TULSA — When the door closed on Richard Roberts’ tenure at Oral Roberts University, a door may have opened leading to salvation for the battered university.
After weeks of bad news, the ORU community rejoiced Tuesday after Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green pledged to donate $70 million of his family’s fortune to ORU. Green said it was Roberts’ resignation Friday that showed him the university was committed to fixing its problems and starting anew. “ORU must restore its broken trust, its battered reputation and its beaten spirit. Now begins a time of healing,” said Green, whose family has no immediate ties to ORU but has supported religious universities in the past. The $70 million would eliminate the university’s $52 million debt. Green made it clear the donation would be for the university, not the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association. ORU Board of Regents Chairman George Pearsons said regents decided during an annual meeting this week to separate the university and the evangelistic association. Such a move had been publicly opposed recently by Chancellor Oral Roberts. But Pearsons said Oral Roberts’ stance has since changed and that the school’s 89-year-old founder wants whatever it takes to make the university succeed. “The board and Oral have agreed that significant changes need to take place,” Green said.
Who are the Greens?Green’s family founded the successful Hobby Lobby and Mardel retail chains. “We are passionate about spreading the good news of Christ, and know we will succeed in doing God’s will for this university,” Green said.
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Regents' actionsOral Roberts University board of regents Chairman George Pearsons said 21 of the 24 voting regents were present for Monday and Tuesday's board meetings. During that time, Pearsons said the regents made a "renewed and vigorous” commitment to the oversight of financial matters at ORU, and took several actions. "We had quite a time” during the meetings, Pearsons said. Among the actions, the regents: •Formally accepted the resignation of Richard Roberts. Pearsons said: "The board wishes Richard the very best, and we thank him for his 15 years of service.” Richard Roberts, who is a nonvoting lifetime spiritual regent, attended the board's meetings and will address the student body at a regularly scheduled chapel service this morning. Pearsons said Richard and Lindsay Roberts will continue to live in their university-owned mansion "for the time being.” Richard Roberts resigned Friday after weeks of turmoil caused by the four lawsuits filed against him and ORU recently. Included in the lawsuits are accusations that Richard Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, ordered an accountant to "cook the books” to cover up the alleged misuse of university money on the televangelist's family's lavish lifestyle. •Received a report from an independent investigation into allegations Richard Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, had abused university money to live an extravagant lifestyle. Pearsons wouldn't discuss specific findings of the independent investigation into the allegations against the Robertses, saying the multiple lawsuits the university faces regarding the allegations made it inappropriate to comment. However, he did say the board has begun implementing changes at the university that were recommended in the report. He declined to discuss those changes specifically and said regents had not decided whether the report will be made public after the pending litigation ends. •Decided to separate ORU and the evangelistic association. Pearsons said separating ORU and the evangelistic association is a "legal, financial, accounting and governance matter. However, the spiritual connection between the two organizations will remain.” Failure to adhere to past Internal Revenue Service requests that the two organizations operate separately prompted the regents to unanimously recommend taking "every step necessary” to separate the business dealings of the organizations, Pearsons said. Pearsons said overlap in staff at the two organizations is one issue that will be addressed during the separation. Many of the directors of the evangelistic association also hold positions at the university. •Began a formal search process to find a new president. The regents want the next ORU president to uphold the evangelistic university's spiritual beliefs, but Pearsons said the candidate must also possess strong financial knowledge because of the university's chronic debt problems. Pearsons promised that the entire ORU community would be given the chance to provide input into the presidential search, which will last several months. Billie Joe Daugherty will continue to serve as interim president.