Steve Pettit 2014

Should You Attend Bob Jones University?

Steve Pettit 2014
Steve Pettit (Wikipedia)

Should you attend Bob Jones University now that it has a new president? His last name isn’t even Jones.

Mr. Steve Pettit, the newly appointed university president, was introduced to the student body on May 10th, by the chairman of the board, Larry Jackson. In a frantic attempt to save the institution (in its current form) from almost certain collapse, expect the university to run from the long shadow cast by the dark legacy of the Jones’ family:

  • the institutionalized sexual abuse scandal fundamentally connected to their canonization of misogamy, because God…
  • a long history of deeply-rooted racism, because Founder…
  • homophobia without bounds, even calling for the murder of gay people, because God…
  • a disdain for independent thinking, critical thinking, and peer review, because Founder…
  • loathing actual science, because God…
  • and the refusal to even attempt SACS accreditation, because God… —to name but a few.

Steve Pettit and I attended the school back when Bob Jones Jr. was chancellor. Even then, Junior seemed to want to return the world to the middle ages, the dark ages, where he, and he alone, could be the pope of fundamentalism. (I remember Jr. being obsessed with the catholic pope. I thought he was jealous, because costumes…) Walking into his office was like stepping back into that dismal era of human history, but stepping into the lavishly decorated office of some rich cardinal or bishop, or the pope himself. But all of this is now history. Expect a lot of “that was then; this is now” talk. Larry Jackson appears to be running family business now, and his CEO is Steve Pettit.

Steve Pettit BJU Photo

Some current and prospective students are wondering if they should attend Bob Jones University now that the Bob Jones’ dynasty no longer occupies the presidency of this nearly 90 year old family business.

For what it’s worth, here are a few of my thoughts.

World Class Education

Last week Mr. Pettit stated: “Congratulations to the graduates. You have received a world class education here.”

I’m not really sure exactly what that’s supposed to mean. Perhaps it’s supposed to calm the angst of the students and parents who spent about $80,000 for that diploma. That’s how much a world class education costs, right? Probably most of those parents and students had to borrow that money. Therefore, that diploma will cost them dearly, in more ways than one, for many years to come. This fact really makes me sad.

That $80,000 piece of paper doesn’t even represent an accredited degree. To obfuscate this dreadful fact, family business continues to tout some accreditation scheme that is all but meaningless in the real world—you know, the one in which you have to make a living and raise a family, that world. Many graduates have written numerous articles about the importance of having an accredited degree. I won’t belabor this point again.

Suffice it to say: No, regrettably, those graduates did not get a world class degree, by most reasonable stretches of the imagination. (My two degrees from there were also all but useless.) Perhaps Steve was just saying the polite thing. They just got an expensive degree. If you’re going to invest that much money, invest it in a degree that will open doors, not close them!

Through these many years, when people have learned I attended Bob Jones University, a significant percentage of them have been outspokenly shocked, and not in a good way. They know me as a reasonable, accommodating person, not a racist, bigot, bully, or homophobe. They know me as a man who values independent, critical thinking and peer review. They know me as a man who values teamwork and diversity in people, perspective, faith practice, music, the arts, and cultural experience generally. This is all in direct opposition to family business.

You see, that legacy I mentioned in the opening of this post lives on even though the Jones clan may be on their way out the back door. That long shadow stretches on and on—for decades! A world class degree is the antithesis of the long shadow of the Jones’ legacy. Again, I say, if you’re going to invest that much money, invest it in a degree that will open doors to your future, not cause potential employers to audibly gasp!

University President: University Executive Leadership

So, Larry, the chairman of the board, in his quest for a university president, drafted a question for each candidate to share his/her (her? hah!) thinking. These were the topics covered by that question:

Are you kidding me?!

I’m taken back. My jaw literally dropped. What?! These are the important issues facing higher education in the world? These are the issues that matter? This is the stuff of nation building, of preparing young people to grapple effectively with the most difficult issues facing the earth, humanity, our nation, and faith practice the world over?

Larry, you weren’t seeking a youth pastor for a little church on Mulberry Street. You weren’t seeking a director for this year’s summer Christian camp. You weren’t looking for someone to run some itty bitty seminary for itinerate preachers.

For the love of education, does Larry even know what a world class university looks like?! What such a place actually does? What resources a world class university requires? The significant, and they are many, issues facing every world class university? His question heralds the fact that he does not. One can then only assume the pool of candidates who would even apply didn’t either.

Maybe Larry does know, and perhaps he will have none of that on Wade Hampton Blvd. Maybe, all Larry Jackson wants to run is a little Christian summer camp that assigns some homework. That’s cool. Just change the name of family business: Wade Hampton Christian Camp. It needs to be changed now, anyway. Doesn’t it.

This is exactly what happens when people, without the robust support of informed, professional, outside guidance, without any peer review, without any expertise in the difficult job of hiring a university president believe their own nonsense, reinforce their own peculiar way of thinking. This was not the way to conduct a search for a university president! This is exactly why I believe family business will never be accredited.

Again, jumping up and down, pulling on the hairs on my head (which would pass hair check, by the way), screaming it at the top of my lungs: Young people, if you’re going to invest $80,000+ in an education, invest it in a degree that will open doors to your future, not close them! The cost of lost opportunity because of closed doors due to a substandard degree is life altering! It limits you and everyone your life touches for the remainder of your days.

