Bob Jones University’s response to the GRACE report

After GRACE issued the final report on their investigation of Bob Jones University, December 11, 2014, Bob Jones University had 90 days to issue their response.

BJU President Steve Pettit made it clear that he would not be meeting with abuse survivors during this 90-day period. When he was later asked about this lost opportunity for input from those who had experienced abuse, his spokesperson Carol Keirstead replied, “We do not believe it would have been productive to invite additional discussion with individual survivors during this period, as we were not gathering factual information (this was GRACE’s role), but rather assessing the findings and recommendations in the report and developing a plan of action.” Instead, the team that gathered to formulate the official response to the GRACE report consisted of “a biblical counselor, an executive administrator of a regionally accredited university, a professor of pastoral counseling, a leading attorney in abuse and abuse prevention, a human resources executive, and a member of the BJU Board of Trustees.”

On March 10, 2015, Steve Pettit issued BJU’s official response to the report. This response included a chapel announcement and a page on the BJU website, which you can see here. The video of the chapel announcement is at the top, and further response is below that. BJU delineated some of the positive changes they’re hoping to make as they move forward.

In the chapel announcement and on the website, Mr. Pettit invited abuse survivors to meet with him, “to understand their individual experiences,” and “to hear their suggestions for improving our response to victims.” Though many abuse survivors found it hurtful that he didn’t want to hear their suggestions before the official response was made, a few have taken him up on his offer. As of early May, five or six abuse survivors had met with him. (The two that we have talked with about their meetings found him to be congenial and non-condescending; he also gave them an hour and a half or two hours to speak with him.)

The response on the BJU website said, “An external attorney licensed in South Carolina who previously served in a prosecutorial role with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and is knowledgeable regarding reporting obligations under South Carolina law conducted a review of our files that we are aware reference sexual abuse/assault. The review did not uncover any instances where the University failed to comply with its reporting obligations.” We asked how it was that an attorney could review files that GRACE had to have signed permission to see. This post on our Facebook page gives the response we received from Carol Keirstead. We later found that the attorney’s review of files appeared to be nearly meaningless as this post on our Facebook page shows, because apparently many files are incomplete, with abuse disclosures missing.

In addition, this  implication that a qualified anonymous attorney had decided the University had not failed to comply with all reporting requirements lightly dismisses the entire section of the GRACE report, based on extensive testimony of abuse survivors, that says that BJU had failed to report in numerous instances. (We also know of situations in which alleged abuse was allegedly known and allegedly quietly covered up.)

In response to GRACE’s recommendation that the counseling system be changed, BJU’s official statement said, “We believe Scripture is sufficient for addressing and meeting the spiritual needs of individual believers. For this reason, we remain firmly committed to a biblical counseling model as the basis for all of our on-campus counseling. In view of the size of our student population, we will maintain an on-campus biblical counseling function. In this regard, BJU is beginning the process of establishing a student care center staffed by an appropriate number of certified biblical counseling personnel.”  (By “biblical counseling” BJU means nouthetic counseling, the style of counseling established by Jay Adams in the 1970s.) Mr. Pettit re-emphasized in one meeting that they plan to keep the counseling system unchanged. This statement was one of the most shocking statements of the response, since the GRACE report had shown how deeply hurtful the counseling system was for those who had been traumatized.  Discussions on our Facebook page about this topic took place here and here. (It’s an ongoing discussion, but those are two of the significant threads.)

Other recommendations were made in the GRACE report, the University’s response to which were seen as disappointing by many.

Further updates regarding the response of BJU to the GRACE report recommendations can be found on our blog and our Facebook page.

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