Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., resigned over the long holiday weekend over a series of allegations of misspending the institution's funds to support expensive shopping trips and trips to the sunny seas of the Caribbean. Only a handful of news agencies have picked up the story, but a few are worth highlighting. Most notably, The New York Times published an Associated Press story that implies in the headline and says in the body of the story that the university is an evangelical institution.
Perhaps the university's being founded by televangelist Oral Roberts has created some confusion. I am aware that evangelical is not a very precise word, but the world of Pentecostalism is much broader than that one adjective can encompass.
Thankfully, the AP's Eric Gorski is on the story and has a very thorough report. These paragraphs highlight an interesting component that would be easy to miss:
At a university that is hardly a den of dissent, the reaction to the scandal has been striking. Before Richard Roberts stepped down, tenured faculty gave him a no-confidence vote and his handpicked provost said he would resign if Roberts were reinstated.
"There was a time when the wagons would circle and we'd protect our own," said the Rev. Carlton Pearson, a former member of the ORU board of regents who is now a United Church of Christ minister. "But we don't know what our own is anymore. People are asking questions and questioning answers, and we're not used to it."
In other words, there is more to this story than yet another Christian showing that all humans are sinners and are just as capable as self-destructing as everyone else.
Speaking of everyone else, William McQuillen and Jeff St.Onge of Bloomberg News put the news in an larger context:
Roberts becomes the latest president at a U.S. school to lose his post because of allegations of financial impropriety. Benjamin Ladner was ousted from his post as president of American University in Washington, D.C., after an audit found that he used school funds to hire a personal chef, take trips to Europe and throw parties for his family.
The Tulsa World led with a word from the man himself:
Embattled Oral Roberts University President Richard Roberts resigned Friday following nearly two months of allegations that he and his family misused university and ministry resources.
In his resignation letter, Roberts states: "I love ORU with all my heart. I love the students, faculty, staff and administration and I want to see God's best for all of them."
If there was ever a time to bury a resignation in the news cycle, Thanksgiving week was the time to do it. By resigning Friday, Roberts almost assured that there won't be much coverage of his resignation after today. That doesn't mean this story is going away. An independent report is expected to be released maybe next week, but the significance of the story is gone. The subject of the report has stepped down. The next question involves the complicated and undetermined future of the university.
A huge question that remains largely unanswered is how this scandal was affected by the Roberts family's emphasis on prosperity theology.