Old wounds and power hierarchies are in fashion at Bob Jones University
This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on April 3, 2023.
After consolidating his power over the Bob Jones University board of trustees last week, Chairman John Lewis won his face-off against university president Steve Pettit.
Pettit, who has served as president of the ultra-conservative school since 2014, had given the board an ultimatum before last week’s meeting: “I cannot continue to work in a relationship with Dr. John Lewis as chairman of the board. … You will have to make a choice between two possible outcomes.”
Lewis proceeded to remove two board members supportive of Pettit, bring in five new prospective trustees presumably sharing his views and concentrate trustee power in a six-person Executive Committee he directs.
“This is about one of the school’s founding namesakes collaborating with a powerful trustee chairman to turn back the clock.”
What’s going on here is more than meets the eye to an outside observer. This is about one of the school’s founding namesakes collaborating with a powerful trustee chairman to turn back the clock.
Back to the future
In his ultimatum letter to the board, Pettit said trustee Executive Committee meetings “have been moved to Bob Jones III’s residence,” implicating the grandson of the university’s founder in Lewis’ plot. Pettit also claimed Lewis kept meetings secret from the university’s corporate counsel, refused to release meeting minutes in a timely way to other trustees, stored “sensitive board documentation … outside the university’s secured network on a new computer purchased at the chairman’s instruction,” and altered the board’s portal “to prevent or hinder trustees from printing documents.”
Pettit also claimed Lewis requires all requests for information about the board to run through him exclusively and that Lewis hired a new lawyer to advise certain members of the board without the other members knowing.
With these tactics, Lewis and Bob Jones III together set the table to recover from what Jones refers to as “some embarrassing, antithetical things, historically uncharacteristic things.” According to Jones, they had “to stop the hemorrhage.”
What hemorrhage? The appearance of wokeness.
Among recent events Lewis and Jones and their allies believe have damaged the university’s fundamentalist credentials:
- A male fashion student wearing a wrap coat some board members thought made Jesus look like a gay man.
- Former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence being invited to speak at a fundraiser despite the existence of a photo of his fiancé wearing a bikini on Instagram.
- Female student athletes wearing shorts too far above their knees during competition.
- BJU’s recent performance of the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast.
Meanwhile, the obsession with controlling and covering women’s bodies has led to a Title IX investigation, one of the trustees apparently is being investigated for making a public comment about whether female students’ clothing and female student athletes’ uniforms accentuate their “boobs and butts,” and a trustee is alleged to have taken photographs of female students without their consent.
“Why do Lewis and Jones feel the need to control people like this? And what do they think gives them the right to do so?”
Why do Lewis and Jones feel the need to control people like this? And what do they think gives them the right to do so?
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