Six Questions About the Impending GRACE Report


As the promised date of completion for the GRACE investigation of BJU nears, here are six questions we are pondering:

1. Will GRACE specifically implicate high-ranking BJU officials in its findings? We’ve heard reports over the last few weeks that GRACE will not be afraid to name names in its report, but it remains to be seen whether administrators like Jim Berg will have their dirty laundry aired. GRACE could opt instead to describe systemic abuse and mismanagement at the school without including details about individual staff. There’s been rumors that disagreement over this decision was what led to BJU’s temporary firing of GRACE earlier this year, but no confirmation.

2. What scope will the report have? For instance, will GRACE only consider on-campus incidents and reports, or will it also explore related situations such as Jim Berg’s questionable “abuse counseling ministry?”

3. Will BJU attempt to spin the report’s findings, or accept them and seek to change? Since the investigation began, BJU has repeatedly stated its only goal is to learn from the report and address any mistakes it’s made. However, those familiar with the school’s history have reason to wonder what response a damning GRACE report will elicit. A battle over the report’s findings would doubtless be damaging to BJU’s reputation, but it’s not inconceivable: the two organizations traded social media posts expressing “disappointment” in each other during the firing fiasco earlier this year. And BJU’s unfortunate descriptions of victims (see “underserved”) may indicate a lack of willingness to accept culpability. Another interesting caveat is Bob Jones III’s very public claim that the school has never mismanaged any case of abuse in its history. How will the school reconcile that claim with the report?

4. How will alumni and supporters of the school react if the report is wide-ranging and devastating? We’ve seen supporters defend BJU in dire situations before, but a report showing a long history of abuse mismanagement would likely still be a big blow. For several years now, BJU has been attempting to rehab its public image: social media efforts, a new mascot and sports program, relaxed rules, a non-Jones president, showing movies on campus–regardless of how you view these efforts, there’s no doubt the school’s intent has been to appear more welcoming. A bombshell from GRACE would set the school back years in terms of reputation, and require a massive new PR campaign. With declining enrollment and SACS watching closely, it may simply be too late even for that.

5. How and when will alumni be notified of the report’s findings? Who will do the notifying, BJU or GRACE? It would seem natural that BJU would send letters and/or email to alumni explaining what GRACE publishes, in addition to social media. However, the organization that sends out the notifications could also seek to control the spin. If BJU is allowed to exclusively notify interested parties, there’s the distinct possibility that the news will be softened, or that not everyone will be contacted.

6. Will media coverage be sufficient to force BJU to implement major change? Depending on who you believe, BJU has repeatedly been convinced to change its policies due to media scrutiny–from the miscegenation controversy to their firing/re-hiring of GRACE, BJU is always aware (if scornful) of media attention. We saw a historic amount of media coverage earlier this year when BJU fired GRACE, so it’s likely than any GRACE report (especially one critical of BJU) would be similarly well-covered. The question is whether or not the coverage reaches a critical mass that puts BJU administrators on the hot seat and requires action.

BJU Grad Pens Lengthy Letter to Steve Pettit, Gets a Terse Non-Answer


A BJU grad critical of the school sent us this letter, which the grad sent to new BJU President Steve Pettit early this month:

Dear Mr. Pettit,

I watched the town hall meeting on the web last night and came away with the distinct feeling that I needed to write to you and share my thoughts. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an outspoken “disaffected” graduate of BJU. That said, I love our Lord, Jesus Christ, and sense that you do as well. I also have nieces and a nephew currently attending. While I would not choose to send my own children to BJU, I do want the best for my extended family members.

So, here goes…thoughts, constructive criticism, ideas…

1. BJU has a massive image problem.

To my knowledge, BJU has never apologized once in its 87 year history. That racism one doesn’t count. BJU came across as a petulant child being dragged kicking and screaming (by its own alumni) and mumbling something about “cultural ethos”…IOW, everybody was doing it. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. At my church we regularly ask for forgiveness for many a thing that I didn’t directly take part in…slavery being one of them. You know why? Because had I been around back in those times, I would have probably taken part in it. I hope I would have stood up to it, but few did. Confession allows us to clear the air with our neighbor and realize that but for the grace of God, it would have been me.
Many a non Christ-like word has been spoken from the chapel pulpit over the years…Al Haag, Betty Ford, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell…the list is long, but distinguished.
BJU says they are conservative yet they took a bailout offer for the their art gallery downtown. I also hear (yet to confirm) that BJU’s downtown gallery receives money somehow from the sales of wristbands for alcohol at downtown events. I’m not a conservative but if there is one thing you have to do as an organization, it’s be consistent.
In all of these cases, confession is not only good for the soul, it’s good for business.

