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Liberty University is a Christ-centered University located in Lynchburg, Virginia. Liberty was founded in 1971 by then-Chancellor Dr. Jerry Falwell; originally an Independent Baptist institution, the university is now non-denominational. Reverend Falwell created the school to provide an opportunity for students to gain the benefits of a rich and diverse academic environment while simultaneously offering the opportunity to become closer to God.
Liberty has many opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. The school also shines in extra-curricular pursuits. The school's debate team has been recently ranked #1 in the country, and the Quiz Bowl team recently finished fifth in a national competition. Athletically, the women's basketball team made it to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament in 2005, and the 2017 football team upset FBS Power 5 Conference member Baylor University in Baylor's home stadium.
Debate Team Advocacy for Abortion
Liberty has faced criticism from conservatives for allowing, and even funding, the advocacy of abortion by its debate team. The criticism for such comes from the fact that the school's Liberty Way student code of conduct strictly prohibits students from having abortions, prescribing harder punishments for having an abortion than for committing acts that would be classified as misdemeanor crimes in civil society.
Political Support for Donald Trump
Liberty has been criticized because of university president Jerry Falwell Jr's endorsement of Donald Trump for President of the United States. Not only has the criticism come from expected sources (liberals and the Republican Establishment Never Trump movement) but has also come from Christian groups, including several alumni who have taken the meaningless step of "mailing back their diplomas" to the university (though none, of course, have gone so far as to request official decertification of their actual earned degrees).
Liberty University was honored to host President Trump as a speaker at its 2017 commencement ceremony, his first commencement speech as President and his third time speaking at the university. President Trump has twice been awarded honorary degrees from Liberty: an honorary doctorate of business in 2012 (after his first speech at Liberty) and an honorary doctorate of laws in 2017 (after his commencement speech).
President Carter as 2018 Commencement Speaker
As if a large portion of the alumni weren't upset after Liberty's choice of President Trump for 2017 Commencement speaker, Liberty announced that the 2018 speaker would be former President Jimmy Carter (who notably opposes Liberty's support for Israel).
Hiring of Disgraced Former Baylor Athletic Director
Current Athletic Director Ian McCaw was hired by Liberty only a few months after McCaw was forced to resign as Baylor University Athletic Director in the wake of Baylor's scandal involving football players assaulting females and the university not taking appropriate action to protect them.
Liberty has also been criticized, even by alumni and supporters, for inviting speakers to its Convocations who do not necessarily agree with the school's doctrinal position (or even with Christianity at all), or those having past conduct issues using Liberty as a means of "rehabilitation".
Among the criticized invitees are:
- socialist Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders
- former NFL running back Ray Rice (who was infamously captured on video assaulting his then-fiancée in an elevator)
- former NFL quarterback Michael Vick (who went to prison for his role in a dogfighting operation)
- former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who was under investigation for NCAA recruiting violations and was alleged to have hired a female escort service (despite being married) during his tenure (interestingly, in 2018 he became the head football coach after former coach Turner Gill retired)
- Although Dr. Falwell led his church into the Southern Baptist Convention, the university is not affiliated -- formally or informally -- with the SBC
- As of 2017, the Liberty Way student code is no longer publicly available on the university's website, but requires a student login and password for access.
- Although Falwell Jr stated his endorsement was personal, because of his profile as Liberty's president -- and because other Liberty employees are forbidden by their employment contracts to speak on any political subject without prior approval of the university -- Falwell's endorsement is seen as a de facto endorsement by Liberty itself.
- His other two speeches were in 2012 as a businessman and popular television personality, and again in 2016 as a Presidential candidate.
- McCaw would gain some measure of revenge in 2017, when Liberty upset Baylor in Waco for its first win against a college program from a major conference.
- Convocation is a thrice-weekly gathering of the student body, featuring music and a guest speaker; attendance is mandatory for students except they are allowed two excused absences a year, to be approved ahead of time.