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

In an interview, Falwell stated nothing to discourage that notion. The 58-year-old son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. stated he has been affected by blood clots since final fall however plans to “definitely” have extra of a presence on campus as his well being continues to recuperate.

“The employees and the board have been nothing but supportive, 100 percent. The students all want to get their picture with me. They thank me,” Falwell stated.

Falwell stated he and Liberty’s board had additionally resolved a dispute over his severance cost, which Falwell stated final fall amounted to him being owed $10.5 million after being let go from Liberty. Falwell had signed the contract, which included newly beneficiant phrases for severance funds, with Liberty’s govt committee only a year earlier than he was requested to resign.

“The contract was terminated without cause. I’m entitled to full severance,” which incorporates two years of pay and retirement advantages, Falwell stated. He declined to say how a lot the bundle is in the end value, however stated it quantities to greater than $9 million. “And the university board admitted there was no fireable offense and they were reacting more to the press and the Twitter mob than anything else,” Falwell stated.

A spokesperson for Liberty University, the nation’s largest evangelical establishment of upper schooling with greater than 100,000 college students, didn’t reply to questions from POLITICO. Last fall, the college stated Falwell was entitled to considerably much less money than he claimed.

Throughout the Liberty community, there’s an ongoing reckoning concerning the course the varsity ought to take, in addition to easy methods to deal with accusations from final summer season that Jerry and Becki Falwell had behaved inappropriately round younger folks, together with one former Liberty pupil who detailed a sexual encounter he had with Becki Falwell on the household’s farm to POLITICO.

Reformers amongst Liberty’s employees and alumni argue that the college has ignored the allegations. An investigation launched by the board into Falwell’s tenure on the college is ongoing however seems to be narrowly targeted on the question of Falwell and different directors’ use of college funds — a topic on which Falwell has lengthy expressed confidence of his exoneration. Meanwhile, one in every of Falwell’s shut allies — Rev. Jerry Prevo, the 76-year-old former board chair — is operating Liberty as president and CEO and Falwell’s two sons are still employed there.

“Without a thorough investigation into allegations of misconduct and sexually predatory behavior by the Falwells, they shouldn’t be allowed around students,” stated Dustin Wahl, co-founder of Save71, a gaggle of pro-reform Liberty alumni. “That’s the opinion of our organization, and it’s also just basic logic for a university with a lot of young people.”

Despite Falwell’s efforts to emphasise his continued connection to Liberty, present and former school, directors and college students interviewed by POLITICO say they don’t count on him to renew his duties because the college’s president. But they’re perplexed by his repeated appearances on campus and more and more skeptical that Liberty’s board of trustees will undertake a widespread effort to weed out individuals who labored with Falwell as he allegedly behaved inappropriately and mismanaged the varsity’s funds.

As of 2019, not less than 5 Falwell members of the family have been on Liberty’s payroll, the college maintained not less than $36 million {dollars} in business with a building agency began and owned by an in depth Falwell affiliate and Falwell’s sons maintained exterior jobs partnering with businesspeople who relied closely on their contacts with Liberty. In addition, questions have been raised about Falwell’s use of a yacht donated to the college for household holidays, and his frequent personal journeys on the college airplane.

Such actions, critics word, went largely unchecked by Liberty’s board of trustees, a few of whose companies and members of the family additionally had monetary relationships with Liberty.

Last fall, the board introduced particulars of an investigation led by the accounting agency Baker Tilly that’s probing Liberty’s business dealings. People have been inspired to report details about something “illegal, unethical from a business perspective, or improper in the context of the operation of a non-profit organization,” in response to info on a web based portal established by the investigators. But sexual harassment complaints, allegations of discrimination or harassment or different areas the place Liberty “has an established complaint process or procedure” ought to undergo standard channels, the investigators wrote, excluding most of the allegations towards Falwell and his spouse from the probe.

In addition to Becki Falwell’s alleged relationship with a pupil, the Falwells got here below criticism for his or her relationship with a former pool attendant at a Miami resort, Giancarlo Granda, who claims he engaged in a prolonged affair with Becki whereas Jerry typically watched. The couple has acknowledged Becki’s affair with Granda, which started when he was 20 years previous, however denied that Jerry ever participated.

The investigation is now nearing its eighth month, and investigators have made few updates on their progress. Two individuals who submitted info through the net portal and requested interviews with Baker Tilly informed POLITICO they have been by no means contacted.

Liberty’s board, which employed the investigators, has no obligation to publicly disclose the outcomes of the investigation.

“I don’t know anybody who’s optimistic that the investigation is going to be properly received or processed,” stated a former senior Liberty administrator. “There are people who think the investigation itself might legitimately go deep and wide — but then it’s delivered to the same board and executive committee that presided over all of this behavior.”

Liberty has made one vital change that helped appease critics who stated the varsity had grow to be overly political: The Falkirk Center, a controversial on-campus conservative suppose tank based by Jerry Falwell Jr. and GOP activist Charlie Kirk, has parted methods with Kirk and is altering its identify to the Standing for Freedom Center. The change got here after criticism and reporting in POLITICO about Falkirk’s use of college funds to advertise former President Donald Trump and his associates.

Falkirk was one a part of Falwell’s plans to develop Liberty and its affect. While he ran the varsity, Falwell grew to become a tv character and nationwide identify, and Liberty cemented its position as a must-do stopover for Republican politicians keen to talk and launch campaigns in entrance of a pleasant viewers.

Liberty is thus far staying near the trail that Falwell laid out for it earlier than he departed.

Prevo, who beforehand headed a big evangelical church in Alaska, was an in depth ally of Falwell’s, and is a part of a faction of Liberty board members who stay comparatively sympathetic to the departed president, in response to folks conversant in the board’s deliberations. He’s additionally passionate about sustaining Liberty’s outsized function in Republican politics and attended the Rose Garden swearing in of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett simply days after assuming his function as performing president.

Though Liberty is still anticipated to hire a brand new president, Prevo is settling into the brand new function. Last week Prevo employed the chair of the Alaska Republican Party, Glenn Clary, who beforehand labored with Prevo at his Alaska church, to carry a newly created position as vp at Liberty. And Liberty’s board, of which Prevo is a member, additionally launched a press release encouraging folks to consult with Prevo as “president and CEO” of the college, and drop the “acting” title from his identify.

Other allies of Falwell at Liberty embrace Falwell’s sons Trey, who’s a vp and board member, and Wes.
A Liberty University spokesperson didn’t reply to questions on whether or not the Falwell sons will proceed to be employed by Liberty through the upcoming tutorial year.

And board members have mentioned giving Jonathan Falwell, Jerry’s brother, a senior function at Liberty targeted on spirituality, in response to Jerry Falwell and one other one that has spoken to board members. Jonathan Falwell at present leads Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church based by the elder Jerry Falwell, and has labored as a Liberty administrator prior to now.

Bringing Jonathan Falwell again to Liberty would assist appease college students and alumni who wish to see Liberty refocus on its evangelical roots. But to these within the Liberty community who want to see a big change in personnel operating the varsity, including Jonathan — who’s each household to Jerry Falwell Jr., and a member of the board that allowed him to run the varsity as allegations of economic and personal misbehavior swelled — can be yet one more misstep.

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