ORU official to quit if Roberts returns

Oral Roberts University’s executive vice president of academic affairs and provost offered his resignation to the board of regents on Thursday if the board decides to keep Richard Roberts as president.

Mark Lewandowski wrote regents Chairman George Pearsons that he “would be pleased to continue to serve” in his job if Roberts resigns or is not reinstated, according to his letter first obtained by The Associated Press.

Roberts has been on a leave of absence as ORU president since Oct. 17 while the board and independent auditors investigate allegations made in a lawsuit that he and his family misused ORU and Oral Roberts Ministries money and resources.

Lewandowski is a defendant in that lawsuit, which was filed by three former professors who claim they were wrongfully fired or forced to resign.

The suit alleges Lewandowski impounded plaintiff and former professor John Swails’ office, confiscated Swails’ personal property, had him escorted off campus and had him barred from returning. The lawsuit also claims that former professor Tim Brooker was “constructively discharged” by Lewandowski, Roberts, another administrator and ORU/Oral Roberts Ministries.

The lawsuit claims Lewandowski “constructively discharged” an unnamed female professor who allegedly had been sexually harassed by defendant and Vice Provost Jeff Ogle and that Lewandowski thereafter promoted Ogle.

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Ogle has denied the sexual harassment allegation.

ORU announced in July that Lewandowski was its top academic officer. The former businessman had been the School of Business dean since January 2005.

Lewandowski wrote in his letter to Pearsons that he and “many current administrators . . . are concerned that the ORU board of regents with the exception of a few bold individuals are waffling in their decision making and are considering the reinstatement of Richard Roberts even in the face of overwhelming information of a management style that promotes fear and has done nothing to address the increasing debt of the university.”

An ORU spokesman said three weeks ago that the university is $52.5 million in debt.

Lewandowski said in his letter that as provost, he had “begun to be part of the culture of fear that had been at ORU for years,” and, he wrote, “the faculty, students and staff deserve an opportunity to teach, learn and work in an environment of peace and loving support.”

The board will decide whether Roberts returns to the presidency, Pearsons has said. Roberts remains the chairman and CEO of Oral Roberts Ministries.

Lewandowski was one of five ORU vice presidents who wrote in a letter to students, employees, regents and alumni that “deeply embedded in the current controversy is the opportunity for the university to become even stronger. . . .”

“This is the time that we must show through our teamwork and leadership that the university is bigger than any one person,” they wrote. “. . . We must re-establish our integrity and prove that we are accountable.”

In a meeting Wednesday, Roberts told faculty members that he does not want to be president forever but it would appear to admit wrongdoing if he stepped down now, the AP reported. On Monday night, a quorum of tenured faculty voted “no confidence” in Roberts as president.

Lewandowski and Pearsons did not return phone calls and e-mails Thursday night, and an ORU spokesman declined to comment.

Read the latest stories about the ORU lawsuit, examine the lawsuit and other documents, and watch slide shows and video at Tulsa World

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Tulsa World, USA
Nov. 16, 2007
April Marciszweski

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This post was last updated: Nov. 17, 2007