Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mart Green Attempts To Balance ORU Budget

Layoffs and other budget cuts are possible for debt-ridden Oral Roberts University, as the tiny evangelical school looks to regroup from several financial scandals and keep enrollment from sliding further, the school's trustees chairman said.

"We can't spend more than we bring in," said Mart Green, an Oklahoma City businessman who recently donated $70 million to the school. "Let's find out where we're fat, where we're thin and make this place strong, and not just going hand to mouth year after year."

Green's comments on Friday came days after a tense faculty meeting where administrators braced professors for the possibility of job cuts as a way to make budget ends meet. Professors were also implored to persuade students thinking about transferring to return to the school in the fall.

"The message in the faculty meeting was, 'Hey, we're not on easy street just because we've got $70 million,'" said ORU interim president Ralph Fagin.

In an interview with The Associated Press, neither Green nor Fagin offered specifics on how many positions or programs might get the ax, but said the school is exploring all options as it reviews each department, a process that could take several years.

Already struggling to keep enrollment numbers up, ORU was rocked by a financial scandal last fall that led to the resignation of Richard Roberts, who had been school president since 1993. He left amid accusations of misspending school funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle at a time when the school was more than $50 million in debt. He has denied wrongdoing. In the past eight years, the school has lost 500 students, and projected enrollment for the fall 2008 semester could be 150 students fewer than the 3,166 who attended last fall, Fagin said.

Even with Green's donation, the school is $25 million in debt and has deferred maintenance costs between $50 million and $60 million. Green, founder of Mardel, a Christian bookstore and office supply chain, declined to comment on the status of several lawsuits the school still faces in the wake of the scandal from former professors, students and a former accountant.

The two professors, Tim and Paulita Brooker, whose Oct. 2 lawsuit claims they were forced out after alleging financial and ethical wrongdoing on the part of Richard Roberts and his family, have asked the school for $2.5 million to settle. Attorneys for the professors and the school declined to comment this week on any potential negotiations, citing a judge's gag order. "We're doing the best we can to go through the legal process," Green said. "Let the legal process take its course."

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