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Debt-ridden Oral Roberts University probes misconduct claims


The university founded by US televangelist Oral Roberts has announced an independent review and audit of allegations against its president, Richard Roberts, the son of the institution’s creator. At the same time, the university based in Tulsa, Oklahoma has revealed it is millions of dollars in debt.

"We do not judge those who are accused, and will await the facts and respond accordingly," the chairperson of the university’s board of regents, George Pearsons, said in an advertisement placed in The Tulsa World newspaper, and posted on the institution’s Web site on 22 October.

Pearsons said the university had accepted a request by Richard Roberts for a leave of absence to deal with allegations of illegal involvement in a local political campaign, lavish spending on home projects, and use of the university jet and luxury cars for his wife, Lindsay. Richard Roberts is also the CEO of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association.

The allegations were contained in a lawsuit filed on 2 October by three former professors at the university, who claimed they were wrongfully dismissed after reporting the school’s involvement in a local political campaign. Such involvement would violate the law because of the university’s nonprofit status.

The professors also cited what they described as an internal report documenting moral and ethical lapses on the part of Roberts and his family.

Lindsay Roberts is accused of using tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding non-academic scholarships to friends of her children, and sending scores of text messages on university-issued mobile telephones to people described in the lawsuit as "underage males".

In a 17 October statement announcing his request for leave of absence, Richard Roberts said the allegations had taken a "serious toll" on his family. "The untrue allegations of sexual misconduct by my wife have hurt the most," he said.

Oral Roberts, aged 89, is chancellor of the university but leaves day-to-day operations to his son. The Tulsa World reported that Oral Roberts made his first visit in three years to the university on Monday 22 October. He denied the accusations that have threatened to engulf the school, and told students and employees in a chapel service that, "The devil is not going to steal ORU.”

Oral Roberts began his ministry in Southern tent revivals, and it grew into one of the largest evangelical groups in the United States. He founded his university in 1963. It reported nearly US$76 million in revenue in 2005, according to the US Internal Revenue Service.

News emerged on 25 October, however, that the Oral Roberts University is deep in debt. Board chairperson George Pearsons was quoted as saying by The Associated Press that maintenance costs and low financial support from donors had left the evangelical university with debts amounting to US$55 million. University spokesperson Jeremy Burton later said the debt is actually $52.5 million.

Ecumenical News International