In which I react to ORU’s current lawsuit

My name is Sarah. I am a graduate of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. There. I admitted it.

In the recent entry on the long list of ORU’s woes, President, Richard Roberts, along with other members of the school & affiliated ministry are being sued.

Here is an article in the Tulsa World about the filing.

Here is the actual lawsuit as it was filed.

The basic gist of it is this: Three former Oral Roberts University professors sued the school and four administrators in Tulsa County District Court on Tuesday, alleging wrongful termination and wrongful causing of one professor’s resignation.

The professors said they lost their jobs because they turned over to administrators a report that alleged the Richard Roberts family extensively spent university money for personal uses. Roberts is ORU’s president.

The lawsuit includes a summary of the report, minus the “more salacious” information, as former professor and plaintiff Tim Brooker said.

The report “poses a real grave threat to the university,” Brooker said. “. . . I fear for ORU’s survival, and if they don’t make some very significant changes administratively, there won’t be an ORU.”

Brooker said leadership of ORU has shifted from God to the Roberts family, and “if God once again can regain control, I think many of the problems will take care of themselves.”

Professors Swails and Paulita Brooker were fired, and Swails said Tim Brooker was forced out of his job.

Tim Brooker said ORU’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit status could be at risk because, he said, Roberts required him to make his students work for 2006 Tulsa mayoral candidate Randi Miller’s campaign, in violation of laws that prohibit nonprofit groups from getting involved in partisan political campaigns.

A complaint was lodged with the Internal Revenue Service, and Tim Brooker claims he was told to take the blame for the university helping a campaign.

While working on the Miller campaign, a student was asked to repair an ORU computer, Tim Brooker said. The student backed up the computer’s files and discovered the report on the alleged misuse of ORU money. The student turned the report over to the professors, who read it and “said several times, ‘We hope it’s not true,’ ” Swails said.

The lawsuit claims the report was developed by Roberts’ sister-in-law, Stephanie Cantese, who works for Oral Roberts Ministries.

The summary of the report in the lawsuit alleges:

  • One of Richard and Lindsay Roberts’ children vandalized and removed athletic department equipment from ORU property.

  • University and ministries employees regularly do the homework of the Roberts’ children.

  • ORU paid $29,411 for one Roberts daughter to vacation with friends in Florida and the Bahamas and use the ORU jet for transportation.

  • Lindsay Roberts routinely uses ministries security personnel during personal vacations.

  • Lindsay Roberts awarded 13 non-need-based scholarships to friends of her children, two of whom had test scores below ORU’s admission requirement; and more.

Tim Brooker said that days after the professors gave the report to administrators, Cantese called him and threatened that his wife would lose her job and his son would not graduate from ORU. Indeed, Paulita Brooker was fired, along with Swails.

The lawsuit claims Paulita Brooker was fired partly because Swails had reported that Vice Provost Ogle sexually harassed another professor. The professor, who worked in Swails’ and the Brookers’ department, resigned. Swails said ORU took no action regarding the report of sexual harassment.

There is more in the lawsuit (almost 4 pages) of legal and ethical wrong-doings of the Roberts family.

So. There are two sides of me on this issue.

1. My first thought when I read the lawsuit allegations was “That sounds about right.”

It was an “open secret” at ORU that the Roberts family significantly profited from the school and ministry. All of the above were well-known and, indeed, in our naivety, Brian and I both participated in the above. Brian was one of the guys that detailed the car and upholstered chairs for their home – all while being paid by the university, not by the Roberts family. The daughters were seen ruining the golf carts. I’ve been told as an RA not to confront “friends of the Roberts family” for dress code infractions or curfew violations.

I knew Dr. Swails as I had a class with him. He loved that school and for years toiled with little thanks or monetary compensation out of his belief that this school mattered and that an academically sound evangelical school was important. His character was clear to all that knew him and even those that didn’t. He is a good man.

It is also an “open secret” in Tulsa that the Roberts family is driving the university into the ground. More than $50 million in debt and climbing to be exact. With their archaic lack of transparency, sense of entitlement, shroud of secrecy and belief that we should never question leadership (If I had to hear “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” one more time…), it was just a matter of time. Couple that with the sexist policies of the university (such as women having a curfew and men, not) and arachic rules (such as requirement to live on campus and the requirement to wear a tie (for men) and a skirt (for women), it was a recipe for disaster. For years we had heard that the accreditation boards were putting pressure on the school in an effort to clean up these illegal practices. There was progress made but it was ground grudgingly given.

There was the added hypocrisy of having sky-high fees, being required to pay room and board (as you were required to live on campus) and high tuition whilst professors barely paid their mortgages and the university itself deteriorated into deplorable physical conditions. (I personally had a large crack in my window which admitted crickets and all manner of bugs all summer and freezing wind in the winter.) Meanwhile, the Roberts jetted around on private jets and preached about the evils of blue hair and an electric guitar in church. 

The hypocrisy of it all combined resulted in bitterness and cynicism in the hearts of many students. I felt that there was a real ‘turning point’ in the school right around 1999 or 2000. It was about the time that Pastor Schuller was fired as the campus pastor for challenging the Roberts family on items ranging from theology to style. The student body loved Pastor Schuller and when he was fired, there was (in my mind at least) a marked shift that occurred in the hearts and minds of students. People became bitter and cynical as the Roberts family seemingly became more irrational with their blatant pride.

So all of that to say, “sounds about right”.

