A student has filed a class-action lawsuit against Liberty University, alleging the school run by Jerry Falwell Jr. engaged in a deliberately dangerous scam to keep student’s tuition fees for services they won’t have to provide. The student seeks a refund of thousands of dollars in fees.
Falwell, a religious right leader and staunch defender of Donald Trump, re-opened the campus after Spring Break despite warnings from public health officials about the risks of coronavirus. The “glacially slow” response to the pandemic, the lawsuit alleges, was a dangerous scam to say the school was open and make students pay tuition and fees.
Falwell defended the decision to re-open the school last month, at a time when most other universities were closed, by saying that Trump will handle the coronavirus pandemic like “a successful CEO.”
“Liberty University is, in a very real sense, profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic — keeping its campus and campus services ‘open’ as a pretext to retain Plaintiff’s and the other Class members’ room, board and campus fees, despite no longer having to incur the full cost of providing those services, all the while putting students’ finances and health at risk,” the student’s lawsuit reads. The plaintiff is only identified as “Student A” in the complaint, citing a fear of retaliation.
“Liberty’s decision to tell its students that they could remain on campus to continue to use their housing, meal plans, parking, and the benefits of the services and activities for which their fees paid, was not only illusory and empty — because there were no more on-campus classes — but it was also extremely dangerous and irresponsible,” the anonymous student said in the lawsuit.
The school says it offered students who couldn’t stay in the dormitories a $1,000 credit and, therefore, the lawsuit has no merit. About half of the students who returned to campus fled shortly after arriving.
“Liberty University has tirelessly attempted to balance the needs of students, employees, and the community as it has navigated through the unprecedented health challenges presented by COVID-19,” the school said in a statement.
“We have also taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved. While it’s not surprising that plaintiff class action attorneys would seek to profit from a public health crisis, we don’t believe this law firm or its single client speaks for the vast majority of our students.”
Falwell is attempting to press charges against two journalists who worked on stories about his decision to reopen the campus in the middle of a pandemic and the students who got sick after they returned.
Falwell gave copies of two arrest warrants for misdemeanor trespassing issued for a New York Times photographer and a ProPublica reporter to rightwing pundit Todd Starnes. The two journalists worked on different stories.
The warrants were issued by university police and not an actual police force.
Falwell is notoriously vengeful and regularly punishes staff or students who speak out about the school’s administrative secrecy.
He previously derided the response to the novel coronavirus as a media plot to harm Trump’s re-election chances. He dismissed concerns about the dangers of bringing students back to campus after Spring Break.
“We think it’s irresponsible for so many universities to just say ‘closed, you can’t come back,’ push the problem off on other communities and sit there in their ivory towers,” Mr. Falwell said during a radio interview with far-right conspiracy theorist and pundit Todd Starnes.
“We’re conservative, we’re Christian, and therefore we’re being attacked.”