TULSA, Okla. €” Three former professors have filed a lawsuit against Oral Roberts University, alleging they were wrongfully fired after they reported the private Christian school’s involvement in a local political race.
They also said their dismissals came after they gave regents a copy of a report documenting moral and ethical problems of the university’s president and his family.
In a statement, an ORU spokesman said the lawsuit is “largely premised upon a compilation of incomplete statements, unsubstantiated rumors and innuendoes,” and that the university “will address these allegations through the legal process.”
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Tulsa County District Court, alleges that ORU President Richard Roberts, son of the school’s founder, Oral Roberts, asked professor Tim Brooker in 2005 to use his students and university resources to aid Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller’s bid for Tulsa mayor.
Brooker objected because such use of ORU’s resources would violate state and federal law because of the university’s nonprofit status, but Roberts “remained adamant,” the lawsuit states.
“They were going to use the students whether I was involved or not,” Brooker said at a news conference. Brooker said up to 50 students worked on Miller’s campaign. She finished third in the GOP primary last year.
In May 2006, ORU was contacted by the Internal Revenue Service over a complaint about the school’s involvement in a local political campaign in potential violation of its 501(c)(3) status.
Brooker was ordered to “fall on the sword” and accept responsibility for all local political involvement, according to the lawsuit.
He came up with two drafts explaining the student involvement, but then former ORU Provost Ralph Fagin developed his own narrative “to construct a sworn affidavit in response to the IRS’ questions, despite his full knowledge of Roberts’ central role in ordering student involvement in the Randi Miller campaign,” the lawsuit states.
The result, according to the suit, was “a complete cover up by ORU and its officers of all violations of federal and state laws…”
“We were treated pretty badly over a long period of time,” said plaintiff John Swails, a professor at ORU for more than 14 years before he was terminated in August. “Even though we were dealing with information that came into our possession that could have been harmful to the university, we tried to deal with it in a way that would help. And so we were rewarded poorly for that.”
Swails was referring to an internal ORU ministry report documenting numerous acts of misconduct by the university and Roberts. The report was developed by the ministry’s community and governmental liaison, Stephanie Cantese, sister-in-law of Richard Roberts, according to the lawsuit.
An ORU student working in the Randi Miller campaign provided a copy to Brooker, and Swails and Brooker turned it over to the Board of Regents in July. Swails was Brooker’s supervisor.
The report itemizes more than 40 instances of alleged moral or ethical misconduct, including:
€” Dormitories received extensive structural modifications for the exclusive use of the Roberts’ daughters, with all costs passed on to the university.
€” Tapes were produced of one of the minor Roberts children vandalizing and illegally removing athletic department equipment from university property.
€” Richard Roberts wife, Lindsay Roberts, was given a white Lexus SUV and a red Mercedes convertible by ministry donors, who also paid for insurance costs.
€” University and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts’ home to do the daughters’ homework.
€” The university jet was used to take one daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas. The $29,411 trip was billed to the ministry as an “evangelistic function of the president.”
€” Mrs. Roberts personally awarded 13 nonacademic, non need-based scholarships exclusively to friends of her children.
Brooker turned over the packet to former Provost Ralph Fagin, who went to Roberts about the evidence of impropriety, according to the lawsuit.
After that, Brooker claims he received threats from Cantese, including the termination of his wife, plaintiff Paulita Brooker, from her new position at the university, “as well as harm to their children and to the students in his program,” the lawsuit states.
Swails and Paulita Brooker were later terminated. Tim Brooker says he was forced to resign.
The suit seeks more than $20,000 in actual and punitive damages for breach of contract/wrongful discharge, libel/slander/defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to the suit.
“There’s a lot we didn’t put in the petition that we felt was better not to be disseminated into the public domain at this time, and hopefully won’t ever have to be,” said Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson, whose firm is representing the professors.
Last week, Richardson’s firm filed a libel lawsuit against novelist John Grisham over a nonfiction best seller he wrote about the 1982 murder of a cocktail waitress.
Veronica Webster, who graduated ORU this year with a degree in graphic design, said the allegations in the lawsuit and the school losing three qualified professors “means I’m not going to recommend as many friends and family to go to ORU because I know they’re not going to receive the same type of education.”
Located in south Tulsa, ORU accepted its first students in 1965. More than 5,300 students are enrolled there, according to the school’s Web site.
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