Liberty University has been in Trump's corner from the beginning. But with dipping enrollment numbers, it's trying to scrub evidence that it's no longer the 'world's largest Christian university.'
Liberty University has long touted itself as the “world’s largest Christian university.” It’s president Jerry Falwell Jr. has also been a proud supporter and defender of Trump. But now, the school is trying to scrub an embarrassing drop in enrollment from its website and press releases.
As Jack Jenkins reports at Religion News Services (RNS), Liberty has used the superlative for at least six years. Journalists often repeat the claim, and Falwell pushed it in his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
And when Trump gave a commencement speech at Liberty in May 2017, he also parroted the line.
Now it appears the claim is no longer accurate. And Liberty is trying to remove all references to it as quietly as possible.
The line had appeared in the “Quick Facts” section of the school’s website as recently as January 2018. But it “has since been removed, and no longer appears on Liberty press releases,” Jenkins notes.
And after inquiries from RNS, “school officials said it will erase similar references on possibly ‘hundreds’ of pages across the school’s website.”
The impetus for the sudden blanket removals is that it is simply no longer true. As Jenkins reports, federal enrollment data shows that Grand Canyon University (GCU), a for-profit Christian college in Phoenix, now has more students on the rolls than Liberty.
It’s not possible to pinpoint an exact reason for Liberty’s falling enrollment numbers. But it is significant that it comes after years of backing Trump’s decidedly un-Christian agenda. And it’s further notable that GCU takes a far less strictly evangelical stance than does Liberty.
“Liberty is historically aligned with evangelical Christianity, but [GCU President Brian] Mueller said GCU takes a broader Christian approach,” Jenkins writes. About 20 percent of GCU students are Catholic, and 30 percent say the school’s “Christian mission” was not a factor in their enrollment.
Further, GCU diverges from Trump’s agenda in some pointed ways, such as supporting immigration reform and Dreamers.
“We support policies that help people — and especially people who have historically special hurdles to overcome,” Mueller noted.
Liberty and Falwell, on the other hand, have often taken very public stances in support of Trump. And Falwell hasn’t urged Trump to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program like some other evangelical advisers. Nor did he even seem to care about Trump’s history of sexual abuse allegations.
Just as Trump’s support from white evangelicals has tanked over his personal scandals and support for others — like accused pedophile Roy Moore — it seems that some Christian students now prefer a religious university that puts Scripture above Trumpism.
Liberty isn’t eager to discuss the issue of no longer being the “largest Christian university.” Jenkins notes that officials at the school “are downplaying the loss of the distinction they can no longer tout.”
And the same day Jenkins’ report was published, he found that Falwell had blocked him on Twitter.
Falwell and Liberty University can try to avoid or dismiss the topic all they want. But facts are facts. And it’s possible that Trump’s immoral attitude and reverse Midas touch may now have tarnished Liberty’s golden enrollment numbers.