© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. attends his inauguration in Lynchburg, Virginia
By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – Jerry Falwell Jr., a leading evangelical ally of President Donald Trump, has indefinitely taken off from his offices as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, the Christian school that he has headed for more than a decade Trustees said on Friday.
Falwell's departure, which was announced in one sentence in a statement by the board, came a few days after he posted an Instagram photo of himself and then deleted it. He was standing with his pants open and one arm around a young woman, a drink in the other hand.
The woman's pants were also partially open.
The caption, the screenshot of which went viral after being released on Sunday by a Houston Chronicle reporter, read, "More vacation footage. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht. I promise that's just black water in my glass. It was just a prop. "
In an interview on Thursday with the radio station WLNI-FM in Lynchburg, where the university is located, Falwell apologized and said the picture was staged as a good-natured joke.
The woman was his wife's assistant, who is pregnant, he said, according to a WLNI clip from the interview.
"She couldn't zip up her pants, and I wanted to try to like … I had jeans that I haven't worn in a long time, and I couldn't zip mine either. Well, just me erase my stomach like hers, "he said to WLNI.
"I should never have set her up and embarrassed her … I apologized to everyone. I made a promise to my kids that from now on I would try to be a good boy," Falwell said.
The board of directors moved on Friday to oust Falwell and issued a statement that read: "The Executive Committee of the Liberty University Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the entire board of directors, met today calling on Jerry Falwell Jr. to stand indefinitely from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, with immediate effect. "
No further details were given.
Falwell, who has emerged as a prominent supporter of Trump in evangelical Christian circles – a key constituency for the president – was targeted in a lawsuit by students at Liberty University in April.
The complaint filed against Falwell and the school sought reimbursement of room, board, and other expenses as life on campus was restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, which students accused Falwell of downplaying.
He was also haunted last year by a series of private business and prosecution stories founded by his father, Rev. Jerry Falwell, a powerful and outspoken figure in conservative politics for decades.
Among those stories – his connections to Trump's convicted attorney Michael Cohen; his deal with a former hotel pool attendant in Miami; and his role in controlling a $ 1.2 million college campus to his personal fitness trainer.
He was also examined for emails checked by Reuters in 2019, which showed that over the years he regularly demeaned students, staff and parents in correspondence with Liberty administrators. He became president of the school in 2008.