February 2, 2009
College loses president, but receives $10 million gift
Just after Southeastern University's president was elected by Oral Roberts University, an ORU trustee member gives the Florida school $10 million.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A Christian liberal arts college in Florida lost its president to Oral Roberts University on Wednesday -- but gained a $10 million pledge from a business associated with the chairman of ORU's board of trustees.
Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., announced the donation January 29 by Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Inc., an arts and crafts retailer known for shuttering its 400 stores in 30 states on Sundays.
On Wednesday, Southeastern president Mark Rutland was hired as president of ORU, a charismatic Christian university in Tulsa, Okla., still recovering from a 2007 scandal tied to allegations of lavish spending by former president Richard Roberts.
Mart Green, chairman of ORU's board, is a Christian businessman whose family salvaged ORU with a $70 million donation after its financial problems surfaced in 2007.
"As a result of recent visits to the campus of Southeastern University, we are impressed with the vibrant programs of Christian higher education and the beautiful facilities and campus," Green, heir to the Hobby Lobby fortune, said in a letter to Southeastern's board of trustees.
"It is our hope that the financial assistance will only increase SEU's financial strength."
In an interview with the Lakeland Ledger, Rutland said the gift is the largest ever received by Southeastern and maybe the largest single gift ever to an Assemblies of God-related college.
During Rutland's 10 years at Southeastern, enrollment has jumped from 950 to 3,079 students, while the campus has undergone more than $50 million in renovations. According to the Ledger, Rutland said he initially was not interested in the post at ORU, but as discussions proceeded, he told Green "it would be a deciding factor" if he and his family would give a "substantial" gift to Southeastern.
The Ledger said Green gave a slightly different account, saying that Rutland knew Southeastern had some debt and he wanted to leave the Florida university in a strong financial position.
Asked about the connection between the Southeastern gift and Rutland's decision to accept the ORU job, Southeastern spokeswoman Anita Whitaker did not reply directly.
"Southeastern University is enjoying its best financial health ever," Whitaker said in an e-mail, specifying that she meant before the Hobby Lobby gift. "Although there is debt, just like any other university or organization, we are financially strong, sound and solid."