After its last president left amid scandal, Liberty University turned to the Pentagon for its next leader.
Dondi E. Costin, outgoing president at Charleston Southern University and a retired U.S. Air Force major general who served as chief of chaplains at the Pentagon, was named the Baptist university’s third president March 31.
It has been two and a half years since Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the school’s founder, left office amid a sex and financial scandal. Longtime board chairman Jerry Prevo has served as interim president since that time.
There remains a Falwell in leadership at Liberty, however, as Jerry Falwell’s other son, Jonathan Falwell, 56, was named university chancellor. Jonathan Falwell also serves as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., where he followed his father.
Costin, 58, is a two-time graduate of Liberty University and served as an Air Force chaplain under endorsement of Liberty Baptist Fellowship, an endorsing agency affiliated with the university and a network of independent Baptist churches.
The new president is a decorated combat veteran who previously served as senior chaplain for Air Force operations in both the Pacific and the Middle East. He also has worked in U.S. humanitarian efforts across the globe.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in operations research from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and went on to earn five master’s degrees, a doctor of ministry degree, and a Ph.D. in organizational leadership. He has been married to Vickey Costin, a public school teacher, for more than 33 years.
Restoration of the office of chancellor at Liberty puts Jonathan Falwell in another position his father once held. A news release from the school said Falwell and Costin will report “independently to the board of trustees.”
Falwell has also served on the university’s board of trustees for 30 years.
“With this transition, we are recommitting our institution to its founding, and singular, mission: Training Champions for Christ,” Falwell said. “I look forward to serving alongside our exceptionally qualified new president to impact more lives than ever before with Christ-centered education.”
The new administration faces several immediate challenges, including a U.S. Department of Education investigation into the school’s handling of sexual assault claims and an $8.5 million lawsuit filed against the school by Jerry Falwell Jr. related to retirement benefits.
On the positive side, Liberty University has grown from a small sectarian school founded by a single pastor and church to become the world’s largest Baptist school. With a heavy emphasis on online learning and enrollment of part-time studies worldwide, the university boasts 130,000 students by head count.
Last year, the school reported 35% of its online students are military service members, making Costin’s leadership an immediate draw for future recruitment.