August 21, 2017; Washington Post
A small but growing contingent (more than 370 by Monday afternoon) of Liberty University alumni joined a Facebook group called “Return your diploma to LU.” They are pledging to mail their diplomas to Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. on September 5th in protest of Falwell’s resolute affirmation of President Donald Trump since before the election. This alumni revolt is specifically in response to Falwell’s support of Trump’s much-derided equivocal response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville last week, 45 minutes away from Liberty.
In response to Trump saying there had been “very fine people” among the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and asserting a moral equivalency between those groups and what Trump called the alt-left, Falwell tweeted zealously, “Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about #charlottesville tragedy. So proud of @realdonaldtrump.” Falwell repeated these sentiments in an interview this past Sunday on ABC News and again on Fox & Friends yesterday morning. Trump then tweeted, “Jerry Falwell of Liberty University was fantastic on @foxandfriends. The Fake News should listen to what he had to say. Thanks Jerry!”
Liberty enrollment includes about 15,000 residential students and over 100,000 online students. It is the largest evangelical Christian university in the world and one of America’s most conservative. Trump delivered the commencement address to Liberty’s Class of 2017. Liberty is a recurring subject of NPQ scrutiny, such as here, here and here. But Charlottesville crossed a troubling threshold for many Liberty alumni.
By publicly “revoking all ties, all support present and future,” the graduates hope to send a message to the school that “could jeopardize future enrollment, finances and funding,” according to the Facebook group.
Liberty University graduates are “ashamed, embarrassed, horrified,” and sending back their diplomas is “the least we like minded can do,” Gaumer wrote on Facebook. On Instagram, he added, “Many reasons to return LU degree, like a class called Creation Studies, but no reason more important than Falwell Jr. backing Trump backing white supremacists.”
Calling into the Todd Starnes Fox News Radio show on Monday, Falwell, who attended law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, belittled the alumni protest as mere “grandstanding,” an attempt to win their “five minutes of fame.”
It happens at every college from time to time. It’s a way of grandstanding and protesting. But I guarantee you, if that graduate applies for a job and he needs that degree to get the job, all of a sudden, he’ll show that degree, and he’ll put it on his resume. So he’s not giving anything back. You can’t give back a degree. Once you’ve earned it, you’ve earned it.
This is not the first time Liberty students have rebuked Falwell for his support of Trump. This statement in October 2016 by the group Liberty United Against Trump admonished Falwell for defending Trump’s vulgar comments about women in the infamous 2005 video. And this protest today will not likely be the last, given Falwell’s enduring loyalty to Trump and his dismissive and patronizing responses to concerned students and alumni.—James Schaffer