Bob Jones University halts abuse probe

Bob Jones University has ended its contract with GRACE, an independent ombudsman hired to review the institution’s handling of sexual abuse.

By Bob Allen

Bob Jones University has pulled the plug on an independent investigation into the school’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse, the group hired to conduct the probe announced Feb. 6.

Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) said they received the “notice of termination” of an agreement signed in November 2012 just days before the group planned to conduct final interviews and begin drafting a report.

“Despite repeated requests, GRACE has not been informed of why the agreement was terminated,” the GRACE team said in a press release. “However, due to the fact that GRACE certainly wishes to keep all options on the table in order to complete what has been started, we have spent the last week in communication with BJU and we remain open to continued dialogue.”

boz TchividjianBob Jones contacted the group founded by Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, a law professor at Liberty University and grandson of Billy Graham, after nine cases of sexual assault were reported on the campus in Greenville, S.C., in 2011.

That news came on the heels of a controversy about a student expelled nine days before his graduation who claimed it was in retaliation for holding the first-ever student protest at Bob Jones University.

The “Do Right BJU” protest targeted a member of the school’s board of trustees accused in a “20/20” report of covering up the rape of a 15-year-old girl in his congregation and allowing her rapist to stay in the church for years.

Chuck Phelps, at the time pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, N.H., and now serving at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, later stepped down as a trustee after alumni circulated a petition calling for his dismissal.

Bob Jones University President Stephen Jones, who announced his resignation last fall at the age of 43 citing health reasons, said in the termination letter that the decision, which takes effect in May, “has redirected a significant amount of our focus and energy.”

“While remaining resolute in our desire to achieve our stated objectives, in view of ongoing challenges in leadership change … Bob Jones University hereby notifies GRACE that we are terminating the Nov. 16, 2012, Engagement Agreement for Independent Investigation,” the letter said. “This termination is effective immediately.”

The GRACE investigative team visited the Bob Jones University campus to meet with administrators and student leaders last February. An online confidential survey was accessed 914 times, and 236 were completed and submitted, when the survey officially closed April 30. In its most recent report in November, the team reported completing about 80 interviews and having reviewed all written statements and other materials submitted to GRACE.

The termination letter asks “that all work by GRACE be halted” and “that all documents, information and interviews be kept confidential.”

The university website carried a statement saying “over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives” and terminated the contract on Jan. 27.

“It is BJU’s intention to resolve its differences with GRACE, and we are disappointed a resolution could not be reached before our differences were made public,” the university’s statement said. “Both BJU and GRACE desire to raise sexual abuse awareness and minister to victims whose lives have been ravaged by abuse. GRACE has been helpful in assisting us in focusing our efforts in this area.”

The GRACE team said the termination was a “complete surprise” and there had been no prior indications that it was even being considered.

“At this point, we are most concerned about the potential impact of this termination on those who participated in the investigation and are waiting for the final report,” the team said. “We grieve with those whose hopes will be crushed should this independent process remain incomplete.”

“Please know that we heard your voice and it was not spoken in vain,” the team addressed those who took part in the study. “GRACE offers its assurance that we will do our utmost to protect your confidences in the interviews and surveys from unauthorized use or disclosure. You have honored us with your courage and trust. We are privileged to have sat with each of you.”