The uproar is more remarkable in light of Mr. Falwell’s tight control over Liberty and his intolerance for dissent. Liberty’s administration controls the content of the school newspaper. Faculty do not have tenure, and renew their contracts from year to year. And Liberty without a Falwell in charge would be a sea change for a school almost synonymous with the name.
The university was founded by Mr. Falwell’s famous father as a bastion of social conservatism, one that was unabashedly combative as it trained what it called “Champions for Christ.” Under the family, the university has grown from a modest Baptist college to a giant with cash investments and endowments of nearly $2 billion, nearly 46,000 undergraduates and a campus that sprawls across Lynchburg and neighboring communities in Virginia. Total enrollment, including online students, exceeds 100,000.
But this time, dissent ran deep. Even Mr. Falwell’s wife, Becki, chastised him. “I’m not wearing that mask, and I don’t approve of Jerry’s tweet,” she said on the Eric Bolling broadcast as Mr. Falwell laughed.
“We’ve extended a lot of grace and looked past a lot of things, but when we saw that tweet with the blackface and the KKK on it, we said enough is enough,” said Eric Carroll, pastor of the Ascension Church RVA in Richmond and a 1991 Liberty graduate.
After Mr. Falwell’s apology, Mr. Carroll said: “You can look at this one of a couple of ways. You can say, ‘Wow, he succumbed to the pressure, blah blah.’ I choose to believe he recognized the fact that he hurt some people. It took some time and some nudging, but his heart got right.”
He said there was no word on whether Mr. Falwell would meet with the organizers of the open letter. They reiterated that request by letter late Monday, adding that they would like to see Liberty’s administration “surround yourselves more with ethnically diverse pastors and advisers.”
The anger over the blackface tweet cannot be unraveled from Mr. Falwell’s contentious decision to reopen the campus after spring break, which Mr. Northam responded to by placing further restrictions on in-person instruction. Mr. Falwell reacted to coverage of his decision by lodging trespassing charges against journalists who visited the campus and threatening news media outlets, including The New York Times, with lawsuits.