Take the elevator to the top of Liberty University’s new Freedom Tower, 275 feet above the campus, and you’ll have an unmatched view of Lynchburg and Central Virginia.
The home of LU’s School of Divinity was designed to make a statement, says president Jerry Falwell, Jr.
"It’s really not only going to be the focal point of campus, but it’s going to be a testament to our heritage as a Christian university and it really will make a statement to everyone for years to come."
The tower is just the latest in a string of expansions and construction projects that have transformed the campus over the last decade or so: new dorms, new academic buildings, new athletic facilities.
A few more projects will be completed in the next two to three years. "We’ll be pretty much done," says Falwell. "We’ll be the right size for a capacity of about 15,500 students. That’s where we intend to stay. So what you’re seeing now is pretty close to completion."
It’s a far cry from the small Christian school Elmer Towns co-founded with the late Jerry Falwell, Sr. in 1971. "When Dr. Falwell and I began a school, we had a vision of 5,000," Towns told a crowd at Monday's dedication. "That’s about as big as I could stretch my mind." But within a few years, Falwell's vision had grown to 50,000 students. And when Jerry Falwell, Jr. took over as president after his father's death, Towns said the vision grew again to 100,000.
The on-campus student population is now set to pass 15-thousand. And when combined with online programs, Liberty boasts more than 100,000 students. That online growth wouldn't have happened without the campus in Lynchburg, Falwell says. "I don’t think it would have been successful if we hadn’t had the traditional residential campus here for 40 years to give us credibility as a Christian university. But I think they have both benefited each other."
Falwell remembered his own days as a Liberty student in the 1980's. "It was just little one-story metal buildings that looked like self storage units." The goal, Falwell said, was for them to be temporary, but some were used for 30 years or more. The last ones were just recently removed from campus.
So what would his father have to say about the growth? ”He’d say ‘I told you so.’ He believed all this would happen," Jerry Falwell Jr. said. "He just didn’t think it would happen as fast as it has.”