2. Accreditation

We need a better explanation of why accreditation and government money are OK now but were verboten when we were students. The explanation that SACS is the one who has changed was weak at best. Better yet, just apologize again for being wrong about accreditation and government money, ask for forgiveness and move on. Side note…government money was bad but the GI Bill essentially built the Greenville campus.
TRACS was an easy way to get the money flowing but without SACS, the school should close. A non-regionally accredited liberal arts school is just a government investigation waiting to happen.

3. Enrollment

By all means, be a distinctively Christian school; however, in order to attract enough students to survive you need to…
Dump the crazy rules and handbooks. If the Ten Commandments was good enough for Moses, it should be good enough for us.
You’re a Citadel grad…institute an honor code, make the golden rule and the Sermon on the Mount your ideals.
Let students go to church at a much broader array of churches and make it voluntary…encourage, yes. But, they need to learn to make the decision for themselves.
Treat students like the adults they are…I agree with most of what you said about extended adolescence but we get the behavior we expect.
Students having authority over students…this needs to be re-visited in earnest. Prayer time is great. APCs and PCs…not so much.
Hold a press conference with all the local stations when you do this. Make a big deal about it. Slide a stack of handbooks into a trash can…sell it!
Be self-aware enough to realize that when Mr Jackson’s grand-kids are not going to BJU, when Mr. Franklin’s son left home to avoid BJU, and many an influential local alumni (read Dr Stratton) are not sending their children to BJU that the problem lies not with the alumni. It lies directly with the owners.
Which leads me to this. You are going to need to “pick a fight” with the owners of the company and win it. Your’re a smart guy so you probably already know this. Make your alliances. Assert your leadership. The Board is old. You’ve got this.

4. Safety

Put locks on the dormitory doors.

5. GRACE
Now, there’s a conundrum! Your only bet…follow their recommendations to the letter.
I would ask Boz to recommend someone not currently affiliated with BJU who would be willing to shepherd the school through their list of recommendations so that you personally can rise above the fray as much as possible. And, every knows it wasn’t the Penn State situation that made BJU hire GRACE. It’s a good story except that it is not true. BJU has had incidents on campus that have been swept under the rug.
Stop counseling on site. Refer students who need help to licensed, Christian counselors in the local area.
You come across as an honorable man. Do the honorable thing when the report is made public and you’ll have the support of all your alumni.
Lastly, I want to wish you and your wife the best. I hear she is not well and for that I am truly sorry. Nobody should have to watch the one they love suffer, I promise you that before I go to sleep tonight, I will say a prayer for both of you. Should you ever like to meet or get outside the BJU circle of churches for a weekend, let me know. You would be welcome to worship with my family at ——– United Methodist Church any Sunday. You might be surprised to know that among some of the older congregants that I hear things like “BJU is a good school” and “BJU has a fine music program”. The Greenville community has much going for it. I would like to see BJU be a positive part of it instead of reminder of unhappier days gone by.

Sincerely,

———-

To this lengthy letter, the grad received this reply today:

Dear Brother ——-:

Thank you for your candid email in follow-up to the Town Hall meeting last week. I apologize for the delay in my response; however, since my correspondence has increased exponentially in these last few months.

I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts and suggestions. It’s helpful to know other perspectives and to look for ways to improve. That being said, I’m not going to take the time to respond to every point you listed. I simply want to say that some of the things you suggest are simply not what Bob Jones University is or what we are called to be–in the context of our mission here at the University, there are certain things that we will not do (e.g. completely rid ourselves of the handbook).

We are thankful for you and thankful that you love our Lord Jesus Christ. We appreciate your prayers, and I personally thank you for your prayers for my wife and for her health.

Although we most probably will agree to disagree on many of your points, there are some helpful perspectives that you shared that we will keep in mind.

May you grow in our Lord’s grace and experience a closer walk with Him every day.

Sincerely,

Steve Pettit
President
Bob Jones University

This reply from Pettit should end any question of whether the new BJU administration is willing to truly entertain pointed questions from graduates about the future of the University. Despite Pettit’s repeated requests for feedback and accountability, it seems the same old playbook is still used for the difficult topics: defend, deny, and dismiss.

If you’ve written a similar letter or gotten a similar response from BJU, feel free to let us know in the comments.

Petition Demanding BJU Apologize for Rape Counseling Reaches 7,000 Signatures in 4 Days


Update: 5 days later, the petition has reached 14,000 signatures.

After an Al Jazeera America report found evidence that BJU has systematically counseled rape victims to “repent” and “forgive” their abusers, an online petition begun in response to that report has amassed over 7,000 signatures in under a week.

