Jerry Falwell's Future at Liberty in Question

Falwell agreed to resign on Monday and withdrew that agreement later in the day.

August 25, 2020
 
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Staff via Getty Images

Jerry Falwell Jr.'s tenure as president of Liberty University may end soon, but Falwell flip-flopped over his resignation on Monday. 

For several hours Monday afternoon, reports of Falwell's resignation spread on Twitter and on the websites of major news outlets. A Liberty University spokesperson "answered affirmatively" when Politico asked about Falwell's resignation, but later the spokesperson declined to comment and told Politico in a text message that they "cannot say anything and I can only give a statement from the Board if they give me a statement." Falwell told Politico that he had not resigned and was on indefinite leave.

Liberty University said in a statement late Monday night that Falwell had agreed to resign earlier in the day but withdrew his resignation after media outlets reported on it. The board of trustees will likely discuss the matter at its planned meeting on Tuesday morning. 

"The Executive Committee’s Board of Trustees asked Falwell to go on indefinite leave of absence on August 7, to which he agreed. Since that time, additional matters came to light that made it clear that it would not be in the best interest of the University for him to return from leave and serve as President," the statement said. "Falwell responded by agreeing to resign immediately as President of Liberty University today but then instructed his attorneys to not tender the letter for immediate resignation. The Executive Committee will go forward with its meeting in the morning followed by the full Board."

The confusion comes after a whirlwind two days of lurid claims about an alleged affair between Falwell, his wife and another man.

News of the scandal broke Sunday after Falwell claimed he’d been threatened by the man, who supposedly said he'd reveal a past affair with Falwell's wife, Becki, unless Falwell paid him money. Falwell did not name the man, though he is widely reported to be Giancarlo Granda, a businessman and former pool attendant the couple met during a stay at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla. Granda eventually became the Falwells' business partner.

Living with the alleged threats from Granda was “like living on a roller coaster,” Falwell wrote in a statement to The Washington Examiner.

“While we tried to distance ourselves from him over time, he unfortunately became increasingly angry and aggressive. Eventually, he began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies,” Falwell wrote. “While this was very upsetting, we had been advised by trusted legal counsel that it was best to maintain contact with this person, as we tried to manage his increasingly erratic behavior and unreasonable demands while extricating ourselves from him both on a personal level and from that real estate transaction.”

Granda has denied the claim of blackmail and told his side of the story in a detailed Reuters article published Monday, which included emails and text messages Granda said demonstrate his alleged relationship with the Falwells.

“Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Granda told Reuters. He said the relationship between him and the Falwells lasted seven years, and that it soured after he tried to sever business ties with the couple.

Falwell has denied involvement in the affair.

Falwell has been on administrative leave since Aug. 7 after he posted -- and later removed -- an Instagram photo of himself on vacation with his pants unzipped, a drink in his hand and his arm around a pregnant woman whose pants were also unzipped.

He was appointed president of Liberty in 2007 to replace his late father, Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr., in accordance with the succession plan Falwell Sr. laid out before his death.

During his tenure, Falwell grew Liberty University from a small, financially unstable private college to a financial behemoth with an endowment of nearly $1.6 billion. Enrollment in the university’s online programs has more than tripled since Falwell took over, from 27,000 students to more than 94,000 in 2017.

But he was also considered mercurial and cruel, and repeatedly made headlines for which he'd later apologize.

Just last week, Falwell was under fire for using a yacht owned by NASCAR mogul Rick Hendrick for family vacations. Liberty has a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with Hendrick’s company, Hendrick Motorsports.

In June, Falwell got in hot water for a racist tweet in which he said he’d wear a mask with an image of two men, one of whom is assumed to be Virginia governor Ralph Northam, wearing blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes. Several Black faculty members resigned in protest and a Change.org petition calling for Falwell’s resignation garnered more than 37,000 signatures.

Last year, Falwell called on the FBI to investigate what he called an “attempted coup” by several board members and university employees against him. Allegations Falwell hid a 2015 home sale from the IRS surfaced in 2017.

Falwell has been a strong supporter of President Donald Trump and has worked with the president in several unofficial capacities. He spoke in support of Trump’s nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention. He claimed in January 2017 that he would lead a presidential task force on education, but that task force never materialized. Falwell has defended the president's comments about the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., neo-Nazi rally and stood by Trump amid the many sexual assault allegations against him.

Read more by

Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.

 

Topics

We are retiring comments and introducing Letters to the Editor. Letters may be sent to [email protected].

Read the Letters to the Editor  »

Today’s News from Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed’s Quick Takes

Back to Top