Is Stephen Jones Preparing for a Career in Education?


Stephen Jones has kept pretty quiet since his resignation from the BJU Presidency. Apart from a few Instagram posts detailing his world travels (paid for by the BJU Board), his only public statements have come via his blog. That blog has primarily been a place for Jones to offer advice to young Christians, via posts named “Letters To a Young Friend,” though he’s also used it to denounce critics (and claim he’s not denouncing them).

But over the last week or so, three separate tipsters have sent us information that leads us to think the former BJU President might be looking to launch a career in the education industry. According to the screenshots sent our way, Jones is introducing himself to dozens of friends and even strangers on professional social network LinkedIn as an “Education Management Professional”:

Like we said above, several different anonymous sources have told us they’ve received the above email. And another screenshot of Jones’ LinkedIn profile (only visible to his LinkedIn contacts) shows he has indeed been connecting with scores of new people recently:

Would Jones be a good hire for an educational organization in South Carolina or elsewhere? It’s hard to say. Jones clearly has experience as the head of a large University, but it’s also just as clear that his education and experience really only prepare him to lead BJU. His degrees are all from the school and therefore unaccredited. There’s also the issue of nepotism; Jones didn’t attain his position as BJU President through his qualifications only. We’ll keep tabs on any further developments with Jones’ aspirations. If you have more updates on any of this, feel free to drop us a line.

 

BJU Sends Out Two New Fundraising Letters as Financial Situation Deteriorates


It looks like the dire words of warning about BJU’s financial outlook from its previous President are holding true under the current President.

BJU issued this week not one but two new fundraising letters to select graduates, the details of which have been provided to BJU News by a kind tipster. The first letter asks grads to contribute to the school’s Scholarship Fund; gifts which will, the letter says, be matched by “The Board” up to $500,000. New school President Steve Pettit uses the scare tactics and questionable logic that have been the hallmark of BJU promotional materials for nearly 100 years. Here’s the letter in five pictures:

The second letter, which we published earlier today to lengthy discussion on our Facebook and Twitter pages, concerns the Museum and Gallery. It has apparently recently had the misfortune of losing one of its major donors, and BJU is asking graduates to pick up the slack–to the tune of $300,000. Read below:

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Now, there’s certainly nothing unusual about a school asking for donations from its constituency, and anyone affiliated with BJU can tell you that the school has a long history of tracking down addresses in order to send out letters like these (even if it sometimes forgets to inform the same people of its public scandals via these methods). But taken in context of recent revelations about the University’s indulgent spending on flashy events and activities, and combined with the constant undertone of worry about enrollment, these kinds of donation requests now take on a different tone. It remains to be seen how the outcome of the GRACE investigation (in just three weeks) will impact these issues.

Former BJU Faculty Member: Costly Fine Arts Productions Weigh Heavy on BJU’s Budget


A former BJU music faculty member contacted BJU News this week with information regarding the cost of the school’s lavish fine arts productions. The information is interesting in light of BJU’s continued enrollment issues and financial struggles.

According to this former music faculty member, BJU productions typically cost between $1-2 million each to stage.  Operas occupy the upper end of this spectrum, with our source estimating that the recent production of “Aida” in particular was most likely in the $2 million range.

BJU has not shied away from discussing the grandeur of its productions–in fact, the school uses its lavish fine arts style as a key selling point. Consider just these two recent quotes:

Greenville News, “BJU Stages Towering Production of Verdi Opera ‘Aida‘”:

For the university, the production is a milestone, featuring not only a well-known conductor but five guest singers, all new sets and costumes, and a student cast of 213 on the stage of Rodeheaver Auditorium.

“I’ve directed most of the big operas here, and this is the biggest cast I’ve ever worked with,” said stage director Darren Lawson.

“Sometimes it’s like herding cats because it’s so massive,” he added, with a laugh. “But it’s a great cast. We’ll also have 50 musicians in the orchestral pit and a huge crew backstage. I was planning for the cast party the other day, and I’m expecting 370 at the party. That’s a lot of cake.”

BJU Collegian: “‘Aida’ to be Grand Opera At Its Finest

This semester’s presentation of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida will be the largest opera production ever to take place at Bob Jones University, with more actors, costumes and unique set pieces than ever before…

…“this is grand opera at its finest,” Lawson said.  “I know of no other universities that can pull off a production of this magnitude.”

What’s clear from these recent examples is that BJU’s recent troubles are not causing the school’s leadership to reconsider its tradition of hosting massive, costly productions. If anything, these expenses are growing.

Relevant recent events:

A year ago this week, Stephen Jones told faculty that the school’s finances were in a desperate state.

BJU’s attempt at attaining regional accreditation, a crucial part of its attempt to remain relevant, is dependent on the school’s financial stability.

BJU News revealed only days ago that the cost of University’s sports program jumped more than 15% in the last year to nearly $1 million annually.

By the school’s own admission, enrollment has been in significant decline for years.

Relations with the public and with some alumni continue to deteriorate.

 

 

 

Bruin Expenditures Near $1 Million for 2014 Fiscal Year


BJU’s spending on its Bruins sports program has reached nearly $1 million in the past year, according to a US DOE report:

This is about a 15% increase from last year,  the first year Bruins financial data was available.

The data can be viewed by searching for Bob Jones University from this landing page on the DOE site. Also of note are the average salaries BJU pays its coaches:

One last number: the DOE puts BJU’s undergrad enrollment at 2,691.

 

Pettit Says Re-Gaining Tax-Exempt Status Essential to “University’s Future” in New Leaked Audio


BJU President Steve Pettit Announced a surprise new initiative for the school during last week’s “State of the University Q&A“, held on-campus for students and alumni. Pettit told the small gathering of BJU supporters that the school is looking to regain its tax-exempt status, which it lost in 1983 after the US Supreme Court found that BJU could not claim a First Amendment right to tax exemption since the University’s policies on racial discrimination were contrary to US policy.

We have been sent audio of this private meeting which were are including below, and on our Leaked Files page as always. Other meeting topics included enrollment growth, accreditation, and dorm remolding. Notably, the GRACE investigation (now on hold until November of this year) was not mentioned.

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.