In its apology to victims prior to the GRACE report release, Bob Jones University expressed “sincere and humble” apologies for systemic neglect, admitting that it “added to [victims’] pain and suffering.” BJU President Steve Pettit has said he wants the school to the “part of the solution” to the nationwide epidemic of assault on college campuses. On Twitter, BJU agreed that it can “set an example for conservative Christianity” on this issue in the future. But research by BJU News shows that even as the investigation was underway, the school repeatedly refused to acknowledge its failures, resulting in some embarrassing statements by University leadership.
The Collegian, the school’s student publication, is directly overseen by the Dean of Students office. All content printed by the paper must be approved by University leadership, and as a result the Collegian is often a direct mouthpiece for BJU administration talking points. Never was this more clear than earlier this year during BJU’s stunning suspension of the GRACE investigation. During the ensuing media firestorm, the Collegian printed a scathing rebuke of the University’s critics–the article has since had its most caustic language altered, but not before BJU News obtained a copy:
More than 250 Facebook users commented on BJU’s posts about the action it took with GRACE, and the content was a mix of bitter remarks, accusations of a cover up, and comments defending the University that were met with intense rebuttals. Commenters said they were ashamed of their alma mater, they’d never send their kids here, and they were disappointed the University would take this course of action.
Yet, on Feb. 6, we didn’t know the full story. When Bob Jones University announced on Feb. 6 that it had terminated its contract with GRACE, the third-party organization investigating how the University responds to reports of sexual abuse, the floodgates of criticism and anger burst and hurled a rush of accusations toward the University.
It’s instructive to look back and see BJU chiding its own alumni for being angry during the investigation now that the University has been revealed to be a massive failure in this area. It appears the school has plenty of energy for correcting the tone of its critics but little ability to recognize where the anger comes from.
Other Collegian articles reveal a similar lack of awareness about the sensitivity of this topic. In the Fall of 2012, as pressure from alumni and news media mounted over abuse allegations, BJU tried to improve its image by hosting a seminar on the handling of abuse in churches and schools–an attempt to position itself as a leader in abuse prevention despite the ongoing scandal. This Collegian article from that time is especially ironic given this week’s revelations: Jim Berg, the man who “bears responsibility for much of the pain caused by BJU’s failure to understand and respond adequately to matters related to sexual abuse” was entrusted with planning BJU’s abuse seminar even as the GRACE report moved forward:
“[The goal is] to raise students’ awareness, give them instruction from qualified people and inform them about policies they need to have in place,” said Dr. Jim Berg, member of the seminary faculty and coordinator of the annual seminary conferences.
Sexual abuse is a topic that is in the public consciousness because it happens everywhere. “Offering this seminar is a way to show the broader evangelical world that Bob Jones Seminary is here, and these are the things we help our students with,” Dr. Berg said.
Dr. Berg invited all of the speakers based on their expertise in their respective fields and their heart for the church.
Two of the major sessions will be presented in chapel. Each focuses on the believer’s response to trauma. “The purpose of having the speakers in chapel is to allow the university family to be a part of the conference and get a little flavor of what the conference is about,” Dr. Berg said.
BJU PR Director Randy Page (who we noted has failed to make any comment about the GRACE report) also denied knowledge of crimes against students during the GRACE investigation, despite the report later revealing that top BJU officials admitted to not pursuing cases they were aware of–even those involving minors.
Also in 2012, then-President Stephen Jones told the Greenville Journal that another sexual abuse scandal involving the school was “really old news” and that it had been “resolved.” Two years later, the issue continues to plague the school.