“Most of them won’t attend classes in person, but thousands of Liberty University students will return to the evangelical Virginia campus as the coronavirus continues to spread.
Most of the students are not at risk because of their age, President Jerry Falwell Jr. argued in an interview with the News and Advance in Lynchburg. The president of the private, Christian college is a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump.
Liberty's move is remarkable as the coronavirus spreads across the United States, with more than 51,000 cases and 674 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon. Hundreds of universities have closed their campuses and asked students to leave crowded dorms. Some have allowed students who can’t move back home – international students or those without secure housing – but most campuses are becoming emptier, not fuller.
A request for comment to the university was not immediately returned on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Liberty put all of its classes online after Gov. Ralph Northam banned gatherings of more than 100 people. Since students left for spring break on March 13, the governor's ban has become more strict: Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, and non-essential businesses and K-12 schools are closed through April 23.
In a press release, Falwell said university leaders had weighed whether to extend the university’s spring break or have students return as planned. They chose the latter.
“Our thinking was, 'Let's get them back as soon as we can — the ones who want to come back,'" Falwell said.”