Last week, Bob Jones University’s president announced the resignation of the board’s chair—one week after announcing his own plans to resign.
The last two weeks have seen the South Carolina university’s leadership flip on its head. An incendiary closed-door meeting and a fiery letter from the president—which was later leaked—calling out BJU’s “dysfunctional leadership” dragged the private evangelical university’s community into the fray and has culminated in the chairman’s resignation.
President Steve Pettit warned in a letter to the board’s chair that he would resign if Chairman John Lewis did not step down from his position. Pettit’s primary grievance with Lewis stems from his “posture of secrecy and hostility toward the board and administration.” For example, he forbade the Board from telling the school’s longstanding corporate counsel of a meeting held in February and he moved all executive committee meetings to a former president’s private residence, according to Pettit’s letter. Lewis also selects the school’s executive committee with the help of an outside lawyer who does not communicate with the Board directly unless granted permission from the chairman.
“The current direction is unsustainable,” Pettit wrote in his letter, according to Fits News. “I am walking down a dark road with no light ahead. The future of BJU requires the chairman and the president to work together. It is not happening now, and I can’t see it happening in the future.”
Pettit also aired his grave concerns for Lewis’ dismissal of the school’s fledgling financial, enrollment and donation projections, as well as the board’s “disregard for good corporate governance” and the mishandling of a Title IX investigation into accusations that a board member took inappropriate pictures of female students without their consent.
The letter sparked Lewis to fire dissenting board members and hire those in favor of him, and a closed-door meeting between the president and Chair on March 30 resulted in the president formally announcing his resignation later that same day.
Following his resignation, 17 faculty and administrative leaders wrote to the board demanding Lewis’s resignation and warning that Bob Jones is in “real and imminent jeopardy,” according to Baptist News Global. If he did not resign, they warned of “an institution-wide vote of no confidence in the entire board.”
The faculty and administrators also urged the board to seek immediate help from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the university’s primary accrediting agency, according to the letter, which was signed by the executive administration team, deans and leaders of the Faculty Advisory Committee.
Similarly, students and alumni created a petition on Change.org calling for Lewis’ resignation and Pettit’s reinstatement as president, garnering almost 8,000 signatures, far exceeding Bob Jones’ current student enrollment numbers.
Pettit has not mentioned whether he will walk back his resignation since Lewis has stepped down. He has held the position since 2014.
Lewis had served as a Board member for 32 years, seven of those as Chairman.