Jerry Falwell Jr., the president and chancellor of Liberty University, has agreed to take an “indefinite leave of absence,” according to a statement Friday from the evangelical Christian university.
The leave of absence is effective immediately, the statement said. The executive committee of the university’s board of trustees made the request of Falwell. The board did not provide a reason for Falwell’s leave in its statement.
CNN has reached out to Falwell for comment. In a separate statement, Jerry Prevo, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, said the Lynchburg, Virginia-based university has “experienced unprecedented success” during Falwell’s 13 years as president.
“Unfortunately, with this success and the burdens of leading a large and growing organization comes substantial pressure,” Prevo said in the statement. “Today, my colleagues and I on the Liberty University Board of Trustees and Jerry mutually agreed that it would be good for him to take an indefinite leave of absence.”
Falwell – no stranger to controversy – has come under fire in recent days after posting a picture on Instagram that depicted him with his pants unzipped and his midsection visible to the camera. In the photo, Falwell is seen holding a cup of dark liquid with one arm around a woman whose shorts are also unzipped.
In a radio interview with WLNI, Falwell explained that the woman was his wife’s assistant. They were at a costume party and “it was just in good fun,” he added.
“You know, it was weird because she’s pregnant so she couldn’t get her (shorts) up and I was like, trying to like – I have a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a long time so I couldn’t get mine zipped either,” Falwell said. “So I just put my belly out like hers.”
Falwell said he “should never have put it up and embarrassed her.”
He added, “I’ve apologized to everybody and I promised my kids I’m going to try to be a good boy from here on out.”
Prevo said the leave of absence decision “was not made lightly” and took into account “the interests everyone in the LU community, including students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, leaders of the Church, as well as the Falwell family.”
Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican from North Carolina and a member of a Liberty University advisory board, called Thursday on Falwell to resign, calling his ongoing behavior “appalling.”
“I just think there’s a code that leaders have to live by, especially when you’re leading the largest Christian evangelical university in the country,” Walker told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Friday.
CNN’s Daniel Burke contributed to this report.