In May 2009, In Trust president Christa Klein and editor Jay Blossom visited Oral Roberts University and spoke to board chair Mart Green, interim president Ralph Fagin, professors Kenneth M. Weed (left) and Even A. Culp (right), and other board members and administrators. Weed chairs the Faculty Governance Design committee and Culp leads the Faculty Governance Task Force.

On January 14, 2008, the regents of Oral Roberts University (ORU) did something that boards seldom do: They voted themselves out of existence. It was a decision that required both faith and courage. ORU’s regents surely hesitated because they recognized their role as guardians of a legacy. Not merely the stewards of an institution, they were also supporters of the particular message of founder Oral Roberts — that God uses believers' faith to return blessings to them, and that miracles can and do happen even today.

The regents had entrusted decision-making to ORU’s president, Richard Roberts, son of the founder. But in November 2007, the younger Roberts resigned. That same month, the regional accrediting commission announced that the “dire nature” of the university’s finances were having “an accumulating, negative impact” on students and employees. With “no clear, believable plan” in place to resolve the situation, the commission demanded another visit in one year.

In the middle of this crisis, an offer of help emerged from an unlikely source. David Green, founder of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, read about the university’s troubles in the newspaper. He spoke to his son Mart Green, founder of a chain of book and educational supply stores.

The Greens wanted to save ORU, so they offered a mammoth gift: $8 million outright, plus $62 million more if the university would change its ways. At first, the Greens were unsure what the conditions of the larger gift should be. So Mart Green sought the help of Robert E. Cooley, president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. With Cooley’s help, Green and his staff prepared a formal proposal.

Finished in early January, the proposal demanded that the board of regents dissolve itself and that a new board of trustees, initially chosen by Green’s team, replace them. Fifteen days after the regents accepted the proposal, a new board of trustees was installed, and the work of transformation began.

A foundation for renewal

Under the terms of the proposal, the new board of trustees committed itself to transforming the governance structures of ORU.

First, the board committed itself to “institutional reality.” ORU’s former leadership had avoided addressing unpleasant truths about finances, facilities, and procedures. In contrast, the new trustees hired consultants to report on finances as well as the university’s governance, buildings and grounds, development, and enrollment management. At the same time, they hired an internal auditor to report directly to the board rather than to the administration.

Second, the trustees terminated the presidential search begun when Richard Roberts stepped down, and they initiated a new process. They began by seeking input from faculty, alumni, and other groups as they developed a profile. The resulting “Institutional Audit and Presidential Profile Report” was finished by mid-April and submitted to the full board. Only then did the board create a search committee, which reflected the principles of shared governance and included trustees as well as representatives from the faculty, staff, student body, and alumni association. Cooley continued to advise the board and the search committee.

Third, again under Cooley’s guidance, the board of trustees clarified the responsibilities of the university’s leadership structures.

■ Trustees. As the final authority of the university, the board established standing committees with oversight responsibilities for particular areas — academic affairs, student affairs, resource development, and finance — plus the executive committee. Each trustee joined at least one committee, and committees were granted provisional authority to make decisions. Meeting three times per year, the full board reserved the right to review and then accept, modify, or deny actions made in committee.
■ President. With delegated authority from the board, the president and his officers were empowered to recommend strategic plans, form policies, and direct the day-to-day work of the university.
 Faculty. With the functional authority to carry out the university’s academic mission, the faculty was charged with developing the academic curriculum, establishing faculty appointment procedures, and setting graduation requirements.

New structure formalizes faculty role

By the middle of January 2008, Mart Green was no longer simply the businessman and philanthropist who had swooped in to save ORU — he was chair of the new board of trustees. And at the end of that month, he hosted a dinner for the faculty where he reaffirmed the faculty’s role in university governance. He assured them that, like the board, they continued to bear responsibility for the university’s mission — not just as individual teachers, but also corporately as a faculty through hiring, promotion, faculty reviews, and more.

Under ORU’s former leadership, decision-making was sometimes capricious, and the president and senior administrators reversed policies and changed procedures with scant notice and even less input. But Green and Cooley were determined to establish structures to empower the faculty to do their appropriate work.

A faculty committee began by reviewing tenure policies, but within a few months, its purview expanded and it became the Faculty Governance Task Force with three of its own committees: Faculty Governance Design; Faculty Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure; and Faculty Development.

The Faculty Governance Design committee created a diagram to specify formal roles for committees, departments, and schools. Members of the committee included Andrew Lang, professor of mathematics; Walt MacMillan, professor of graduate business; Mark R. Hall, professor of English; Lori Kanitz, assistant professor of English; and Kenneth Weed, professor of chemistry, who served as chair. View the diagram here: ORU Design Charts

Professors from ORU’s School of Theology and Missions, along with other graduate faculty, were heavily involved in the development of the new structure for faculty governance. Kenneth Weed, chair of the governance design committee within the governance task force, notes that as the new governance design has been implemented over the last year, the biggest challenges have come from the unique requirements of the various graduate programs. Over the next year, he anticipates that they will add a new committee or other forum for communication just among graduate faculty.

The School of Theology and Missions is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), and as new university-wide tenure procedures were codified, ATS accreditation requirements helped shape them. As finally adopted, a professor’s application for tenure initiates within his or her school, and the school has the right to recommend or reject the application. Tenure is not granted without the support of the school.

The School of Theology and Missions has had another important role in tenure procedures, according to Weed. He notes that because theology and spiritual development are so important to ORU’s communal life, theology faculty helped design an interview strategy for assessing tenure candidates’ faith. The goal, Weed says, is to communicate and discuss the candidates’ spiritual issues “without formulating nor requiring specific tenets.”

Shared governance is a cumbersome process, to be sure. But the new structure gives each school, each department, and each individual professor a role in policy-creation and decision-making, without undermining the legitimate authority of the president or the final authority of the board of trustees. That’s a big improvement over past practice.

This is the second installment in a multipart series. 

In the next issue:
 ORU has unused capacity, so it wants to raise enrollment. But how does a school attract more students without lowering standards?

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

Back to Issue  Read Previous Article Read Next Article

Advertise With Us

Reach thousands of seminary administrators, trustees, and others in positions of leadership in North American theological schools — an audience that cares about good governance, effective leadership, and current religious issues — by advertising in In Trust!

Learn More