The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees announced Friday that it "requested that Jerry Falwell Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as president and chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately."
The statement from the board said little more than that. But the board acted amid a growing scandal over a photograph that Falwell posted on his social media accounts and then removed.
The photograph showed him on vacation with his pants unzipped, holding a drink, and with his arm around a woman.
Late Friday, Jerry Prevo, chairman of the board, issued this statement: "In the 13 years that Jerry Falwell, Jr. has served as president of Liberty University, Liberty has experienced unprecedented success, not only academically and financially, with a world-class campus, but also spiritually. As we enter our 50th Anniversary year, we have been blessed to grow to a record 120,000 students, both residential and online, and continue to fulfill our founder’s mission to train champions for Christ across the world. Unfortunately, with this success and the burdens of leading a large and growing organization comes substantial pressure. Today, my colleagues and I on the Liberty University Board of Trustees and Jerry mutually agreed that it would be good for him to take an indefinite leave of absence. This was a decision that was not made lightly, and which factored the interests and concerns of everyone in the LU community, including students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, leaders of the church, as well as the Falwell family. To support Jerry through this period, we ask that our entire community lift him up in prayer so he may be able to fulfill God’s purpose for him and for Liberty University."
A top Republican in the House of Representatives called for Falwell to leave his position.
Representative Mark Walker, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference and a former Liberty faculty member, said on Twitter, "Jerry Falwell Jr’s ongoing behavior is appalling. As a Music Faculty Advisory Board Member and former instructor @LibertyU, I’m convinced Falwell should step down. None of us are perfect, but students, faculty, alumni and @LUPraise deserve better."
In a radio interview (before Walker's comment), Falwell said the photo was taken at a “costume party” and was “just in good fun.”
Falwell has recently been involved a series of controversies -- while receiving praise from some Republicans for his close ties to President Trump.
In May, at least four black faculty and staff members at Liberty resigned in protest after Falwell tweeted an image of a face mask with a picture from Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook that shows two men, one of whom may be Northam, wearing blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes, respectively. Falwell's comment: "If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will reluctantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!"
Last year, a dozen faculty members at Liberty's Rawlings School of Divinity learned they would not have their contracts renewed, representing significant cuts to the on-the-ground instructional work force of the Christian university in Lynchburg, Va.
At the beginning of President Trump's term in office, Falwell said he would be leading a White House task force on higher education. But no task force emerged.
Falwell is arguably the best known leader of an evangelical college, but has not always acted with them. Liberty is not a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. The CCCU has worked against the Trump administration's positions on immigration.