Items of Various Interest

ORU Campus Relieved About Lawsuit Settlement

By Shannon Muchmore
World Staff Writer
10/24/2008 ‚   ‚  12:00 AM

The atmosphere on the campus of Oral Roberts University was a bit more relaxed Thursday, with news that the university had settled a lawsuit with two former professors.

"Everyone's just breathing easier, that's for sure," said Ken Weed, ORU chemistry professor. "We're glad it's behind us." A settlement in the lawsuit was announced late Wednesday. The suit, filed a year ago this month, alleged wrongful termination and fraud, and accused then-President Richard Roberts of misspending university money on his family's home and lifestyle.

Attorneys for the all parties said the settlement terms are confidential. Lawyers for the Brookers sent a letter in August asking for $2.5 million, but ORU turned down the offer.

Wednesday's settlement was reached in court-ordered mediation after an earlier attempt resulted in professor John Swails settling his part of the suit and returning to work at ORU.

Mart Green, chairman of ORU's new board of trustees, issued a statement Thursday praising the agreement.

"The university is happy to have this difficult chapter in our history closed," he said. "Resolution allows us to continue to grow the mission and celebrate the many positive blessings we have all received this year."

Weed said he and those he spoke with Thursday are glad to be moving on from the contentious lawsuit. He did not speak to any students, but said they seemed to have moved on from the tense climate of the past year.

Matthew McAfee, an international relations freshman, said students on campus had not been talking about the lawsuit recently.

"They know that it happened, they just don't want to talk about it," he said. "It's not at the forefront of their minds."

Broadcast journalism senior Kerrick Butler, who heads up a group of student representatives, agreed that most students are trying to put the controversy behind them.

"I think they're happy the whole saga is finally over," Butler said. "They're ready to start writing the next chapter."

After the professors, Tim and Paulita Brooker, filed the lawsuit, ORU was hit by one controversy after another.

Richard Roberts received a vote of no confidence from the faculty and resigned in November. The university also revealed it was about $55 million in debt.

More lawsuits followed, regents resigned and ORU found itself plunged into scandal.

Some feared the university itself was crumbling. But Green, a Yukon businessman, and his family donated $70 million to save the university.

Green, whose family founded Hobby Lobby and the Mardel Christian stores chains, made most of the donation contingent on ORU accepting shared governance policies and embracing financial transparency.

ORU accepted the donation and dumped its board of regents for a board of trustees, of which Green is chairman. The university debt has been reduced to about $19 million, and a presidential search is scheduled to be completed this summer.

One of the lawsuits still pending is from a former accountant who claimed he was threatened with losing his job unless he agreed to false and illegal accounting practices.

His lawsuit alleges the Robertses funneled more than $1 billion annually through an unmarked, miscellaneous account. The money, some of which was intended as a donation to student financial aid, was alleged to have gone to ORU regents.

A former student has also sued, saying he was not able to complete his degree.

A district judge appeared close to dismissing both cases last month, but allowed attorneys more time to plead the cases.