RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Liberty University is opening an independent investigation into Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tenure as president, a wide-ranging inquiry that will include financial, real estate and legal matters, the school’s board of trustees announced Monday.
In a statement, the executive committee of the board said trustees had retained an outside firm to investigate “all facets” of the school’s operations under Falwell, and that it was “committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president.”
Calls for such an investigation had been mounting since Falwell’s departure last week from the post he had held since 2007.
He resigned Tuesday (Aug. 25), after a confusing day of back-and-forths about whether or not he would be leaving. Falwell’s departure came amid escalating controversy over his conduct, including allegations that he condoned an affair between his wife and a man he described as a family friend. The man, who was also a business partner, told Reuters that he had a sexual relationship with Becki Falwell and alleged that Jerry watched some of their encounters.
Although the Falwells have acknowledged that Becki Falwell had an affair with the man, Jerry Falwell has denied any involvement in the sexual relationship. The couple allege that the man sought to extort them by threatening to reveal the relationship unless he was paid substantial monies.
The couple said in a statement provided to The Associated Press late Sunday (Aug. 30) that they support Liberty’s board and “welcome any inquiry as we have nothing to hide.”
Falwell became the president of Liberty after the death of his father, Liberty founder Jerry Falwell Sr. He oversaw a period of expansive growth and transformation: Liberty’s online program exploded, as did its endowment, the campus underwent a massive transformation and the athletics programs improved.
Liberty’s statement acknowledged that Falwell’s sharpest critics have long been calling for a departure.
“Some may say that all the signs were there for a long time before last week,” the statement said. “It’s certainly fair to say that there were questionable comments made, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts, but all the signs were not there until the start of last week. While we still don’t know the full scope of the matter, we have learned enough about the past to know that we had no choice but to take the leadership of Liberty University in a new direction.”
The statement added: “We are also committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president.”
The statement also said the board understands it “must seek leaders who demonstrate a full commitment to the spiritual mission of Liberty University by words, actions, and example,” and said it is considering establishing a university leadership position dedicated to spiritual guidance for other leaders, ensuring they “live out the Christian walk expected of each and every one of us at Liberty.”
The school’s consideration of that new spiritually focused leadership post underscores its concern over the degree to which Falwell’s alleged personal conduct would have violated the behavioral codes the school sets for its own students. Falwell told the AP last week that “I never broke a single rule that applies to staff members at Liberty, which I was.”
The full statement from the Liberty University Board is below.
Liberty University Board pledges full commitment to spiritual mission and launches independent investigation
Liberty University’s Executive Committee, acting on behalf of its Board of Trustees, issued the following statement today:
This past week challenged all of us to the core. While we had been willing to extend grace and understanding to Jerry Falwell, Jr. before, once the revelations about his past personal life came more fully to light, we acted swiftly and decisively to ask for his immediate resignation, which we received.
Some may say that all the signs were there for a long time before last week. It’s certainly fair to say that there were questionable comments made, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts, but all the signs were not there until the start of last week. While we still didn’t know the full scope of the matter, we have learned enough about the past to know that we had no choice but to take the leadership of Liberty University in a new direction.
We are also committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president. One of the leading forensic firms in the world has been retained by Liberty University’s Board of Trustees to conduct a thorough investigation into all facets of Liberty University operations during Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s tenure as President, including but not limited to financial, real estate, and legal matters.
Throughout these past few weeks, we knew we were being lifted in prayer by the entire Liberty University community. For this we are especially grateful, as we know it was by the Lord’s grace that we were able to put aside emotion and make the decisions that were necessary and essential for bringing calm to the storm. We thank all those who extended prayerful support!
“Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:26b
Of course, moving forward, we are very mindful that we must seek leaders who demonstrate a full commitment to the spiritual mission of Liberty University by words, actions, and example. That is why, in addition to starting a search for a new president, we are also reviewing options to establish a new role in the top leadership of the University for someone who will serve as a spiritual coach, mentor, and guide to help ensure that every member of the University leadership fulfills his or her spiritual responsibility to live out the Christian walk expected of each and every one of us at Liberty.
Lastly, we are charging Jerry Prevo to use the full range of his presidential authority to implement any changes necessary to improve the ongoing operations of the University, and to enrich the spiritual mission of Liberty University, not only for its students but also for every executive, administrator, faculty member, and the entire staff, and for a prospective new president, as well.
We ask for continued prayers as we all manage this transition and for a continued commitment by us all to fulfill our spiritual mission here at Liberty University today and always.
From The Associated Press. May not be republished. Baptist Press staff contributed to this report. Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content. Schor reported from New York.