The petition asks BJU to change its counseling tactics and apologize to those affected.

Petition totals as of 6/22/14.

Petition totals as of 6/22/14.

In 2011, a petition signed by just 1,200 BJU alumni and others resulted in the resignation of Chuck Phelps from the school’s cooperating board.

Here’s Leaked Audio of Steve Pettit’s First Faculty/Staff Town Hall as BJU President


We were just sent this file, a recording of the June 16th, 2014 faculty/staff meeting, Steve Pettit’s first such meeting as President. Stephen Jones typically used these town halls as a chance to summarize the University’s current status, and Pettit appears to be following that example.

 

A few notes from the recording:

-Pettit says his first 30 days as President have been a “whirlwind,” but that he’s been impressed by the school and finds the job to be “a great blessing.”

-A Q&A session follows, with Gary Weier reading faculty/staff submitted questions and Pettit answering. Live questions are also taken.

-Pettit says Marshall Franklin and Weier have briefed him several times on the ongoing GRACE investigation, and that he’s proud of Stephen Jones for making BJU “the first faith-based organization” in America to undergo this kind of review (not strictly true). Pettit gave no details of how the report is going but said it will be released by August 31st at the latest.

-Pettit admits that BJU’s enrollment has declined significantly over the last 5-7 years. He plans to increase enrollment by personally calling prospective students and keeping “a very busy schedule” visiting BJU’s feeder churches.

-Pettit says he “completely supports” BJU’s music philosophy, although he considers himself “a centrist” on the issue.

-Pettit does not believe the Bruins sports program has become too expensive.

-Pettit says he “did not come to change BJU” but “to serve at the good pleasure of the Board” and “keep us on our mission.” He says he “has no changes on the horizon.”

-BJU has cut financial ties with a school it was invested in in China.

We’ve updated our Leaked Files page with this newly leaked file, and we’ll continue to publish anything we are sent.

 

BJU Responds to Our “Character Probation” Post, Contests Details


Responding to our leaked document posted yesterday, BJU PR man and conservative political activist Randy Page commented on a BJU News Facebook post in an attempt to clarify the school’s “Character Probation” program.

Page did not contest the legitimacy of the letter we posted.

Instead, commenting as the official BJU Facebook account, Page claimed that the program is not new and is minor in scope. This conflicts a few details our source provided us with yesterday.

Click here to see Page’s comment on Facebook, or see below for a screenshot.

 

Page

BJU to Implement New “Character Probation” Program for “Struggling” Upperclassmen


 

Clarification: our first version of this post stated that this letter was sent to any upperclassman who was not a “spiritual leader.” In fact, this letter was sent to a smaller group, those who had not been “recommended” for such a leadership position. Although smaller, we still believe the impact of this letter is significant enough to print here.

Update: Please see BJU’s response to this post here.

BJU has transitioned to a new “Character Probation” program for upperclassmen who have not been selected recommended for either of the new dorm leadership positions (“Assistant Group Leader” or “Group Leader”, which have replaced the “Assistant Prayer Captain” and “Prayer Captain” positions). A letter has been sent to any upperclassmen who will be on “Character Probation” next semester, a copy of which has been obtained by BJU News and appears below.

probation

“Character Probation,” while supposedly “not primarily intended to be a disciplinary action,” is clearly a way for BJU admins to keep tabs on students who aren’t fitting the mold.

If you’re a BJU student who’s been targeted by this new program, feel free to leave a note on your experiences in the comments here. And you can always email us anonymously.

 

New Gothard Revelations Hint at BJU’s Ugly History of Abuse


Recovering Grace, a website dedicated to publishing documents and stories related to abuse in Bill Gothard’s various organizations, has recently unearthed a few troubling tidbits that point to similarly abusive tactics used at BJU over the years.

Recovering Grace has been in operation since 2011, but has made headlines in recent weeks because its revelations finally reached critical mass, resulting in Gothard being put on administrative leave by his ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (known as the Institue in Basic Youth Conflicts during its early days). You can read more about this news from the Washington Post and the Huffington Post, among many others.

The scandal involves a wide array of allegations spanning decades. According to dozens of victims who’ve told their stories on Recovering Grace and in its comments, Gothard and other IBYC leaders used their “spiritual authority” to control, abuse and manipulate employees, mainly young women. Gothard himself stands accused of sexual harassment and failure to report child abuse, among other things.

