The Greenville News on Wednesday finally published its long-awaited piece on the health of Bob Jones University President Stephen Jones. The story also noted how difficult the past year has been for the school: scandal, plummeting enrollment, and sustained, forceful opposition from disaffected alumni via the internet.
In short, it’s the kind of article the local Greenville media has thus far managed to avoid telling (some might point to the kind of bias which motivated [former?] Fox reporter Alyssa Clemens to post this message on Facebook).
Anyhow, the text of the story is below just in case Dr. Bob’s buddies down at the News find some peculiar excuse to pull it.
Comments to the story are restricted to Greenville News paid subscribers, but BJU News has obtained access and will update this post with any comments of note.
Stephen Jones planned to keep a low profile when he became president of Bob Jones University in 2005. But not like this.
Jones, 42, has been on medical leave since last June and has been dealing with an incapacitating illness since a year before that, according to university officials and family.
His absence comes at a time when enrollment is sliding and the school is trying to become accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools after decades of resisting outside influence.
The university, known worldwide as a bastion of fundamentalist Christianity, is being run by two vice presidents, Gary Weier, executive VP for academic affairs and Marshall Franklin, executive VP for operations, according to John Yessa, a member of the BJU executive board.
“They have worked well together. They do have some contact with Stephen,” Yessa said. “He is aware of things that are happening.”
Bob Jones III, Stephen’s father, past president and current chancellor of the university, is “not heavily involved” in day-to-day operations of the institution, Yessa said. Jones III couldn’t be reached for comment.
Yessa said the board expects Stephen Jones to be “back in the saddle shortly, which hopefully is Aug. 1.”
School officials had hoped he would be back on the job by last August but asked him last June to go on medical leave.
Jones’ wife, Erin, said his condition has improved slowly over the past six months but she couldn’t guarantee that he’ll be ready to return to the office this fall.
“We pray so, we hope so,” she told GreenvilleOnline.com.
His health problems started during a trip to China in June 2010, according to his wife. He suffered from vertigo and nausea and was discovered to have nerve damage in his inner ear, she said.
His health worsened in the weeks and months that followed and he had to spend most of his time sleeping, she said.
He has seen several specialists, in Greenville, Florida and Cleveland, she said. A gastroenterologist thought the nausea was caused by his gall bladder, which was removed in December 2010, she said.
But the nausea and vertigo were back the next month when he returned to campus, she said.
His doctors now believe the vertigo is related to migraines, she said.
“Humanly speaking, we can be impatient or greedy for faster improvement, but at the same time both of us recognize that we believe that the Lord is working in our lives through this unusual situation,” she said. “And we have seen the Lord work in our lives and strengthen and encourage us when we needed it most.”
Meanwhile, the university is moving ahead on initiatives that Jones has had a hand in prior to going on leave and continues to follow, his wife and Yessa said.
Plans to initiate an intercollegiate athletics program for the first time in the school’s 85-year history are going forward, and the accreditation process is “going well,” according to Yessa.
Both items aim at making the university more marketable at a time when enrollment has fallen from a peak of 5,000 down to 3,400.
And in December, Jones, although absent from the university’s semi-annual board meeting, called for a review of BJU’s sex abuse policies “as a result of recent national media reports of the mishandling of sexual abuse.”
The school was drawn into controversy last year when ABC’s 20/20 reported on a 1997 rape case that involved a 15-year-old girl and a male member of a Concord, N.H., church whose pastor was a member of BJU’s Cooperating Board of Trustees.
The Rev. Chuck Phelps resigned his seat on BJU’s board in December after an online petition called for his ouster.
Phelps denied allegations Tina Anderson made to ABC in its report that she was forced to confess her “sin” — that she was pregnant — in front of her Independent Fundamental Baptist congregation.
Stephen Jones “still is active, although he may not be in the office and maybe not seen physically present around the campus as much,” said his wife, who is director of BJU’s world famous gallery of religious art.
He meets with the vice presidents almost weekly and takes some phone calls, she said.
“He is not out of touch or out of reach,” she said. “He loves the students and the faculty and staff and he is certainly burdened for the university’s direction.”
He is continuing to battle the disease, she said, with appointments this month for two different new types of treatment.
The experience has drawn both her and her husband closer to God, she said. As promised in the Scriptures, she said, it has helped teach them endurance and perseverance.
“The Lord has been good,” she said. “There are good lessons we have learned in this situation about the Lord, about how he expresses his love to us, his strength to us.
“There have certainly been times when we have been very low. So then that makes it all that much more real when he surprises us with his care, his thoughtfulness.”