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.



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

  1. CBennett

    The topics and energy of this meeting confirm that the BJU’s top issue is survival. Petit is a great guy with a lot of experience in a number of managerial and evangelistic areas and he would be perfect as head of recruiting or head of PR or any of a number of positions associated with shaping BJU’s public image or influencing BJU’s recruiting success or in other ways growing BJU’s footprint. It is possible that he personally, through his widely available and popular evangelistic outreaches, has a larger and more positive following than the University right now.

    As the head of an academic institution and seminary, his appointment,again, supports the hypothesis that right now BJU is not wrestling with where to stand on key social, cultural or theological issues or how to buttress it’s academics or empower its spiritual influence — it is still about survival, hit the road, ring the bell, pump the crowds, drive the energy, go bruins! Student recruitment and retention, the theme of just about every small to medium sized higher ed institution in the country, is also BJU’s theme, too. In that, it is no longer the world’s most unusual university — it is prosaically totally usual.

    The statistical evidence is that when small and medium-sized higher ed institutions shift their emphasis from their primary mission to survival for survival’s sake, the chances of survival decrease; not always in the immediate short run but definitely in the longer run. Perhaps this time will be different.

  2. John Matzko

    D. L. Moody once said he’d rather advertize than preach to empty pews. CBennett’s analysis sounds superficially plausible, but when he claims BJU’s shifted its emphasis from its “primary mission,” he doesn’t define what he thinks its primary mission used to be or what it should be. I’ve always thought BJU’s mission was (and is) educating college students in a conservative Christian environment.

  3. John Matzko

    Piffle. If they’ve tried to enrich themselves, they’ve done a pretty poor job of it. During the early years, Bob Jones Sr. (about whom I’m writing the first scholarly biography) sunk a sizable personal fortune into the school–millions in 2014 dollars.

  4. CBennett

    My point was only a simple one — the foundation of education is scholarship, not attracting “students.” It would go without saying that the primary mission of a college is education and key to delivering quality education is not advertising, is not “attracting students,” is not “hitting the road and taking the message to the feeder churches.” The primary focus for colleges has always been the quality of their product, not the size of their sales. That is shifting in lots of places and it is shifting at BJU.

    Most universities have a large infrastructure they built when attendance was high. As enrollments decline, especially in smaller private colleges, the financial burden of this over capacity at some point actually starts to threaten the continued existence of the college. That is scary and has resulted in a sea change in most small college business models.

    So advertising is what most small (and larger) colleges are emphasizing now and in that BJU has become not unusual but very usual. More colleges, like BJU, are hiring as their head and leading light not someone whose primary background, focus and area of strength is a vision for relevant, accurate and influential scholarship, but someone who is good at “telling the story,” raising money, “hitting the road.”

    This isn’t a new point — the NYTimes had a number of articles a couple of years ago by Harvard researchers explaining why they see at least 25% of colleges in every tier closing in the next 10 years. Multiple surveys reported in the Chronicle of Higher Ed in the past year say that 60% of small private colleges are not meeting their revenue targets.

    As I say, this isn’t a new point and not really a controversial one — the trend that sees threats to the existence of small colleges sees the trend of them fighting back by putting public relations people as the head of an institution of scholarship because the primary focus is not, right now, scholarship — the primary focus, right now, is financial and that means people in the pews, in the seats, paying fees, and that means the most visible person at the college, the head of the institution, is not at the institution at all, he is on the road, a traveling salesman, as it were.

    The emphasis at BJU has shifted, at least right now, to filling the seats. I think to some extent that has always been the story about the president’s role at BJU, but this appointment makes it much more explicit, I thought.

    I write here in the comments because I am part of a minority in thinking that BJUs main problem is not advertising but scholarship and how that informs its education. I think a result of this may be a declining enrollment, but maybe not. I think they need to focus on the bigger picture of what they want to accomplish with four critical years of a young person’s life. I think they need to review what they are doing with that precious resource and make sure they think that is the most valuable thing they can do with the faculty they have (or can get), the facilities they have, and the network they serve. Critical self-review is hard, time consuming, possibly painful and it needs a champion. I am part of a minority who feels that using the most influential office on campus to focus outward toward marketing rather than inward toward review and revitalization is not the best use of that office, even now.

    But maybe I’m wrong and DLMoody was right: we have the message just fine, lets focus on getting people in the pews.

  5. John Matzko

    There’s much of value in your analysis, but I make these points.

    Bob Jones Sr. was the most aggressive promoter of the institution in its history, long before the school had a “large infrastructure when attendance was high.” (He even called what he was doing “putting out propaganda”—though the word “propaganda” meant something closer to “public relations” in the pre-Nazi world.)

    At most contemporary private schools, selling the school to potential donors and prospective students is the president’s number one job description. Recently there’s been a perfect storm of challenges to private liberal arts schools: the growth of community colleges with nearly free tuition, for-profits like the University of Phoenix emphasizing vocational training, and of course, the game-changing internet and distance learning. Despite Furman’s massive endowment, its new president has also been calling prospective students this summer.

    BJU has done its academic job exceptionally well through the years. If you analyze the rhetoric of BJU alumni who are now virulent opponents of the institution, they tend to be far more articulate than run-of-the-mill college grads in the general population, demonstrating in a perverse way the excellent education they received at BJU.

    Furthermore, in preparing to submit its application to SACSCOC this summer—a largely front-end-loaded process—the University has engaged in a lot of “critical self-review.” I’ll testify to its being hard, time consuming, and painful. The University has plenty of qualified educational experts at work, not the least of whom is a gifted Vice President for Academic Affairs. Those folks need to continue to do their thing while the new president does his.

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