Liberty University Employees Say School's Culture Is Defined By Corruption
At Liberty University — the largest Christian college in the world — there exists a “culture of fear,” and “self-dealing” runs rampant, according to a new report in Politico.
Following interviews with “members of Liberty’s board of trustees, senior university officials, and rank-and-file staff members who work closely” with Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr., journalist Brandon Ambrosino — a Liberty graduate himself — details the secret wheeling and dealing at the university.
Ambrosino said members of the Liberty University community are often reluctant to go on record, and the college employs nondisclosure agreements to ensure that employees or board members do not openly discuss Falwell’s activity.
“Everybody is scared for their life. Everybody walks around in fear,” one current university employee told Ambrosino. The worker “agreed to speak for this article only after purchasing a burner phone, fearing that Falwell was monitoring their communications.”
Even those in Lynchburg, Virginia — the university’s home base — who have no ties to the school fear retribution from Falwell Jr. should they speak ill of the school’s president. “Fear is probably his most powerful weapon,” a former senior university official said.
“It’s a dictatorship,” one high-level employee said. “Nobody craps at the university without Jerry’s approval.”
But “even those who fear have their breaking points,” Ambrosino noted, and so, speaking anonymously, those at Liberty have discussed what they’ve seen.
“We’re talking about the difference between right and wrong,” a current high-ranking university official told the journalist. “Not even ‘being a Christian,’ but being a good person, versus people who manipulate the system.”
After his father, Jerry Falwell, Sr., passed away, Falwell Jr. took over leadership of the university. Under his headship, the school has radically transformed. In 2007, the university’s assets were listed at just over $259 million; by June 2017, the school’s assets were more than $2.5 billion. Falwell Jr. said in 2018 that the number has grown to more than $3 billion.
Ambrosino noted that Liberty University is a nonprofit organization.
Most of the increase in school funds has come from a sharp rise in enrollment since Falwell Jr. took over operations. But plenty of the university president’s confidants are worried about they way that money is spent — often on “university-funded construction and real estate projects that enrich the Falwell family and their friends,” they say.
“It raises red flags to have your kids being able to profit off the activities of the organization,” Philip Hackney, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School who specializes in taxation and nonprofit management, told Ambrosino. He added that “a nonprofit director or officer owes a ‘duty of loyalty’ to the nonprofit. What this means is he cannot take unfair advantage of the nonprofit he controls to his advantage.”
But officials with the university say the school loans money to Falwell Jr.’s friends regardless of whether those loans are in Liberty’s best financial interests.
As an example, Ambrosino cites a 2013 loan to Robert Moon, a man with deep ties to the Falwell family and friend of Falwell Jr. Liberty gave Moon a $750,000 loan to start his construction business, Construction Management Associates Inc., which is devoted to work on and around the school’s Virginia campus.
After being given the loan, Moon’s company subsequently won more than $130 million in contracts from the university and was sold land that Liberty owned.
Hackney, the associate professor at Pitt Law, said of such an arrangement: “This is not standard or good practice. … A nonprofit that is not in the business of loaning money has little reason to be conducting such activity. It raises issues of whether these are in fact charitable activities that further the nonprofit’s mission.”
For his part, Falwell said the university has “considered investments in other local start-up businesses that would help the University’s business model and the local economy.”
Also described by university officials was how this type of shady activity is also perpetrated by Falwell Jr.’s son, Trey Falwell.
Along with the self-dealing, the employees also described a general lack of character they find with Falwell Jr., whether it is engaging in behavior the university condemns — such as going out clubbing and drinking — or his openness in discussing his sex life with faculty members and other employees.
For those who worked at Liberty University under Falwell Sr., there seems a sadness over his son’s choice to abandon his father’s legacy and mission.
“Bragging about business success and washing his hands of any responsibility for spiritual life at the university—that was frankly a pretty Trumpian line of commentary,” said one former university official with long and close ties to both the university and the Falwell family.