Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cognitive Dissonance Part 1

On January 10, 2013, Bob Jones University hired G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to be its independent ombudsman to investigate their alleged past failures to deal with sexual abuse/assault appropriately.  (According to BJU, they hired GRACE due to the Penn State scandal, not the growing rumble of alumni sharing their stories of abysmal treatment on the internet - and certainly not because of Chuck Phelps.  /shrug)

Here are some salient quotes (emphasis mine on this and all subsequent quotations) from the announcement, made at that time with much public fanfare:

...we sought out a third-party Christian organization with which we could partner in an effort to identify any past instances in which former students or others felt underserved by the University’s response. We are grateful to have found GRACE, a credible, compassionate, and experienced Christian organization which conducts independent investigations and solicits unfiltered input from those who have experienced sexual abuse within Christian organizations or who have otherwise felt underserved by the Christian organizations they trusted to help them deal with the wrongs they suffered previously.

It is our prayer that this partnership with GRACE—operated with complete autonomy from Bob Jones University—will create an atmosphere of trust and complete honesty...

In retaining GRACE to conduct this third party investigation, the leadership of Bob Jones University/Academy has pledged to honor the integrity and independence of the investigative process and to cooperate fully with the GRACE Investigative Team. 

An update to the process by GRACE was posted on that site in March 2013, May 2013, August 2013, and November 2013, which can be read from the original announcement page.  GRACE was planning on wrapping up interviews in February 2014 and was scheduled to release its final report in March 2014.

On January 24, 2014 University president Stephen Jones sent GRACE a letter of termination of the contract.

On January 27, 2014, GRACE received it.

On February 6, after days of trying to elicit reasons for the surprise termination from the University and being stymied, GRACE released a public announcement indicating they had been terminated, and posted Dr. Jones' letter as well.

From GRACE's announcement:

This ‘Notice’ took GRACE by complete surprise as there had been no prior indications from BJU that termination was even being considered.

Despite repeated requests, GRACE has not been informed of why the agreement was terminated.

In Dr. Jones' letter, (marked "CONFIDENTIAL" at the top), he speaks of the University's Sexual Abuse Awareness Training they put in place, as well as new policies in the works.  He vaguely indicates the reason for the termination is the "ongoing challenges in leadership change" as he is stepping down as President soon.
Bob Jones University is prepared to meet with GRACE immediately.  We think that it is in the best public interest of both GRACE and BJU to meet and reach a new agreement that will enable us to accomplish our objectives as stated above.
(The objectives stated at the top of the letter were "appropriately responding to reports of sexual abuse and identifying opportunities to ask forgiveness of individuals we may have underserved when they reported to us they had been abused at some point in their life".)

We respectfully request that all documents, information, and interviews be kept confidential.

Alumni who have been watching the GRACE investigation with interest were stunned, and started to make their voices known.

The University hastily released a public statement regarding the termination.
Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE. It is BJU’s intention to resolve its differences with GRACE, and we are disappointed a resolution could not be reached before our differences were made public. 

Since the public firestorm continued to grow, on February 7 BJU held a brief meeting for faculty and students to explain why GRACE was terminated.  The video and an update were posted by the University.  A watchdog group posted a transcription of his comments as well prior to the University's release.

But over just the past months, the last several months, we grew concerned that in the process
GRACE had begun going beyond the originally outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because they had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE, so that we can sit down and get it back on track. And that was the entire intention of terminating the agreement and if you look on it, instead of on GRACE's web site or ours, that's clear in my letter of termination.

We have not shared the reasons for our termination at this point, from a distance.
We have not done them point by point with GRACE or with anybody else...

Dr. Jones reiterated that BJU was committed to finishing the process, whether with GRACE or with a third party.  He expressed that the University cares deeply for the people who had reported.

And I just want to reiterate that we are committed, remain committed to identifying and reaching out to those individuals.

Several news outlets have picked up the story, now including the venerable New York Times.

**UPDATE** - BJU and GRACE have agreed to meet the third week of February.

Now.  Questions.
  1. Is "underserved" the best word choice to refer to those whom the University counseled not to report their abusers/rapists, who were told they had a part in their abuse or rape, who were told their PTSD flashbacks from the events was "indulging in lustful thoughts", or for whom the University did not call the police when underage or when the events occurred on campus?
  2. Is abruptly terminating a consultant without explanation honoring the University's pledge to give that consultant autonomy and independence?
  3. Does abruptly terminating a consultant without explanation engender an atmosphere of trust and honesty on the part of the University?
  4. Is it standard practice to terminate a much-publicized contractual agreement confidentially, with no warning?
  5. Is it an example of transparency and accountability to terminate a much-publicized contractual agreement confidentially, with no warning? 
  6. Is it standard practice to terminate an agreement with no prior negotiation, indicate a desire to immediately meet to discuss the issue, and then refuse to discuss the issue for over a week?
  7. Is it logical to terminate an agreement in order to continue an agreement?  Does it demonstrate a commitment to completion of an investigation?
  8. Was Dr. Jones' termination letter clear?
  9. Is the reason given in the termination letter the same as the reason given in BJU's public statement?  Is that statement then the same as the reason given by Dr. Jones at the meeting?
  10. Is the University going to get the names of all the people who reported to GRACE even if the investigation is not continued?  
  11. Is abruptly terminating an agreement with GRACE without warning, declining to be open with GRACE about why, and giving varying public answers as to why termination occured demonstrating commitment to or compassion for the "underserved"?
  12. UPDATE QUESTION - Is meeting "immediately" in a letter dated January 24 consistent with a meeting date of almost 1 month later?

Surely the apparent answers to these questions will not be nearly so troubling once the "full story comes out". Surely.

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