BJU’s termination of GRACE

What about the GRACE termination in February of 2014? Didn’t BJU terminate GRACE for a very good reason?

On January 24th BJU wrote this letter to GRACE, terminating the sexual abuse investigation. (GRACE received it on January 27th.)

According to Boz Tchividjian, the head of GRACE, BJU failed to proceed according to the contract. To the author of this blog post, Boz said, “We had been having an ongoing open dialogue [with BJU] since day one. At times, we saw issues from different perspectives (as to be expected) but they [BJU] always acknowledged that we were independent and that they respected whatever decision we made. Never was there any communication from them that any issue was causing them to consider termination. . . . The contract explicitly requires both parties to communicate any concerns openly and to make every effort at resolution before taking any steps at termination. This simply did not happen.” Instead, the Notice of Termination came as a surprise.

On the afternoon of February 6th, ten days after receiving the Termination letter, GRACE wrote a note about the Termination to the people who had interviewed with them, and then shortly after posted this public announcement.

Though the Termination letter was marked “Confidential,” GRACE was under no legal or contractual obligation to keep it confidential simply because it was marked “Confidential.” In fact, under the circumstances, the best ethical decision was just what they did—try to get an answer from BJU about what the concerns were, and then finally (after ten days of trying) to inform the ones who had interviewed with them.  (It could be also that they were waiting for BJU to make the Termination announcement themselves.) Eventually the news had to come out. It was imperative that abuse survivors be informed that the program that was seeking to shine light into the allegations was being aborted. As soon as the interviewees themselves were informed, the public at large would know within minutes. The best way to minimize misinformation would be for all documents to be public.

Immediately upon publication of the announcement, a social media volcano erupted. People began posting their confusion, their dismay, their questions, and in many cases their support for the University. Many went to the BJU Facebook page looking for answers, but no answers were there. Faculty and staff found out about the Termination on Facebook. Board members had been involved in the original decision to hire GRACE, but at least one board member found out about the Termination on Facebook.

About three hours later, at about 7:00 pm that same day, BJU finally announced the Termination themselves, here, a full two weeks after the letter had been written, and after much outrage had been expressed. The reason that they give here is different from what was given in the Termination letter. The Termination letter had expressed no “concerns” about anything GRACE had done wrong. Note also that the concern expressed in this announcement was “how GRACE was pursuing our objectives,” when this was an independent investigation, the details of which had been hammered out for months. BJU did not say that GRACE was violating the contract.

BJU posted this announcement on their Facebook page, here. The comments here are especially interesting. Many of the commenters who express outrage at the Termination are people who had reported to GRACE stories of sexual molestation/rape/abuse.

The same day, survivors and advocates began to notify news outlets. Local news and then national news outlets picked up the story and published it. Bloggers began to blog about it. A small sampling:

WYFF, the local station.

World Magazine.

http://bjucoverupblog.wordpress.com

http://bjunews.com/2014/02/07/g-r-a-c-e-termination-wrap-up-media-coverage-alumni-response-and-the-future/

The next day, February 7th, Stephen Jones made an announcement about the Termination in chapel. Here you can read a transcript of his speech along with commentary and many comments. The reasons for the Termination seem to vary according to either the Termination letter (change in leadership? already having accomplished what they wanted to accomplish?) or the BJU web post and chapel announcement (unspecified concerns that they couldn’t express without Terminating?).

The same day, Feb 7th, the BJU website posted a similar announcement.

Through that day and the next several days, the story of the Termination was picked up by many news agencies, including Christianity Today, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Religion News, Christian Post, Charisma News, The American Conservative, and even The New York Times. As well, the social media volcano continued to erupt without abating, as the story was posted and editorialized on and discussed on many, many blogs, some of whom were less than charitable in their conclusions. Here are a few examples of the more charitable ones:

Feb 7th Opposing Views.

Feb 7th Petition posted to plea for rehiring. This petition garnered over a thousand signatures in just a few days.

February 7th Tamara Rice from the ABWE abuse scandal (ABWE had also fired GRACE):

Feb 8th an excellent open letter that was shared many times on Facebook.

February 11th  Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Feb 12th The Wartburg Watch.

Feb 12th Desert Petrichor posted a helpful timeline.

There are many, many more. If you search “Bob Jones University GRACE termination,” it will be easy to see the sheer volume of discussion about this topic during the week of February 6-13. There were several reasons for deep concerns over what BJU had done. For one thing, at least one survivor had asked multiple times if BJU was committed to following through with the investigation, and she was always assured that they would. She had even asked if Stephen Jones’s resignation would affect BJU’s determination to follow through, and was assured that it would not. (The Termination letter implies that his resignation was a factor in the Termination.)

Through this time, as people were blogging, other people were still very actively discussing the issue on Facebook on their personal walls and in groups, and especially on the BJU Facebook page, commenting, asking questions, trying to answer questions. The BJU Facebook page had hundreds of comments in those few days.

Then, on Feb 13th BJU announced that they would be meeting with GRACE in Lynchburg.  This announcement came a full two weeks after the Termination letter was written. Notice that this was not an announcement that anything had actually been worked out about the contract; it was only the scheduling of the meeting. Could it really be that it would take two full weeks beyond the Termination just to schedule a meeting? Or could there be a different reason?

Feb 13th BJU posted the same announcement on their Facebook page. This post has many comments.

February 20th Ryan Ferguson, a local Greenville pastor, posted an open letter in video form pleading with BJU to reinstate GRACE. Though the video is no longer available, the transcript is here.

Feb 21st The Collegian editorial (BJU student newspaper) about this issue. You can see from the note at the top that the article was revised because of an outcry about their accusations of bitterness in those of us who were calling the University to accountability and to finish the job, which was indeed troubling. This article calls people to prayer—we hope that some BJU students did pray over this matter. A number of us outside of BJU did pray about it together, gathering for prayer several times.

Feb 25th BJU announced that GRACE would be reinstated without any change in the contract. Notice they used the word suspended to describe what they had done on Feb 6th to the “review,” which was actually an investigation. This is the first time we know of that the word suspended was used. By this time, BJU was saying that they always planned to continue the investigation (“review”) under a new agreement, either with GRACE or with another organization. (This of course would have been impossible, since the contract specified that the files were confidential, and GRACE wouldn’t have turned them over to another organization. If BJU had hired another organization, they would have had to start a new investigation from scratch. This means that they could use the expression “suspended the review” only if they planned from the beginning to re-hire GRACE under the terms of the original contract, which they did.) When this statement is compared with the original Termination letter, one can’t help but be struck by the differences.

Feb 26th A thorough American Prospect article.

If you follow all the links and read all the articles and comments, you may see why some of us think one important reason GRACE was reinstated without any change in contract was the public outcry, primarily through social media.

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