Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a 7,000-acre campus is Liberty University, the largest university in Virginia, the nation’s largest private non-profit university and the seventh largest four-year university in the country.
Founded in 1971 by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the vision was to create for Evangelicals what Brigham Young and Notre Dame are for Mormons and for Catholics. That vision is now a reality. Liberty University is a Christ-centered environment that has all the academic programs, athletics, facilities and amenities of a major state school. With 12,500 studying on the physical campus in Lynchburg, Virginia and 90,000 studying online, Liberty is counted as the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world.
"Everything we do is designed to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge and skills essential to impact tomorrow’s world."Jerry Falwell Jr.
Since its inception, one of the university’s core values has been “excellence.” At Liberty, they don’t believe that because they are Christian they ought to get a break. They believe that because they are Christian, they ought to be world class!
An accredited institution, the university has over 300 programs of study including a school of law and a school of medicine. The campus in Lynchburg, VA, hosts a $50 million library, a new state-of-the-art school of music, school of science, and a brand new state-of-the-art dormitory. In addition to outstanding football, basketball, baseball and softball stadiums, the university has the only year-round, snowless, synthetic turf ski slope in North America, an indoor soccer facility, an ice hockey arena, a number of recreational basketball courts and workout facilities. The university boasts millions of square feet of technologically advanced academic, residential, and recreational space, the vast majority of which was added in the last 15 years, and they are still under construction. In all, there is half a billion dollars of building projects underway.
Instilling Christian Values
What more can you get at a Christian university than you can at a secular university? It is a lot more. The same education, the same facilities, the same NCAA Division I athletics, but at Liberty, you also get to study in an environment that promotes values, and doesn’t discourage them. The university believes in academic excellence, but does it in a Christian environment where they promote ethics, benevolence, charity and capitalism, which they believe are complementary to Christian values.
Rev. Johnnie Moore, Vice President for Communications, explains, “You get the same math here as in any other university, but it is taught by a professor who adds something else to it. That something is our belief that God, who is the Author of all knowledge, ought to be at the heart of the educational process. What that means is that every class begins with prayer, and the professors, whether they teach math or Bible, are Believers, in Jesus Christ.”
Liberty University is not Christian in name only; it is Christian in every part of who they are. They are obsessed about not losing their Christian identity, which goes well beyond a weekly chapel service, and it begins with the students.
“We have an army of over 1,500 student leaders who lead weekly small groups where they pray and share in life together,” explained Rev. Moore. “Those student leaders also have the responsibility to pray for every single student on campus every single day. It is a core part of who we are. It is the engine upon which we run.”
The student leadership in the dormitory makes sure the Christian identity finds its way all the way down into the most micro level, in every dorm room, in every hallway, in every staff meeting and every class room.
The second thing that promotes spiritual life on campus is the convocation. Three times a week, over 10,000 students gather together and are joined by online students all over the world. It begins and ends with prayer, but is truly a lecture series where the university hosts some of the world’s best-known speakers from all walks of life—pastors, business and government leaders, educators and scientists—to speak to students and challenge them to think.
“A great convocation doesn’t tell the students what to think. The best convocation starts the conversation, and then the classrooms and the cafeteria are abuzz with students talking about something that was said and are trying to work it out for themselves,” said Rev. Moore. “Sometimes we bring people into convocation who don’t fit the Liberty profile, but, for whatever reason, they are someone worthy of the stage. We believe our students can eat the meat and spit out the bones.”
Liberty University recognizes their important role in extending Christ’s mission. “Because we are Christian, we are global, because the Church is global,” said Rev. Moore. “Because we believe it is the responsibility of Christians to make a difference in the world we are living in, Liberty created a Center for Global Engagement that makes opportunities for students to serve all around the world.” Liberty offers study abroad experiences that have a service component and mission trips that go from two weeks to semester-long experiences where over the last few years, students traveled to over 60 nations extending Christian service.
Central to preserving the Christian identity of the institution are the faculty and the community. Unlike the vast majority of universities that have tenured faculty (and cannot get rid of bad teachers or those who are promoting obscure ideals), Liberty has non-tenured faculty, with most having one-year contracts.
“If you are going to teach here, you teach your subject like you would teach it anywhere else, but you have to also be a part of the community. You have to be a ‘Liberty University Professor’ who believes the Bible is the Word of God, believes that Jesus is the Son of God, prays with your students and teaches your students,” said Rev. Moore.
Liberty has a robust core curriculum as a part of the educational experience. Every student takes two theology courses, Old and New Testament, philosophy, a general education worldview course, Introduction to Christian Life and Evangelism, and Psychology of Human Relationships that helps students learn how to live interpersonally and in the workplace.
Relevant Career Preparation
Rev. Moore went on to explain, “We actually believe that most people come to the university to get jobs. That sounds absurd to anyone in academia, and it is common sense to anyone who is not. A couple of years ago, we decided that we were going to apply an “employability test” to all of our majors to make sure that every single degree program at this university led to employment. From the very beginning, one of our values is to have an action-oriented curriculum."
"We are training a generation to go into every sphere of society to be lights for Jesus Christ and to be excellent at what they do. If they can’t get jobs, we are not helping them."Rev. Johnnie Moore, Jr.
The provost himself went through degree program by degree program, class by class, through every class being taught in the university and made very substantive changes to a number of degree programs. He shut down some degree programs that weren’t offering students prospects of employment, because for Liberty, it was a matter of stewardship. Students expect that they are going to be prepared for a career. If the university just gives them a piece of paper, they are doing an injustice.
“Being a really committed Christian and being a really good professional are not mutually exclusive. They can and should coexist,” said Rev. Moore. “Between the student leaders and the small communities in the dorms, the major convocation gathering, the campus church, the nature of the professors and the core curriculum, Liberty provides a robust Christian experience that meets all the tests of a university.”
At the helm is a chancellor who is an unbelievable leader with a keen business mind. An alumnus with a religion degree from Liberty and a law degree from the University of Virginia, Jerry Falwell, Jr. was largely responsible for the economic and real estate development around Liberty. After graduating from UVA, he joined Liberty as General Counsel and later Vice-Chancellor. He was behind the scenes running the university before his father passed away. Under his leadership, the university quadrupled in size, added the medical school, reached a billion dollars in net assets, received an AA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, and the list goes on and on.
Rev. Moore observed, “He is an incredibly humble, down-to-earth leader. He has been instrumental in making Liberty what it is today. At the same time, he and his wife are always helping the students. Each year, they host the entire senior class at their farm before commencement.”
The mission, vision, values and leadership are what make Liberty what it is. With a unique heritage and an ever-expanding influence, Liberty remains steadfast in its commitment to Training Champions for Christ.