Trump picks Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead higher education task force
Donald Trump and Jerry Fallwell Jr. | AP

Religious right Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says he has been asked to lead a presidential task force on higher education reform.

Liberty University is a private, non-profit Christian university located in Lynchburg, Virginia. The school bills itself as the “largest Christian university in the world.” In May 2012, Liberty University Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell Jr. announced that the school’s net assets are worth $1 billion. The students at Liberty University received approximately $775 million in federal financial aid money in 2013, the highest total of any school in Virginia and one of the highest in the country.

Falwell told The Associated Press he spoke with Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s senior strategist, on Tuesday about the task force role. He says the details of the task force are still being sorted out, but the aim will be “to get the government off the backs of higher education.”

Falwell says he is scheduled to discuss the task force with Trump today.

Falwell was an early supporter of Trump. He told the Associated Press in November that Trump offered him the job of education secretary but he turned it down for personal reasons, including not wanting to relocate his family. He said Tuesday that nominee Betsy DeVos was a great choice. Billionaire DeVos, like Falwell, is part of the right-wing Christian community and has been an outspoken supporter of school choice and vouchers, both of which would help Christian schools and work to the detriment of public schools.

An article by Matthew Rozsa appearing in Salon.com reports that “Falwell Jr.’s focus will be on ‘overregulation and micromanagement of higher education,’ according to Liberty University spokesman Len Stevens. This would be consistent with Falwell’s past positions, in which he has opposed federal regulations on funding and accreditation for American schools of higher learning.”

Falwell also came under fire in October when he ordered the pulling of an editorial critical of Trump from a student newspaper. The editorial criticized Trump for his comments bragging about sexually assaulting women, a position that Falwell defended by saying that “we’re all sinners.”

Liberty University teaches “young Earth creationism” as an explanation for the appearance of life on Earth. The university works with young Earth creationist organizations including Answers in Genesis. In biology classes students are taught both creationism and evolution and that the former offers the better explanation of biological diversity. In October 2006 the university published an advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education in an attempt to recruit staff to its biology department. The advertisement specified that “compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy [is] required.”

Associated Press, Barbara Russum, and Wikipedia contributed to this article.

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