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Liberty University invites students back to campus, requires faculty to report to work

'We have a responsibility to our students'

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is going against the trend of many schools in the nation, inviting students to return to campus after spring break despite the threat of the coronavirus spreading, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

On Monday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered all nonessential businesses to close by Wednesday, and Virginia public schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. One day earlier, Falwell said as many as 5,000 students could return to Liberty's campus.

"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 said, the Times-Dispatch reported.

Other universities in the area have closed residence halls to everyone except those with nowhere else to go and have ordered their faculty to work remotely. According to the Times-Dispatch, the University of Lynchburg has just 19 students still living on campus, while Randolph College has only five.

Liberty students will still be receiving online instruction, even if they choose to return to their dorms. Faculty will be required to work on campus even though they won't be teaching in-person classes. The university has not updated its COVID-19 information page to address whether the governor's order for closures will impact these plans.

Although students will be able to return to campus, there will still be restrictions. Gatherings of more than 10 people will be prohibited, and dining services will be take-out only. Campus visits have been suspended.

Falwell believes that the university has taken the correct measures to protect students, and that a majority of the student population is not at high risk of being severely impacted by the virus anyway. At least one Liberty professor, who is transitioning to a new university in the fall, disagrees.

"Lives are at stake," Marybeth Davis Baggett, an English professor, said, according to RTD. "I think this decision is a recipe for disaster and I have been trying to push that as much as I have been able to internally."

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