Jerry Falwell Jr., a massively influential evangelical Christian and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, has resigned as president of Liberty University.
Falwell's decision was the culmination of a summer of bad press. Falwell, who has been on paid leave from the university since Aug. 7, succeeded his father, one of the university's cofounders, as president in 2007.
Liberty University confirmed in a statement to BuzzFeed News that its Board of Trustees accepted Falwell's resignation on Monday night. The school added that Falwell had agreed to resign immediately, then reversed course before finally sending a resignation letter through his attorney.
On Monday morning, Reuters reported on an allegedly yearslong sexual relationship between Falwell's wife and a hotel pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda, with Falwell's consent. Falwell called Reuters' report "90% false," Virginia Business reported.
The Washington Examiner published a statement from Falwell on Sunday evening, in which he wrote that Granda was attempting to extort him, a charge Granda has denied.
"Over the course of the last few months this person's behavior has reached a level that we have decided the only way to stop this predatory behavior is to go public," Falwell's statement read.
Granda and the Falwells previously went into business together, BuzzFeed News has reported.
In early August, Falwell posted, and subsequently deleted, on Instagram a photo of himself with his pants unzipped, his arm around a woman he later said was his wife's assistant. The university's board of trustees subsequently asked Falwell to "take an indefinite leave of absence," according to an Aug. 7 statement from the school, which he accepted.
According to Liberty University rules, students cannot drink alcohol and must abide by a modest dress code. Backlash to the photo was immediate, with elected officials and school alumni condemning Falwell.
“How is this Jerry Falwell Jr. photo even real?” tweeted Meghan McCain. “Also if you're running the largest Christian university in America maybe don't put photos of yourself on social media with your pants undone on a yacht - with random women in bad wigs. So gross, so hypocritical.”
On Aug. 20, a group of 50 Liberty University alumni sent a letter to the university's acting president and board of trustees, requesting that Falwell be removed in light of his recent behavior and comments.
"It is because of our deep love for Liberty University and our great optimism for its future that we write to you today to urge you, the Board of Trustees, to permanently remove Mr. Falwell as president and chancellor and replace him with a new leader," the letter read.
In March this year, Falwell downplayed the coronavirus pandemic, speculating without evidence that the virus was created by North Korea or China. Students at Liberty were frustrated with the university’s decision to remain open during the early days of the pandemic, with a “reckless” and “ignorant” response from Falwell.
In late May, he tweeted his opposition to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's mask mandate amid the pandemic. "If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will reluctantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!" he tweeted on May 27, attaching an image of a face mask with a man in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe. Falwell apologized days later.
The university said in a statement it will "select a search committee for its new president" during its next board meeting.