Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, announced Monday that they had begun allowing thousands of residential students to return to campus as Gov. Ralph Northam announced statewide closures of some non-essential businesses and K-12 schools to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Up to 5,000 students could return to Liberty University this week following spring break, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, at a time when many colleges and universities across the country are sending students home as a result of the coronavirus.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said in an announcement that since the coronavirus crisis began to unfold in the U.S., the school’s executive leadership started working with the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia as well as national and local officials to ensure that they complied with all state restrictions to ensure they could provide safe and reliable accommodations for students choosing to return to campus.
“I was on a conference call with other college presidents and representatives from private colleges, and we listened to what other schools were doing. Many were throwing their hands up and saying they would just close and others were going to extend their breaks. At that time, we were on spring break, so we had time to work on it,” Falwell said.
Falwell said the decision to keep the residence halls open was partly in an effort to limit the exposure of residential students on spring break to the coronavirus.
“Our thinking was, ‘Let's get them back as soon as we can — the ones who want to come back.”
The university also wanted to be able to accommodate all the international students unable to return home, as well as serve as a welcoming place for the commuter students who could not break their leases.
While previously announcing that the university was committed to staying open, school officials noted that most classes would be online to maintain social distancing.
Falwell said school operations were seamless Monday and students were happy to be back.
“They were talking about being glad to be back. I was joking about how they pretty much had the whole place to themselves, and told all of them to enjoy it,” Falwell said.
He further described the campus environment as “sort of a housing complex, with restaurants doing takeout.”
“So we're really not operating as a university, except online. I’m just thankful we have the resources and cooperation of our staff so we are well equipped to do this,” he said.
“While some colleges basically threw their hands up and just shut down and left the problem for somebody else to deal with, Liberty's executive staff rolled their sleeves up,” he added.
“I've been so impressed meeting with them every day; they have stepped up to the plate and made necessary changes to help the students. If there was a medal of honor for their type of service, I'd give every one of them one for their incredible work and how creative they are. I don't think there's another university in the country that has a staff as good as ours.”