It’s amazing to me how the Jerry Falwell, Jr. scandals broke through this summer in a media environment otherwise polluted with politics, but when an evangelical Christian is that hypocritical, it’s hard to ignore it. Falwell didn’t just have one illicit sexual escapade or one lapse of judgment. It was multiple scandals, any one of which could have brought down his late father, all hitting the public’s conscience at once. If not for his bizarre defamation lawsuit, he may finally be out of the spotlight, at least for a while.
But considering how many of the scandals involve Liberty University itself — and not just a pool boy in South Florida — there’s another question worth asking: Why didn’t the people running the school ever do anything about him?
In a story for POLITICO, written by Maggie Severns, Michael Stratford, and Brandon Ambrosino (a former Liberty grad who first blew open the entire scandal), the reporters say the school’s leaders were beholden to the Falwells and stuck by him no matter how dire things got.
They were more committed to the family than the school or the students. That’s partly because a lot of those leaders came from the same gene pools.
A POLITICO investigation, including interviews with dozens of Liberty officials from Falwell’s time as president, found a university community so committed to the Falwell legacy that even trustees considered it unthinkable to exert power over the son and namesake of the university’s revered founder. Plus, the university employed at least 20 relatives of stakeholders — defined as senior administrators and the 32-member Board of Trustees, according to federal tax disclosures — which gave many leaders an incentive to stay on Falwell’s good side.
“I didn’t think there was proper oversight, or enough governance by the board,” said Glen Thomas, a Liberty alumnus and former board member whose father was a multi-million-dollar donor to the university. “The president, or the CEO, of a nonprofit should be working for the board to fulfill the mission of the nonprofit — not the opposite. I feel like the board was mostly on the sidelines. I call it having accountability with no authority.”
What does all that mean in practice? It means Falwell used school property (like a private jet) for personal trips, hired his own family members and gave them insane perks, and used Liberty’s bank account like a personal slush fund.
One of the more shocking revelations in the piece involves Falwell’s severance package from Liberty U. worth over $10 million. The article says that deal “was unknown to some members of the board until Falwell’s actual resignation.”
Just look at this list of how Falwell hired and paid his own family members:
Thirty-one-year-old Trey Falwell is simultaneously employed by Liberty as a vice president at a salary of $234,310 per year while operating a real estate management company that oversees a shopping plaza owned by the university. The company, JF Management, was paid $46,340 in 2019. Trey’s wife, Sarah, who graduated from Liberty in 2015, is also employed by the university, holding the title of “Executive Director of Career Partnerships & Career Services” and earning $72,211 in 2019, according to tax documents and her LinkedIn profile. (Prior to working at Liberty, Sarah Falwell worked at Bobby Moon’s firm Construction Management Associates, the profile says.)
Another company, Cedar Ridge Management, is run by Wes Falwell and was paid upwards of $40,000 annually by Liberty in 2018 and 2019, according to Liberty tax filings. Wes Falwell, 27, also works in metal fabrication at Liberty, and was paid $78,489 in 2019 for that work. Cedar Ridge was started as “a property management company to provide services outside of his job description,” a Liberty spokesperson said… Wes Falwell’s wife Laura was also employed by Liberty in 2019, at a salary of $58,193.
Becki Falwell has also been on the university’s payroll at points since her husband took over as president, and four of Becki and Jerry’s children and their spouses, out of five, were on Liberty’s payroll in 2019, according to the university’s most recent tax filing. Caroline Falwell, the child who is currently not on Liberty’s payroll, is a Liberty student.
It’s just grift and nepotism all the way down. It makes the Trump family look quaint.
The question that still remains is whether Liberty officials will ever undertake an actual investigation to get to the bottom of everything that went wrong. Don’t bet on it. Given how tied the school still is to the Falwells, they have no real incentive to uncover anything they don’t want to hear, which means any revelations will be superficial at best.
Everything we know about the corruption at Liberty, we know because courageous people — former students and staffers and a pool boy — were willing to speak out. Don’t expect that same level of cooperation from anyone currently running the place.