Jerry Falwell Jr. is ordering faculty back to campus.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the evangelical Christian Liberty University in Virginia, is ordering faculty back to campus to finish the semester, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports — despite the fact that the governor of the state has implemented strict social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life," Falwell Jr. said.
Classes will be held online, but faculty that do not have "a valid health exemption" will be required to be on campus and hold office hours.
Falwell is also encouraging students to come back to campus, even as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow. The decision runs counter to those made by many other colleges and universities across the country, some of which have told students not to return to campus and have even canceled graduation ceremonies.
Virginia itself currently has 254 cases and has had six deaths, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
However, Falwell — a top ally of Donald Trump — has long been skeptical of COVID-19 and its impact.
Earlier this month, when authorities were starting to mandate social distancing measures, Falwell appeared on Fox News and said that people were "overreacting" to the coronavirus.
He said that the decision to implement strict social distancing measures were an effort to hurt Trump.
"It makes you wonder if there's a political reason for that. Impeachment didn't work and the Mueller report didn't work and Article 25 didn't work so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump," Falwell said, referring to the constitutional amendment that provides for the removal of a president from office.
Falwell even peddled a false conspiracy theory that the virus was a plot by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un — a theory he said he picked up from someone he spoke with at a restaurant.
The decision to call students and faculty back to campus is being criticized by members of the Liberty University community.
"Many students, faculty, and staff have health conditions that would make COVID-19 difficult to fight," Marybeth Davis Baggett, a member of Liberty University's Board of Trustees, wrote in an op-ed for the Religion News Service.
"And of course, Liberty is not a bubble where the virus would be contained. Instead, its population comes into regular contact with those in the Lynchburg community, putting their health and lives at risk as well," she added.