WASHINGTON — Liberty University on Monday announced it has opened an independent investigation into “all facets” of the tenure of Jerry Falwell Jr., the evangelical school’s disgraced former president who resigned last week amid an alleged sex scandal.
The school hired a leading outside forensics firm, according to a statement issued by the Liberty’s executive committee on behalf of the board of trustees, that will investigate all aspects of his 13-year run leading the school including “financial, real estate and legal matters.” The school did not provide further details of the scope.
Liberty, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, is “committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president,” the statement said.
Falwell, an ardent an early supporter of President Donald Trump and the son of the university’s televangelist founder Jerry Fallwell, Sr., resigned last week after a Reuters published an interview with a man who said he had a yearslong sexual relationship with the evangelical leader’s wife, Becki Falwell, with her husband’s consent and encouragement. The man, business partner Giancarlo Granda, said the relationship involved him having sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell watched.
Falwell, university president since 2007, acknowledged his wife’s extramarital affair in a statement but said he was not involved and that he and Becki forgave each other.
Liberty’s board statement said the past week “challenged all of us to the core” and defended the university’s actions. “While we had been willing to extend grace and understanding to Jerry Falwell, Jr. before,” the school said it acted “swiftly and decisively” to ask for his immediate resignation after revelations about his personal life “came more fully to light.”
Michael Bowe, Falwell’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new investigation.
Falwell had been on leave from Liberty University since Aug. 7, after he posted (and later deleted) a controversial photo of himself with his arm around a pregnant woman, both of their stomachs exposed and their pants unzipped.
“Some may say that all the signs were there for a long time before last week,” the university said. “It’s certainly fair to say that there were questionable comments made, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts, but all the signs were not there until the start of last week. While we still didn’t know the full scope of the matter, we have learned enough about the past to know that we had no choice but to take the leadership of Liberty University in a new direction.”
Founded in 1971, Liberty has a student body of more than 15,000 on campus and more than 100,000 when counting its online courses. Known for its conservative politics, Liberty’s honor code states, “Sexual relations outside of a biblically-ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University.”
Falwell was among the earliest Christian conservatives to endorse Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and has routinely been in the spotlight since then for a series of controversies in both his role at Liberty and his personal life.
As severance compensation dictated by his contract, Falwell told the Washington Post he will receive $2.5 million over two years and then $8 million in retirement.
Liberty’s board of directors also committed to considering the installment of a new leadership position to serve as a “spiritual coach, mentor and guide” to help ensure that every member of he Liberty community fulfills his or her” spiritual responsibility to live out the Christian walk expected of each and every one of us at Liberty.”
The university tasked Acting President Jerry Provo to use the “full range of his presidential authority” to implement any changes necessary to improve the ongoing operations of the university.
“We ask for continued prayers as we all manage this transition and for a continued commitment by us all to fulfill our spiritual mission here at Liberty University today and always,” the university statement said.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.