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.

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12 thoughts on “Six Questions About the Impending GRACE Report

  1. R.W.Whisman

    Hiring a firm to do an independent investigation and them firing them because of unfavorable findings does more to undermine an institution’s credibility than negative feedback ever could, because it reveals the true character of the leadership of the institution in question. Furthermore, it makes fair-minded people wonder if the delayed report has been sanitized in any way. One can only hope that delay doesn’t lead to denial.

    1. James

      I think the “true character of the leadership of the institution in question” has been settled for a long time. The faculty and staff at the University are some wonderful people, but the leadership is something else again. Delay or denial, or “sanitizing”, will just put it beyond question.

  2. Dan

    Either it’ll be scathing and I’ll be thrilled, or it’ll be lukewarm and I’ll assume BJU sanitized it. Either way, BJU lost this a long time ago for me.

  3. A. James

    I’m confused as to the concern over BJU being able to sanitize the GRACE report. The Truthers and any interviewee that has publicly commented still maintain confidence that GRACE has operated fairly and objectively in the past and that they will also do so with BJU’s report. I DO have a quizzical brow at how BJU’s PR will properly handle the media based on their less than stellar performance these years. But at least the actual report will be public for all to see. There is no hiding of the findings.

    Here, again, is GRACE’s report on New Tribes Mission to show how detailed they present their findings. I’ve heard no one say apart from these comments that they are concerned that GRACE will sanitize the report. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding your concern.

    http://netgrace.org/investigation/new-tribes/

    As the academic year approaches, I am more annoyed at their terminating and delaying the report. What a great, optimistic, focused way for faculty/staff/students to begin a new year. With the report, potential intense media coverage, and guilt by association for many.

    “Hoping against hope” is what someone surmised some might be doing at BJU during this time.
    Hoping BJU will handle GRACE properly and hoping Pettit will be the man for the job. It might be wasted hope, but it’s a final benefit of the doubt for many.

  4. Jerry Crew

    Politicians and corporations practice a cynical form of spin control by “burying” a story which would reflect poorly on them by releasing it on a Friday afternoon, thereby minimizing its audience. All the better from the standpoint of minimizing the audience if it’s a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend.

    The last workday of August (the end of which is the apparent deadline for releasing the report) is Friday,August 29, which also happens to be the day before a three day weekend.

    The timing of the release will be interesting.

    1. John E. Baker III

      Valid point, Jerry… The “Friday News Dump” worked well on “The West Wing,” but that was, very much PRE-Facebook/Twitter/Instagram! There is no more “Burying” ANYTHING these days when the right and proper websites are involved…

      ::limbers up fingers in preparation for a HuffPo/DailyKos/FilthyLiberalScum post!::

  5. Jerry Crew

    NVM regarding apparent August deadline, I see now that GRACE postponed it until late November / early December.

  6. Gene

    if bju accepts the GRACE report and acts on the report to the letter of your recommendations, will this make you an ardent BJU supporter or will you just find another issue to continue your disdain and campaign against the school, all the while hoping beyond hope that they only satisfying action you’d find is a padlock on the front gate/

    1. John E. Baker III

      Padlock? Hardly!

      I want to see Rhodeheaver Auditorium converted to a gay bar!

      But that’s just me.

  7. baldjonesgrad

    I want to see an investigation into BJU’s Clery Act reporting. Apparently, according to BJU, there are almost no crimes on the campus or within one mile. This is a federal law for colleges that receive federal funds for VA student tuition, etc. Have these reports been fabricated? Check the Truthers on FB. This could bring USDOE fines of $35K per violation. As well, it could bring a USDOJ investigation of potential violations of the False Claims Act (FCA). If BJU has falsified applications to the United States regarding their eligibility to receive funds from the VA (for instance) the university could be liable for treble civil penalities. In other words, if BJU made said false claims and received $10M in VA tuition benefits in the past 7 years (the statute of limitations for FCA claims) the university would be liable for $30M in penalities. If you don’t believe me, google False Claims Act.

    The end is near.

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