‘They thank me’: Jerry Falwell Jr. says Liberty community still embraces him

In an interview, Falwell said nothing to discourage this notion. The 58-year-old son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. said he has had blood clots since last fall but plans to “definitely” have a stronger presence on campus as his health continues to recover.

“The employees and the board of directors only supported us 100 percent. The students all want to take their picture with me. You thank me, ”said Falwell.

Falwell said he and Liberty’s board of directors had also settled a dispute over his severance pay, which Falwell said owed $ 10.5 million last fall after being fired from Liberty. Falwell had signed the contract with Liberty’s Executive Committee just a year before his call to resign, which included new generous terms on severance pay.

“The contract was terminated for no reason. I’m entitled to a full severance payment, “which includes two years of wages and retirement benefits,” Falwell said. He declined to say how much the package is ultimately worth, but said it amounts to more than $ 9 million. “And the university board admitted there was no flammable crime and they responded more to the press and the Twitter mob than anything else,” Falwell said.

A spokesman for Liberty University, the country’s largest Protestant university with more than 100,000 students, did not answer any questions from POLITICO. Last fall, the university announced that Falwell was entitled to significantly less money than he claimed.

The whole Liberty community is constantly thinking about which direction school should go and how to deal with last summer’s allegations that Jerry and Becki Falwell behaved inappropriately towards young people, including a former Liberty student who described in detail a sexual encounter he had with Becki Falwell on the family farm according to POLITICO.

Reformers among Liberty staff and alumni argue that the university overlooked the allegations. A board-initiated investigation into Falwell’s tenure at the university is ongoing, but appears to be narrowly focused on the use of university funds by Falwell and other administrators – an issue on which Falwell has long relied on his discharge Has expressed. Meanwhile, one of Falwell’s close allies – Rev. Jerry Prevo, the 76-year-old former chairman – leads Liberty as president and CEO, and Falwell’s two sons are still employed there.

“They should not be allowed near students without a thorough investigation into allegations of wrongdoing and sexually predatory behavior by the Falwells,” said Dustin Wahl, co-founder of Save71, a group of reform-minded Liberty alumni. “That is the opinion of our organization, and it is only a basic logic for a university with many young people.”

Despite Falwell’s efforts to emphasize his continued connection with freedom, current and former faculties, administrators and students interviewed by POLITICO say they do not expect him to resume his duties as president of the university. However, they are perplexed by his repeated appearances on campus and are becoming increasingly skeptical that the Liberty Board of Trustees will go to far-reaching efforts to weed out people who have worked with Falwell for allegedly improper behavior and poor management of the school’s finances .

By 2019, there were at least five Falwell family members on Liberty’s payroll, the university was on at least $ 36 million in business with a construction company founded by a close Falwell employee and owned by Falwell, and Falwell’s sons had outside jobs in partnership with business people who had relied heavily on their contacts with Liberty. Questions were also raised about Falwell’s use of a yacht donated to the university for family vacations and his frequent personal trips on the university plane.

Critics note that such actions went largely unchecked by the Liberty Board of Trustees, which some companies and family members also had financial ties to Liberty.

Last fall, the board released details of an investigation conducted by accounting firm Baker Tilly into Liberty’s business dealings. According to information on an online portal set up by the investigators, people have been asked to report information about anything “illegal from a business point of view, unethical from a business point of view or inappropriate in connection with running a nonprofit organization”. However, complaints of sexual harassment, allegations of discrimination or harassment, or any other area where Liberty “has an established complaints process or process” should be handled through the usual channels, investigators wrote, concluding many of the allegations against Falwell and his wife the investigation.

In addition to Becki Falwell’s alleged relationship with a student, the Falwells have been criticized for her relationship with a former Miami hotel pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda, who claims he had a long affair with Becki while Jerry sometimes watched. The couple have acknowledged Becki’s affair with Granda, which began when he was 20, but denied that Jerry ever participated.

The investigation is now nearing its eighth month and investigators have made few updates to their progress. Two people who submitted information through the online portal and requested interviews with Baker Tilly told POLITICO that they were never contacted.

The Liberty agency that hired the investigators is under no obligation to publicly disclose the results of the investigation.

“I don’t know anyone who is optimistic that the investigation will be properly received or processed,” said a former Liberty senior administrator. “There are people who believe that the investigation itself could rightly be deep and comprehensive – but then it is passed on to the same board of directors and executive committee that directed all of this conduct.”

Liberty made a significant change that helped appease critics who said the school had gotten too political: the Falkirk Center, a controversial conservative think tank on campus run by Jerry Falwell Jr. and GOP activist Charlie Kirk was founded, has separated from Kirk and it is also changing the name to the Standing for Freedom Center. The change came after criticism and reporting in POLITICO about Falkirk’s use of university funds to promote former President Donald Trump and his staff.

Falkirk was part of Falwell’s plans to increase freedom and influence. While running the school, Falwell became a television personality and national name, and Liberty cemented its position as a must for Republican politicians who wanted to speak and campaign in front of friendly audiences.

Liberty stays so close to the path that Falwell laid out for it before leaving.

Prevo, who previously led a large Evangelical church in Alaska, was a close ally of Falwell and belongs to a faction of Liberty board members who are relatively sympathetic to the late president, according to people familiar with the board’s deliberations. Enthusiastic about maintaining Liberty’s oversized role in Republican politics, he also visited the Rose Garden where he sworn in Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett just days after taking over as President-in-Office.

Although Liberty is still expected to hire a new president, Prevo takes on the new role. Last week, Prevo hired Alaska Republican Party Chairman Glenn Clary, who had previously worked with Prevo at his Alaska Church, to serve in a newly created position as Vice President at Liberty. And Liberty’s board of directors, of which Prevo is a member, also issued a statement encouraging people to refer to Prevo as “President and CEO” of the university and remove the title “Acting” from its name.

Other Falwell at Liberty allies include Falwell’s sons Trey, who is a vice president and board member, and Wes.
A spokesman for Liberty University didn’t answer questions about whether the Falwell sons will continue to work at Liberty for the coming academic year.

And board members have been talking about giving Jonathan Falwell, Jerry’s brother, a leadership role at Liberty that focuses on spirituality, according to Jerry Falwell and another person who has spoken to board members. Jonathan Falwell currently directs Thomas Road Baptist Church, founded by elder Jerry Falwell, and has worked as a Liberty administrator in the past.

Bringing Jonathan Falwell back to freedom would help appease students and alumni who would like to see Liberty refocus on its evangelical roots. But for those in the Liberty community who want a significant change in the staff who run the school, and add Jonathan – who is both a family of Jerry Falwell Jr. and a board member who made the school possible as a charge of directing financial and personal misconduct swelled – would be another misstep.

“Jerry Falwell Jr. was a bully, and I don’t know if Jonathan ever stood up to his brother,” said another former Liberty administrator.

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