McDonnell takes part-time teaching job at Liberty University


Then-Va. Gov. Robert McDonnell is seen Aug. 15 in Alexandria. The former governor will be a part-time visiting professor of government at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government. (Jahi Chikwendiu/Washington Post)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell has landed a job as a part-time visiting professor of government at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government, the school announced Monday.

McDonnell (R) will serve as a guest lecturer in other professors’ government classes at the Helms School, named for former senator Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina.

McDonnell began the job this semester by giving a few lectures at the fundamentalist Baptist college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., who died in 2007. He will resume the lectures in the fall, making six to eight appearances per semester, said Johnnie Moore, a senior vice president at the school.

McDonnell left office in January and soon after was indicted with his wife, Maureen, on federal corruption charges related to about $165,000 in luxury gifts and loans that a businessman lavished on Virginia’s first family.

The McDonnells, who have pleaded not guilty, were in financial distress when they accepted the largess of dietary supplement maker Jonnie R. Williams Sr., and their money woes have grown as they mount a legal defense in the case, scheduled to go to trial in July. Supporters have launched a fund to pay legal bills.

The part-time position at the Lynchburg university is not likely to bring McDonnell the big bucks he could have counted on absent the scandal. Moore declined to disclose what Liberty will pay McDonnell, once regarded as a credible contender for president in 2016.

But the job helps assuage the fears of some McDonnell supporters that the governor, even if he escapes conviction, would be unemployable.

“I am privileged to have the opportunity to teach the outstanding young people at Liberty University who will be future leaders for the state and nation,” McDonnell said in a written statement released by the university. “Liberty’s international reach, dynamic growth, and focus on excellence make it a force in higher education.”

The university said it will “tap McDonnell’s extensive career experience in business, law, public policy, and government.” McDonnell was an Army officer, Virginia Beach prosecutor, delegate and state attorney general before serving as Virginia’s 71st governor.

A Roman Catholic who made his name in the House as a cultural warrior, McDonnell tried to sidestep social issues as governor, a job he won by emphasizing economic themes with the slogan “Bob’s for Jobs!” During the governor’s race, he downplayed a master’s thesis he had written decades earlier at another religious institution, Regent University. In it, he had taken a dim view of working women and blasted “cohabitators, homosexuals . . . [and] fornicators.”

By the end of his term, McDonnell had alienated some Christian activists by praising the appointment of an openly gay judge and softening a bill that, when first proposed, would have required most women seeking abortions to first undergo a vaginal ultrasound. But he still enjoyed broad support among religious conservatives, even as the gifts scandal grew.

McDonnell was seen as a good fit for the Helms School, which blends the study of politics, criminal justice and international relations with “a Christian worldview,” the school says on its Web site. It was established 10 years ago to “develop leaders who are guided by duty, honor, morality, and civic virtue,” the site says.

“Gov. McDonnell will add another dimension to the educational experience of Liberty students by teaching leadership,”said Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the school’s founder. “He achieved great success as governor in making Virginia one of the nation’s most business-friendly and fiscally sound states while getting people to work together for the common good. These experiences uniquely qualify him to teach our students about every aspect of serving in public office.”

McDonnell was well received when he lectured this semester, said Dr. Shawn Akers, dean of the Helms School.

“The students’ eyes lit up when he walked into the class,” Akers said in a written statement. “They were so excited to hear directly from someone who has been on the frontlines of the important public policy battles in America. The Helms School is proud to welcome Governor McDonnell, who has a proven record in public policy and conservative activism, and who shares in the biblical principles and servant leadership that are so important to Liberty University.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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