Among college presidents, one stood out this year for his early and unwavering support of Donald Trump in the presidential campaign: Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University.
Falwell endorsed Trump in January when the Republican primary outcome was still very much in doubt, enabling the New York businessman to tout the backing of a prominent voice in the evangelical Christian community. Falwell also stood by the GOP nominee in October after the release of damaging video footage that showed Trump in 2005 making lewd remarks about groping women.
So it was not surprising that Trump would seek to thank Falwell after his upset victory in the Nov. 8 election. But the president-elect went a step further, meeting with Falwell on Thursday afternoon in New York at Trump Tower to discuss education and the coming administration.
“I met with the president-elect and several of his top advisers to discuss what role I might be able to play with regard to education,” Falwell said Monday. “It was a very good discussion.” Falwell said he could not elaborate.
But in general, Falwell added, he takes a skeptical view of regulators at the Education Department. “It’s troubling to see how much they’re micromanaging colleges and universities, using their power, through financial aid and student loan programs,” Falwell said. “That’s been a concern of mine for a long time.”
During the campaign, Falwell took some criticism from within the Liberty community for his backing of Trump. Some students said they could not support the Republican nominee because they had doubts about his character and values.
Falwell’s is one of several names that have become associated with Trump’s education transition. The president-elect also has met in recent days with former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and with school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos. When Trump will announce a nominee for education secretary is unknown.
Falwell, son of the late televangelist the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., is closely identified with the Christian school his father founded in 1971 in Lynchburg, Va. Liberty in recent years has grown to become the largest private, nonprofit university in the country, with more than 80,000 students. Most of its enrollment is online.
The university also has become a prominent venue for Republican politicians to give speeches targeting the evangelical Christian community.
Last year, Falwell drew headlines when he urged his students to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons after the deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. By arming themselves, the university president said, members of the campus community would deter terrorist threats.
“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” he told students in December during a fiery speech on campus, with a reference to a pistol in his back pocket.
Falwell said at the time that if “more good people” had concealed-carry permits, “we could end those Muslims before they walked in.” He said afterward that “those Muslims” was a reference to Islamic terrorists.