Oral Roberts Univ. 'struggling financially,' with more than $50M in debt, board chairman says

The Associated Press/October 24, 2007

Tulsa, Oklahoma -- Oral Roberts University, which is fighting accusations that its president misspent school funds, faces a crippling debt load, the chairman of the school's board of regents said.

Chairman George Pearsons told The Associated Press that maintenance costs and low financial support from donors have put the evangelical university $55 million (€38.65 million) in debt. University spokesman Jeremy Burton later said the debt is actually $52.5 million (€36.89 million).

"Honestly, we've been struggling financially," Pearsons said. "Really my goal — and it's a big one — my goal is to obliterate the debt."

The announcement comes a week after the school's president, Richard Roberts, took a leave of absence to fight a lawsuit brought by three former professors who claim they were wrongfully dismissed.

Among the accusations the lawsuit makes against Richard Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, are that they used school funds to remodel their home 11 times in 14 years, sent their daughter and several of her friends on a $29,411 (€20,668) senior trip to the Bahamas on a university-owned jet, and that they spent school money to provide their daughters with a stable of horses.

The couple has denied any wrongdoing. Richard Roberts has said the lawsuit amounted to "intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

Richard Roberts' father, Oral Roberts, has returned to Oklahoma from California to take a greater role in guiding the school he founded in 1963.

The 5,700-student university is a product of Oral Roberts' ministry, which grew from Southern tent revivals to one of the most successful evangelical empires in the country.

The university reported nearly $76 million (€53.41 million) in revenue in 2005, according to the Internal Revenue Service, and one former regent said its endowment once approached $60 million (€42.16 million). Its endowment today exceeds $34 million (€23.89 million), a university spokesman said. Its operating budget for 2007-2008 was more than $82 million (€57.62 million).

Gary Richardson, an attorney for the dismissed professors, said he planned to present evidence at trial that misspending has been going on at the university for years.

"The smoke that we've seen in this city for so many years, we will continue to show the evidence that shows that there is a fire," he said.

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