School is a national forum (and a lightning rod)

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Print this page by Heather Hayes
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Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. and
Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo By Bill Clark via AP Images

Here’s Liberty University’s paradox: While its size and academic breadth remains a well-kept regional secret, the school boasts high name recognition nationally. That’s because it frequently serves as a forum for politicians and commentators.

Liberty is playing a particularly active role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, announced his run for the presidency at the university in March.

Although the school tends to attract Republicans, President Jerry Falwell Jr., this year invited presidential candidates from both parties to speak to Liberty students. In September, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination, discussed the need for rigorous but civil discourse. In November, Dr. Ben Carson, another Republican candidate, talked about principles that enabled him to rise out of poverty and become the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.

This university’s high profile, however, sometimes makes it a lightning rod. After the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in December, Falwell encouraged students who are eligible to sign up for a free course for obtaining concealed-carry gun permits. Falwell’s remarks were picked up quickly by the national news media, sparking a controversy.

Liberty’s policy is not new, however. Its concealed-carry course was introduced in 2010. The following year, Falwell asked the school’s board of trustees to allow students over the age of 21 with a permit to bring weapons onto campus. The move was largely prompted by the killing of 32 unarmed professors and students at Virginia Tech in 2007. The board later approved the policy change, which took effect in 2013.

Many other institutions have similar policies to Liberty, including Michigan State University and the University of Colorado. Virginia is one of 23 states that allow colleges and universities to decide whether or not to allow concealed weapons on campus.

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