An investigation of this scale necessarily implicates more than one organization, and in this case BJU is among those named. In 1980, two BJU officials (only one is named, a Rev. Van Gelderen) were summoned by Gothard to help him downplay a scandal that was about to overwhelm his multi-million dollar ministry. You can read more about that scandal on Recovering Grace, but suffice to say that the two BJU men were used by Gothard in his attempt to hush up accusations of sexual harassment against Gothard’s brother. Gothard asked the two BJU officials to help convince the IBYC board not to send a letter to supporters admitting the scandal and apologizing, and they obliged. Their plot failed, however, and when the board overruled Gothard and the BJU staffers and demanded that the sexual harassment be dealt with, Van Galderen reportedly reversed his stance and regretted coming at all. This incident is a fascinating parallel to BJU’s current PR troubles, as the school clearly still clings to a strategy of withholding potentially damaging information until the story has already exploded in the media.

Most damaging in this narrative, though, is a remark Van Gelderen made to the IBYC board when trying to dissuade them from properly handling sexual abuse:

They explained that “this kind of thing had happened also at [Bob Jones] University and this is how they have always handled it there.”

This ominous declaration can only mean one thing: in the 1980s, BJU already had a firm process in place for dealing with cases of sexual harassment and scandal within its administration. Whatever else that process might entail, it’s clear from Van Gelderen’s testimony here that covering up information and keeping supporters in the dark was key. Here’s the full text of this passage:

At the end of May 1980, discussions were still ongoing as the directors and staff attempted to approve a draft for a letter explaining the situation to the seminar alumni pastors. Bill was strongly against sending out this letter, but IBYC staff and leadership had almost completely lost confidence in his judgment by this time. Bill had lost control over his staff, and he knew it. They refused to remain under Bill’s asserted authority and were insisting upon straightforward and public transparency about the scandal. Bill pulled in two men from Bob Jones University—the administrative vice president and a BJU board member, Rev. Van Geldren, to help confront the staff. The BJU delegation rebuked the staff, stating that “a letter to pastors should not be sent out, and that it was wrong to inform the pastors and supporters of the Institute what was happening.” They explained that “this kind of thing had happened also at the [Bob Jones] University and this is how they have always handled it there.” In the end, though, Bill did send out a letter. The public and the media had picked up on the story, and he decided that he needed to make a statement.

In a sharp turn of events, two days after confronting the staff, Rev. Van Geldren had already apologized to the chief pilot (who was involved in uncovering the scandal) for his blind support of Bill, and apparently informed him that he had come to the conclusion that Bill could not be trusted. Rev. Van Geldren then did what we pray many parents are doing right now as they read these reports thirty years later—he withdrew his daughter from working at the Institute.

The second incident reported by Recovering Grace involves one of BJU’s longest-serving (1967-2013) Board members, John McLario. McLario was called in by Gothard to be a replacement for his father as IBYC chairman and president. This revelation shows a strong connection between BJU and Gothard’s ministry at this time, and a willingness on McLario’s part to help smooth over the scandal that was then threatening to destroy the IBYC. McLario did more than just accept the positions at IBYC, however. On his first day as new leader of the IBYC, McLario demanded that all of Gothard’s former staff, many of whom were victims of sexual harassment, declare their allegiance to the IBYC or lose their jobs. Here’s the full quote:

The media frenzy was being held at bay with partial truths about mishandling of Institute properties. Some prominent members of the IBYC staff and of the evangelical community began to step forward to help handle things. John McLario, an attorney and executive council for Bob Jones University, was asked on July 8, 1980, to take over as IBYC president and chairman of the board. William Gothard, Sr., submitted his resignation to the IBYC board on this same day. McLario took a heavy-handed approach to what he believed to be a rebellious staff. According to one timeline, “McLario meets with the entire staff and, without anybody saying who he was, he commenced to inform the entire staff that they have one hour to decide to resign immediately from the ministry or continue to work without any more resistance or questions. This action of McLario was fully supported by the Board and Bill Gothard.” At least one of the girls who had been involved with Steve received a phone call from McLario pressing her to remain compliant and silent about all that had happened (we are told this inspired exactly the opposite reaction from her). Within days, approximately one-half of the IBYC staff had resigned or been fired…

…As is often the case in fact versus fiction, what happened next was both anti-climactic and profoundly remarkable. John McLario abruptly resigned only seventeen days after assuming Institute leadership, reportedly to avoid dealing publicly with his own alleged sexual immorality.

Drawing conclusions from these incidents is simple enough: some of BJU’s highest-ranking, longest-serving and most-respected leaders were complicit in the horrifying abuses perpetrated by Gothard and his minions upon their staff. BJU was the first place Gothard turned to when he needed people to help him cover up scandal. And according to his own words, a respected BJU leader said that BJU, even in 1980, was already long practiced in “handling” scandals in a manner meant to protect leadership and silence victims.