This post preserves some of the faculty statements on a Facebook that were sent to Liberty University professor Marybeth Baggett. Liberty is staying open during a pandemic. This is the faculty’s concerns about the health of staff and more who are vulnerable and at risk because of Falwell’s policies.
“The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.”
Pope John Paul II
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Psalm 62:7 NIV
In a previous post I wrote about an English professor at Liberty University, Marybeth Davis Baggett, who challenged Jerry Falwell Jr. and asked the Board to intervene. In the middle of a pandemic Liberty is remaining open and Falwell brought back about 1,500 students. It remains the only university in Virginia that is open. You can read that post in, “Jerry Falwell Jr is Keeping Liberty University Open as Local Officials and Marybeth Davis Baggett Plead Otherwise. Remember if its Christian It Must Be Better. That Applies to the Bodybags Liberty Will Use During a Pandemic.” A number of faculty at Liberty sent Facebook messages talking about their health condition and more and worried about the school staying open. Marybeth Davis Baggett posted these on hr Facebook page, and then the link was taken down. I snagged these from John Fea’s blog and want to get these available to the public at Liberty University. Below are some of the concerns behind the scenes of the faculty at Liberty University to the school staying open. This is a toxic school and shows the issues of authoritarianism in evangelicalism.
FB message: I am actually at more risk than most to contract the illness, because of the nature of my work. My employer *can’t* close, and half my work time is spent in a room shared by entire project team that includes several consultants who fly home and back on weekends. They’re very high-risk transfer vectors, which means I’m very likely to get exposed, and from there, my wife is *also* likely to be exposed. My wife works for Liberty in her own project team for a job that could easily be done remotely, and many of the people she works with are professors who are old enough to be severely compromised by the virus. LU doesn’t seem all that concerned about the effect they’d have by transferring viruses outward, so they might benefit from knowing how vulnerable they are to viral transfers inward to their own ranks.
FB message: I think it is safe to say that the culture of fear is alive and well at LU, which may be why there has been a silence from the faculty and staff. I am a current employee and worked in various departments within LU for almost a decade now. My current role is work-from-home so I am grateful for that. However, my heart hurts and is so concerned for my friends and co-workers who are on-campus. I work with seasoned employees who are (at least in this pandemic), considered elderly or higher risk. Many more staff/faculty members take care of and even live with their elderly parents/grandparents. Those who are mothers/fathers of small children are a concern as a well. This is about safety. It is not like deciding a cancellation due to weather, but we are playing with the lives of others and risking further spread of the virus. This is scary to me that staff and faculty safety have seldom been regarded as being a priority. I have a young child as well and my parents and husband are considered high risk, so why endanger the people of Lynchburg in general (and surrounding areas) by ignoring the suggestions from the government, CDC? This is completely irresponsible and faculty/staff keep the school running. They should be a priority and feel valued, not just the students. It is shameful and those in leadership need to be willing to hear the praise AND concerns from their employees without instilling fear in the hearts of the staff for having an opinion. In this case, an opinion to close, which will save lives!
Personal message: What is most frustrating to me is the seeming lack of care for the Lynchburg community. I have seen of my local, non-Liberty friends and businesses in the past several weeks doing good work help mitigate the spread of the virus. Liberty, by contrast, is having its employees to return to work and keeping campus open. If it’s Christian, it ought to be better, right? At this point, if an outbreak happens in Lynchburg, Liberty will be if not totally at fault at least a large contributing factor. Creating a situation where students are given permission to return to campus en masse is irresponsible and unethical and does nothing to care for the least of these in our campus community and in our City.
FB Message: There’s simply no reason for faculty and staff to come to campus if we can do exactly what we need to do under these straitened circumstances via Microsoft Teams video conferencing with students. I find it completely unacceptable that we’re being asked to make the impossible choice between following the orders of the administration for the sake of our jobs and personal/family health. I’ve always loved the classroom environment, but I’m dreading having to go back Monday. Wakes me up at night with panic.
FB Message: Where is the School of Divinity in all this? Thought they were supposed to be the rudder? Those days seem to be over.
