Jerry Falwell Jr. says he is not resigning as president and chancellor of Liberty University, contradicting news reports announcing his departure from the Evangelical school.
“I have not resigned. How did those reports get out? I don’t know,” Falwell told POLITICO on a phone call on Monday evening. “I have not resigned. I will be on indefinite leave.”
A Liberty University spokesperson earlier on Monday responded affirmatively to a reporter’s text message seeking confirmation of whether Falwell was resigning. The spokesperson added that a formal statement would be “forthcoming.”
But later on Monday evening, the spokesperson declined to comment, saying in a text message: “I cannot say anything and I can only give a statement from the Board if they give me a statement.”
Earlier on Monday, reports spread that Falwell had resigned following after reports that he and his wife had engaged in an ongoing relationship with Giancarlo Granda, a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Granda publicly spoke out about his alleged affair with the Falwells, which began in 2012 and lasted through 2019, Granda told POLITICO.
“I met Jerry and Becki Falwell as a 20-year-old working my way through college at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Becki and I developed an intimate relationship that went on from 2012 and through 2019 in which Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Granda, now 29, said in an email.
On Sunday, prior to a report in Reuters about the affair between Granda and the Falwells, Falwell released his own statement that claimed Granda had had an affair with Becki Falwell without his involvement. Granda denied that statement.
“He enjoyed watching us in person and also remotely through video cameras. He also listened to our phone calls,” Granda said.
Falwell’s departure would represent a tectonic shift for Liberty, which has been under the Falwell family’s leadership since it was founded in 1971. Falwell Jr. has led the university since his father, Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., died in 2007. During that time, the university expanded to enroll more than 100,000 students a year, many of them online, making Liberty one of the country’s biggest online universities. Liberty also embarked on a $500 million campus renovation, and its endowment grew to $1.6 billion.
In August, Falwell came under scrutiny after he posted, then removed, a photo of himself vacationing on a yacht with his pants unzipped and his arm around his wife’s assistant, sparking anger among members of the conservative Liberty community about Falwell’s behavior.
After he posted the yacht photo, taken during a vacation in Key West, a chorus of critics emerged calling for Falwell to step down. Among those who were critical of the photo were House Republican Conference Chair Mark Walker (R-N.C.), a former Liberty University instructor who said in a tweet that “Jerry Falwell Jr’s ongoing behavior is appalling,” and that the university’s faculty and students “deserve better.”
Falwell apologized for the photo, saying it was “just in good fun” and that he had told his family that “I’m gonna try to be a good boy from here on out.” But within a week, the board of trustees took action and placed Falwell on “indefinite leave” from the university.
Last week, a group of 50 pastors who are also Liberty alumni wrote a letter to the university’s board, shared with the outlet CBN News, that called for Falwell’s permanent removal and said his behavior has “embarrassed the many alumni that work hard in our community to not only uphold the reputation of the university but to uphold a positive witness for the name of Christ.”
The yacht incident was not the first time Falwell’s public behavior was deemed to be out of step with the conservative Christian values espoused by Liberty.
In 2019, POLITICO reported on Falwell and family members visiting a nightclub in Miami Beach in 2014, in some cases apparently holding drinks in their hands. Liberty students are discouraged from both co-ed dancing and drinking, which can lead to expulsion.
Earlier this summer, Falwell apologized after tweeting a photo of a face mask decorated with a photo of a person in a Ku Klux Klan mask and a person in blackface. (The photo was meant to jab at Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s history of wearing blackface.)
Some members of Liberty’s board were also disturbed by Falwell’s oversight of university funds, sources told POLITICO. That includes Falwell’s repeated trips on a yacht belonging to NASCAR owner Rick Hendrick, who owns a racing team that Liberty University spends roughly $6 million a year to sponsor, POLITICO reported. (Use of the yacht was not part of the contract between Liberty and Hendrick’s company, Hendrick Motorsports, a Hendrick Motorsports representative said.)
On Sunday, Falwell said that Granda, the former pool attendant, had become increasingly “angry and aggressive” toward him and Becki over the years.
“He began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies,” Falwell said.
Granda said in an email to POLITICO that he was coming forward for a variety of reasons, including “some resentment over the amounts paid” to acquaintances of his by the Falwells to settle a lawsuit relating to their hostel in Miami, and “yes, boiling frustration over the Falwell’s refusal to purchase my 24.9 percent equity stake” in the hostel.