In January, Donald Trump appointed Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead a new higher education task force put in place to roll back federal regulation over higher education. Many of these regulations were created by the Obama Administration to protect students from fraud, ensure high graduation rates, and lower student loan default rates.
Trump and Falwell Jr. have not formally announced a definitive mission or the scope of the task force, but Falwell Jr. could potentially influence major higher education policy, curbing what he calls “overreaching regulation and micromanagement” by the federal Department of Education. Here are five reasons why Falwell Jr. is unfit to lead the task force.
1. Falwell Jr. doesn’t take sexual violence seriously
In an interview with CNN, Falwell Jr. was asked if he would continue to support Trump if he was a proven sexual abuser. He doubled down on his support and commitment to Trump’s presidency and claimed he didn’t know the details of the sexual assault allegations against Trump. Attempting to deflect the question, Falwell also praised Trump as a “changed man,” and never explicitly condemned Trump’s egregious behavior.
He went on to say: “I don’t know who was a worse womanizer. I don’t know who assaulted more women–[John F. Kennedy] or Bill Clinton. But I can tell you JFK did the right things, he cut taxes, he brought prosperity, and I would vote for JFK again if he were on the ballot today because of his conservative leadership…”
In this statement, Falwell Jr. carelessly rationalizes sexual violence and promotes the notion that male aggression towards women should take a backseat to assaulters’ accomplishments. His permissive attitude on sexual violence makes clear that he does not view policy issues regarding sexual assault, and its prevention, as worthy of attention. These values are present within his own academic institution, Liberty University, which he heads as Chancellor.
Just months after Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw left the school (with a severance package in hand) amidst a controversy involving multiple allegations of sexual assaults by Baylor football players, Liberty University brought McCaw on as its new athletic director. Falwell Jr. claims to have conducted an investigation on the Baylor scandal prior to hiring McCaw, but this remains unverified. In response to student and alumni outrage concerning McCaw’s hiring, Falwell defended McCaw in arguing that “if he made any mistakes at Baylor, they appear to be technical and unintentional.”
Falwell Jr.’s laissez faire attitude toward sexual assault is concerning, to say the least. And this attitude is evident as he enters his new government position: Falwell Jr. has said that he plans to roll back Title IX regulations requiring campuses to investigate campus sexual assault as head of Trump’s higher education task force. He says there is too much federal regulation when it comes to Title IX, and investigations are “better left to the police, attorneys, judges.”
2. Students at his own university have high levels of student debt, while Falwell Jr. has high profit levels
Liberty University students find it very difficult to repay their federal loans loans after graduation, and many of their graduates also struggle to find well-paying jobs. The New York Times reports that 41 percent of Liberty graduates earn less than $25,000 a year six years after entering college. This is the average salary of a 25-year-old with just a high school diploma. The report also found that only 38 percent of graduates who borrowed loans were able to pay $1 towards the principal of their student loans three years of graduation.
Compared to national default average of 6.5 percent, Liberty students have a 9 percent default rate within three years of graduation. According to CollegeFactual “this could indicate that students attending Liberty University are relying heavily on student loans, including unsubsidized student loans,” and that the school does a poor job at helping students afford college without having to rely on unsubsidized loans.
Meanwhile, Falwell Jr. and his university reap the profits—Liberty has a $1 billion cash reserve and Falwell Jr. makes $900,000 a year. As head of the higher education task force, Falwell Jr. appears poised to continue prioritizing institutional profit over the financial well-being of college students across country. He does not plan on implementing federal policy to assist students with high debt and low-paying jobs post-graduation. Instead, he plans to get rid of or weaken federal rules that are intended to help students left with worthless diplomas and impossible amounts of debt after being scammed by for-profit colleges.
This leads us to point number three:
3. Falwell Jr. will be okay with letting colleges cheat students
During his administration, President Obama created new rules to hold for-profit colleges accountable and prevent them from cheating their students out of thousands of dollars. Falwell. Jr. has called described these policies as “overreaching” and says he plans to curtail that “overreach.” Falwell Jr. himself has stated that the goal of the task force “is to pare [The Department of Education] back and give colleges and their accrediting agencies more leeway in governing their affairs.”
Falwell’s focus is clearly not on the financial well-being of college students. According to the New York Times, Liberty University would benefit from this change because “Liberty is essentially a medium-size non profit college that owns a huge for-profit college.” The college has about 14,000 students taking classes on campus, and it also enrolls an additional 65,000 students online. Because they are less expensive to deliver, internet courses bring in huge profits to Liberty and other similar universities with a large online student population. Falwell’s task force wants to give these types of colleges and their accrediting agencies more autonomy, leaving students unprotected from institutional financial abuse.
4. He dangerously conflates Islam with violent extremism
After the San Bernadino shooting, Falwell used inflammatory language to paint all Muslim individuals as terrorists and called for his students to take arms against Muslims after the shooting in San Bernardino. In his view “if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”
There are so many problematic points in his call to violence. First, someone who assumes all Muslims are terrorists cannot be trusted to lead higher education and make unbiased decisions regarding education policy. Second, he explicitly advocated for Liberty University students in his university to obtain concealed carry permits and hold arms in response to the shooting, demonstrating his belief that guns are the solution to violent extremism.
5. Falwell Jr., His Family, And His School Are Anti-LGBTQ
It is hard to believe Falwell Jr.’s claim that he “agreed with Trump’s vow to protect the LGBT community from violence 100 percent” when Liberty University policies shamelessly discriminate against LGBTQ students. According to the student honor code, “Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University.” Liberty University also has long-standing ties with anti-LGBTQ organizations, like the Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm that represented county clerk Kim Davis after she was arrested for refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky. Falwell Jr. is a man who won’t explicitly denounce sexual violence, but will blatantly attempt to disparage the LGBTQ community.
If this is concerning to you call (202) 224-3121 and tell your members of Congress why Jerry Falwell Jr. is not fit to lead Trump’s higher education task force.