Some Oral Roberts University Alumni Want Christian Mediation Instead of Lawsuit

TULSA Okla.

Some Oral Roberts University alumni have said they wished a dispute between university officials and several former professors could have been resolved without a lawsuit, but the plaintiffs’ attorney said he unsuccessfully tried to handling the issue privately before going to court.

Former ORU professors John Swails, Tim Brooker and Paulita Brooker filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the private university on Oct. 2, claiming they were fired or forced to resign after alleging that President Richard Roberts illegally involved the college in a political campaign.

Their legal petition also alleges the Roberts family misspent ORU money and misused ORU resources for itself, along with accusing Roberts’ wife, Lindsay, of spending a great deal of time with an underage male. The ex-professors claim that turning over the report to the board of regents got them fired.

“Although I see this could be helpful in forcing them to hold everything up to the spotlight, all of this could have been done without all the drama,” alumnus and ORU Alumni Association board member Gene Gregg said. “… It’s concerning that the school is now in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.”

ORU and its attorney, Jack Santee, declined to comment on what happened before the lawsuit was filed or discuss the concept of mediation.

Gary Richardson, attorney for the former professors, said he met with Santee and suggested having an open-minded discussion to resolve the dispute privately, but said he moved forward with the lawsuit after ORU didn’t respond to his suggestion after three weeks.

The biblical idea of mediation is practical “if they’ll talk to you. We couldn’t get them to talk to us,” Richardson said.

Both sides could pay for a mediator, or they could go through the Tulsa County court system’s Project Early Settlement program, said local lawyer Michael J. King, a partner with Winters, King & Associates and an ORU law school graduate. The mediator should be an “elder” respected by both parties, he said.

“We think the Bible requires, before you sue somebody, if somebody’s wronged you, you should go to that person and talk to them first,” King said.

People and organizations familiar with mediation cited I Corinthians 6:1-8 as the Bible passage that commends mediation over lawsuits: “If any of you has a dispute against another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? …”

King said most cases are mediated after a lawsuit has been filed, and most cases that go to mediation are settled, usually resulting in “two sides that are partially happy with the result and partially unhappy with the result but very happy it’s resolved.”

Although he did not know whether the ORU lawsuit was a good candidate for mediation, “almost everything can be mediated if you have willing parties,” King said.

Rhae Buckley, ORU Alumni Association board chairman, agreed that mediation can work if the parties agree to be bound by the terms.

Buckley said the lawsuit against ORU has created an effort to make the university transparent, but he thinks such an evaluation would have happened without the lawsuit.

Gregg said he was concerned the lawsuit would cause Christians “to look foolish in the eyes of the world,” especially considering the former professors who sued have said they do not know whether the report of alleged impropriety by the Roberts family is true.

He did think the lawsuit was bringing about the positive result of ORU examining its policies and procedures.



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