So much for world class.

About Your Faculty at University

A world class university has faculty and staff that are widely acclaimed for their expertise and leadership in their fields. They are widely published. Their publications are peer reviewed to acclaim in the leading journals of their fields. They, at the very least, shape their field of study world-wide—hence: world class.

Hiring and retaining such a staff is very expensive. They require proper financial compensation and tremendous resources to further develop their expertise. The fact that they expect and are given complete academic freedom is so taken for granted as never to be discussed. The notion that a professor (Does family business even have any of those?) must adhere to any particular doctrine or disavow any scientifically acquired knowledge to seek or retain a position would be beyond absurd.

How many grants, and for how much money, do current faculty members bring to the campus of family business? Perhaps if family business did have a world class faculty, bringing large grants (tens or hundreds of millions of dollars) to the campus, they wouldn’t be eliminating entire degree programs and firing staff.

None of this exists at Bob Jones University. In fact, very much the opposite is true at family business. Faculty members with years of experience, who are highly regarded if only by their peers at family business and their former students (count me among them), are fired just before they can retire. Apparently, the university can not afford to fulfill their retirement obligations, The Promise, the obligations that family business begged students and alumnae to sacrificially give money to fund.

This despicable practice rather inhibits family business’ current ability to hire and retain even marginally competent faculty. In my estimation, some much-loved current faculty members need to rush to find jobs elsewhere before family business fires them or crumbles around themwhich ever comes first!

Again, so much for world class.

About Your Peers at University

The vast majority, the overwhelming number of your talented, gifted, brilliant peers in high schools across the world are going to attend a university that will open doors, and open them wide, to their futures. This fall, they aren’t going to attend Wade Hampton Boulevard Christian Camp. No way!  You will need to network with those bright young people, get to know them, build lifelong relationships with them. Their support and friendship will sustain you in difficult times years and years from now. But if you never even meet them, but instead meet classrooms filled with homeschoolers who didn’t even get the educational foundation of a decent k-12 education, you are slamming doors closed while buying a very expensive, meaningless diploma. Because you can’t see those doors right now, today, you don’t know they exist.

For the love of a true world class education, don’t do this to yourself!

A Disturbing Fact

The G.R.A.C.E report will be released soon. It’s not looking good for family business. From what I’ve heard, I suspect some people at Bob Jones University should be prosecuted. In my opinion, it appears that some important people in high level positions did not do right by the female as well as the male students at family business. Parents trusted family business. As the former president liked to characterize it, some students “may have been underserved.”

According to Larry, biblical separation, number two on his list of the 8 great issues of a world class university, is an important issue about which the board wanted to hear each candidate’s thoughts. Really? Well here’s a piece of trivia for you:

Steve Pettit Itinerary - Pettit Team
The Pettit Team Itinerary as of 5-13-2014

The last entry on Steve Pettit’s itinerary (Steve Pettit, as in: the new president of Bob Jones University) is working at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Who is the pastor of this church? None other than Chuck Phelps himself. Does this name ring any bells?

It was Chuck Phelps’ outrageous and despicable conduct (deliberately covering up the repeated rape of a minor who he publicly humiliated while allowing her rapist to continue attending Phelps’ church), when he was the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, New Hampshire, that began to unravel the ever-growing sexual abuse scandal and cover ups plaguing the fundamentalist movement at Bob Jones University, other fundamentalist institutions (like Pensacola Christian College) and fundamentalist churches around this country. This is yet another example of the dangers of having no peer review, no accountability, from outside a closed system of thinking.

BJU Personnel 2010-2011
Click to download the 3 page BJU Personnel 2010 – 2011 list (Source: Scribd)

Bob Jones III repeatedly defended Phelps, characterizing him over and over again as an “honorable man” and referring to the repeated rape of a minor by a convicted pedophile as “consensual rape.” Bob Jones refused to throw Phelps “under the bus,” and Phelps continued to serve on the university’s board until the public outcry grew too great. Phelps then “resigned” from the Bob Jones University board.

Was Larry on the board when Chuck Phelps “resigned?” Well, hmmm, yes. Yes he was. I don’t know how tightly connected all of these dots are, just that they do connect: Bob Jones III, Larry Jackson, Chuck Phelps, Steve Pettit…

Answering the Question

Should you attend Bob Jones University?

In my opinion: No. Absolutely not. You do not want your future tainted by the shameful, despicable shadow of the Jones’ legacy. Rightly or wrongly, people make assumptions about who you are based on the diploma you earn.

You should run—not walk. Family business looks like it is tumbling down, maybe moving off or “expanding” to Communist China? (No, I’m not kidding.)[hr]

Two Asides

First: I hope everyone calls the new president “Mr. Pettit,” his correct title as all 3 of his doctorates are honorary. “Mr.” is never an inappropriate title even for men with earned doctorates. Honorary degree holders are not properly addressed as “Dr.”. And, for goodness sake, never call him Dr. Steve, or Mr. Steve. It’s just not endearing!

Second: Nice photo of Steve on the university’s sitegreat smile, great lighting (including the key light in the hair contributing to that saintly look), evened out skin tones, nice soft glam focus with a touch of radial blur, a little work blending the wrinkles back, the bold all caps presidential serif font balanced with a very down home goodness font, the rich royal blue with the darker diagonal gradient to pull the eye in to him, coupled with those warm wood tones. Well done, indeed.