FB message: I think allowing the person who runs the university to make such a selfish and dangerous decision is partially on the faculty. What if none of the faculty showed up on Monday but still taught their online classes and did everything else they were supposed to do? What are they going to do? They can’t fire everyone. The university can’t run without faculty. Now is the time to unify and take a stand if ever there was one. A stand that will not cause harm to the university but will show they care about the community, even if their president does not.
FB message: Liberty has always been vocally pro-life, until now. Putting faculty, staff, and students needlessly at risk is just the opposite, not to mention the physically vulnerable like the aged and sick. Falwell literally laughed at the reckless disregard of life found in young people without calling them to account and trying to inspire them to think about more than themselves. But perhaps it would be hard for him to teach such a thing when he lacks any such vision himself.
FB message: I’ve got an asthma sufferer in my home, but I haven’t asked to stay home yet. I’m working up the courage because we are supposed to reach out individually to request exemption, which means that I have to stick my neck out and maybe pop up on the administrative radar. When contracts are up for renewal, I don’t want to people to think “well, so and so didn’t want to come in.” And then, what if my course evaluations take a dip because of all of this? It’s frustrating that as faculty we are asked to be (and I’m happy to be) understanding, compassionate, extend grace and the benefit of the doubt, etc. —especially at this time—and yet we are not given the same treatment, in addition to the constant checks for compliance for things we didn’t completely understand, while migrating course content online, and training in a new technology… all of which culminated in a handful of administrators being added into faculty LMS to monitor all communication to students, also for compliance, which comes off less as “we’re going to make sure we support you so we can get through this the best we can” and more like “we’re gonna make sure you do this, now.”
FB message: The decisions the institution is making about staff and faculty are incredibly stupid. My particular job can easily transfer to work from home (as shown every time there is a snow day) and yet when I didn’t feel comfortable going in to work yesterday because I was running a low grade fever (though I felt fine in general) I was told I would have to take paid time off because current policy isn’t allowing us to work from home. My entire office has spoken about how utterly incompetent Liberty’s response has been during this time but there’s no avenue to express these complaints. I’ve never seen morale as low as this and it could so easily be fixed by just having us work from home. I’m desperately tired of working for a University that clearly cares so little about their staff and faculty.
FB message: It is positively terrifying to think about pushing back against the administration on this, as they are watching us and could punish us and our families (if we lose our job and our income, it hurts our families too) for expressing even cautious dissent. And yet, having that many people come to work (when we can do the same work at home) is potentially dangerous. The fact that students are required to move their stuff out of the dorms within a few days is also dangerous. I don’t understand why we are being asked to do this, and it is hard to know where to draw the line. I woke up last night and had to pray through anxiety on this. God, help them change their hearts.
FB message: In the 12 years that have passed since my husband and I graduated LU, we’ve been ashamed to say we’re Alum- but never as much as we are now. We need reasoning behind the decision to bring students back. We need to know how this isn’t a risk to students, faculty and the people of Lynchburg. We need to know WHY in the middle of a pandemic, Liberty University believes their dorms should be full and their faculty should put their own families at risk. The answers to these questions need to be based in statistics and science. Jerry Jr: are you using Liberty and Lynchburg as an experiment? What are you thinking?
FB message: It is time for the board of Liberty University to ask for Jerry Falwell Jrs. resignation. His latest actions, as well as, several of his actions over the past three years have not be in line with with the mission of the university or indicative Christian faithfulness. The time is now to take a stand and not allow him to do more damage to the community, Liberty, and the name of Jesus.
FB message: I’m finding it difficult to articulate the frustration and helplessness that I am feeling as a Liberty employee who is still expected to report to work. My role at the university is one in which I am constantly in contact with students, staff, and faculty members of all ages. The projected number of students returning to campus is sobering. At this point it feels as though transmission from returning students to “essential” university staff and faculty members is unavoidable. This whole situation is emotionally draining. I am being told that I should be thankful that we are remaining open because so many others have lost their jobs during this time. However, I cannot simply rejoice because our continued operations mean putting our entire community at risk.
FB message: As someone who falls squarely in the at-risk category for serious and potentially deadly health consequences should I contract the COVID-19 virus, I’m fearful of going into work on Monday with the thousands of faculty, staff and students who will be on campus. I’m also fearful, however, of not having my one-year contract renewed if I make the choice to work from home. I keep praying that the governor will issue a stay-at-home order like the governors of some other states are doing.