Liberty U. gets new president three years after scandal-hit leader resigned

Liberty U. gets new president three years after scandal-hit leader resigned

Liberty University, the nation’s largest evangelical Christian school, has named a new president nearly three years after Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned amid scandal.

Dondi E. Costin, a retired U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains who most recently was president of Charleston Southern University, a Christian school in South Carolina’s largest city, was appointed to the job Friday by Liberty University’s trustees.

Mr. Costin, who called Liberty his “two-time alma mater,” said his “life and ministry have been profoundly shaped” by the 50-year-old school. He said he and his wife Vickey “look forward to locking arms with the Liberty family as we honor the University’s past and drive toward its future. With God’s help and for His glory, the very best days of our great University are still ahead of us.”

Mr. Costin spent five years as Charleston Southern president, taking the position after he left the Air Force in 2018.

He replaces the Rev. Jerry Prevo, who became interim president after the departure of Mr. Falwell, the school’s second president. The school said its board of trustees voted to give Mr. Prevo the title of president emeritus.

Mr. Falwell had succeeded his father, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, as president when the Liberty University founder died in 2007. He resigned in August 2020 after a series of scandals.

In April 2021, the school sued Mr. Falwell for $30 million, saying he concealed his wife’s affair with Giancarlo Granda, a pool attendant the couple met in 2012. The school says Mr. Falwell concealed knowledge of the affair and other personal conduct issues while negotiating a contract extension in 2019.

The former Liberty president sued the school this month over $8.5 million in retirement benefits he claimed the school improperly denied him under the terms of an agreement the two sides had negotiated.

Mr. Costin’s new position puts him in charge of a school that is much larger than Charleston Southern University, which has 3,400 students. Liberty has a total enrollment of more than 130,000 students, the school website says, with at least 15,000 on campus and the rest online.

Liberty said that under Mr. Costin’s leadership, Charleston Southern expanded its academic programs including an aviation program, several doctoral programs and an engineering program in the university’s College of Science and Mathematics. The school’s athletics performance has improved, and Mr. Costin is currently president of the Big South Conference, Liberty said.

As chief of chaplains, Mr. Costin, a two-star general in the Air Force, offered spiritual leadership to more than 664,000 active duty, Air National Guard, Reserve and civilian forces in the service, leading 2,000 chaplains and chaplain assistants from the Air Force Chaplain Corps.

Jonathan Falwell is the university’s new chancellor. He is a member of Liberty’s “founding generation” of the 52-year-old school and has been a Liberty trustee for more than 30 years. He was previously vice chancellor for spiritual affairs and campus pastor.

The school said Jonathan Falwell would remain senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, which his late father founded.

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