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Back from the brink

Oral Roberts University has undergone a financial and leadership transformation as dramatic as any healing ever claimed by its founder

Back from the brink

(Associated Press)

In the last three months, Tulsa-based Oral Roberts University (ORU) has undergone a financial and leadership transformation as dramatic as any healing ever claimed by its founder.

Triggered by a financial crisis, the reformation of the university has been both broad and rapid. Until recently, the university's finances were largely secret and intertwined with those of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (OREA). Now, motivated by the promise of a $70 million donation, the university's financial affairs are separate from those of the OREA and open to donor inspection. The school wants to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a well-known Christian ministry accountability group.

ORU also has created a completely new (and much smaller) board of trustees than it had, rewritten its corporate by-laws, appointed an interim president, formed a search committee for a new president, and settled the lawsuit with one of the three whistle-blowing faculty members-even restoring him to his former position. On Jan. 31 the new board announced it had met the conditions to receive the $70 million gift from Mart Green and his family, founders of the Hobby Lobby retail chain.

The long-developing financial crisis at ORU became public last October when a lawsuit brought by three whistle-blowing faculty members included charges of financial impropriety. Among the allegations: Former OSU president Richard Roberts used university funds to pay for a family trip to the Bahamas, and his wife, Lindsay Roberts, had an inappropriate relationship with what the lawsuit called an "underage male."

Richard and Lindsay Roberts first denied the charges on Larry King Live. But the school, instead of hushing the controversy, confronted it head-on. A week after his TV appearance, Roberts resigned, apparently under pressure from Mart Green. Then came the three-month overhaul, highly unusual in the slow-moving world of higher education, but aided by the resignation of several members of the old board, including televangelists Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar. (The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is investigating both Hinn and Dollar; ORU spokesman Jeremy Burton said their resignations had nothing to do with a need to distance the school from further scandal.)

The current state of ORU? Mart Green summed it up on Jan. 31: "The immediate financial crisis has been averted with this gift. The good news is we believe alumni and donor confidence is growing." If other Christian leaders, including Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar, follow Green's and ORU's example, this "miracle" just might be multiplied.

Chronology of a comeback

10/2/07: Dr. John Swails, Dr. Tim Brooker, and Dr. Paulita Brooker file suit against ORU, alleging they were wrongfully terminated for speaking out about alleged inappropriate behavior by Richard and Lindsay Roberts.

10/9/07: Richard and Lindsay Roberts appear on Larry King Live to deny all allegations.

10/17/07: Richard Roberts issues a statement denying allegations made by faculty members of financial impropriety by Roberts and sexual impropriety by his wife Lindsay.

11/23/07: Richard Roberts resigns as president of ORU.

1/10/08: ORU settles with lawsuit plaintiff John Swails, reinstating him to the faculty.

1/31/08: Mart Green announces that ORU met his family's conditions and that he has finalized a $70 million gift to the school.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD's vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.