in on Liberty University to criticize its pro-Trump university president and portray Christians and conservatives as anti-science skeptics. The university has its flaws, but it is unfair to single it out to score political points during a pandemic.