It was really only a matter of time before these issues came to the light of day. I don’t know why the Roberts family thought that they were above the law or above morality or even wise decisions. But they did. And now their hand is caught in the cookie jar.

2. I love ORU.

The vast majority of my university friends, with whom I have stayed in contact, are now embarrassed by their affiliation with the school. Whether it was by the theology of the leadership (which was abysmal) or the behaviour associated with them and their obvious nepotism (putting a 22 year old in charge of Campus Church, anyone?) or the hurt incurred by abusive policies and procedures or the hypocrisy, there is a wide swatch of hurt. Some have walked away from faith altogether as they were deeply wounded. Others walk in bitterness, unforgiveness and cynicism. As someone who served as an RA for 2 years and then a Head RA while dating/being engaged to a guy that was VP of Services, Chaplain and RA himself, we saw some CRAP.

And yet.

My experience there, while not flawless, was beautiful. It was where I really came into myself. I met godly friends. Even when the theology preached from the pulpit was horrid, the professors of the theology department gently corrected it in class. The feeling was “the adminstration might be crazy, but the professors are your saving grace”. I loved my friends there like family. It was the first time that I really got a chance to reinvent myself as I truly am. I didn’t have to “play a part” any longer. The students were bright, intelligent and hardworking. They were fun. Some of my greatest memories are at ORU. I met my soulmate there. We made out in the basements with abandon.

I love ORU to this day. I had amazing professors. I had wonderful friends. I had fun and I had sorrow. I really learned who I was under their guidance, direction, prayers and silliness. What a gift! How many people get to spend four years in this kind of environment?

So my gut instinct is that while I’m sure there are inaccuracies, the majority of it is true.


My hope and prayer is that the Roberts family will walk away from ORU. Allow a new president to take over and start over. Reevaluate everything from degree plans to fees to tuition to rules to the Board of Regents. And save the school from itself. I pray that God will open the eyes of those in leadership to recognise the abuse here and that God will also pry open the door of the hearts of the administration and President to allow a little bit of humility in.

So far, I’ve only heard that the Roberts family is accusing the professors of blackmail and extortion while claiming that this is “all an attack of the enemy”. Bollocks. It’s a sad case of “You made your bed, sucka, so lie down.” So my other prayer is that the Roberts family gets their crap together and walks away from ORU. By all means continue with your ministry work (if it retains any credibility at all) but leave the school to others.

Of course my inner pragmatist knows that the Roberts family will cling to this school with a death-grip and take it down with them. The school is more than $50 million in debt in no small part due to their mismanagement. I am deeply afraid that by their refusal to deal with the truth of the allegations and, to use an old word, repent, they will take both the ministry and the school down the road to disgrace and ultimately closure.

In a (small) way, I feel about ORU the same way that I sometimes feel about Church and Christianity. I love it and its changed my life. For all it’s failings, it saved my life and I find it beautiful. But there are these wackos that almost wreck it for the rest of us and certainly taint our message with their craziness. In the midst of the craziness, it’s easy to lose sight of the beautiful bride.


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  • Sarah Bessey

    Comments (6)

    * momaoge
    RYC: Poet, honey, I’m glad to hear you are being careful. As I was praying and thinking about you today, I kept thinking that I should suggest pepper spray for you. Have you ever carried that? Pray about it, k?
    o 10/5/2007 5:08 PM
    o momaoge (message)
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    * amyjane66
    Wow, what a blog and what a load for you. Part of me wonders how people have justified sitting back for the 20 years you say this has been happening and doing nothing to challenge authority. I’m certainly not criticizing you, for as a student you would have to be pretty unusual to feel it was your right to do that. But you can see the sin in the attitude of the Roberts. My husband has publicly said that he is not higher than anyone else and if someone feels the need to “rebuke’ him on an issue he needs to come to him. The idea of “touch not the Lord’s anointed, ” which, sigh, my mil says, is fine as regards to rebuking Satan, but not about claiming them above human failings. And of course who wants to get involved and risk censure and name calling? On the other hand, look at the hurt and pain, not to mention your own feeling of semi-embarrassment over a place that really holds positive memories for you. Our church struggled with staying in the UCC for many years before realizing that they were being identified with something they didn’t believe in and it was time for them to change denominations to reflect their beliefs. You hate to see people feeling that way about your university. And it is so horrid to see supposed “men of God” run the name of Jesus in the dirt with their sin. I’m sorry you and your husband have to go through this.
    o 10/5/2007 7:55 PM
    o amyjane66 (message)
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    * SheBrews
    Wow, what a mess.
    o 10/7/2007 4:01 AM
    o SheBrews (message)
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    * Laoshi
    Thanks for posting that, Poet. It was very powerful.
    o 10/7/2007 6:00 AM
    o Laoshi (message)
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    * jsprig

    That was good Poet. I know it’s hard to feel both ways’ about a place- in a way, all that you shared is what we experienced in our last church and yet at the same time, it was a place we loved and grew in Christ.

    I think what is happening at ORU sadly is happening in churches across America as well. It no longer is about ministry but “power and success.”

    It’s just a real eye opener and reminder to us (Josh and I) how vitally important staying accountable is- especially when you are seen as the “one in charge.”
    o 10/8/2007 9:48 PM
    o jsprig (message)
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    * tuscansun5
    My husband’s name is Wayne and he went to Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and was there THAT YEAR that everything hit the fan!
    o 10/10/2007 5:59 AM
    o tuscansun5 (message)
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