Following overwhelming shows of support from students, parents, faculty, alumni and community members, the Bob Jones University Board of Trustees renewed Steve Pettit’s three-year contract as president on Thursday.
This vote, which supported Pettit by an overwhelming majority, marks the second time the Board has voted to renew his contract. “The Board strongly supports the President and is committed and enthusiastic about working together with the President and the administration to fulfill the mission of the University for God’s glory,” BJU said in a press release on Thursday evening.
Pettit expressed his gratitude for the support from the University community and said he is excited to continue serving for the next three years. “I want to thank all of you for your prayers, and I do hope that you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving,” he said to the University in a special meeting on Friday morning.
Pettit also thanked the Board of Trustees, faculty, students and alumni for their commitment to BJU’s success and to the doctrines enshrined in the BJU creed, which he said was notable in light of how many colleges founded on religious principles have fallen out of biblical orthodoxy. “We are marching towards our 100th anniversary in just four years, and so we are preparing Bob Jones University for this next century,” he said. “I’m thankful that I have another three years.”
Outpouring of prayer and support
In the weeks leading up to the vote, students and faculty voiced their appreciation for Pettit’s care for the students and his emphasis on creating a discipleship atmosphere. An online petition expressing support for the president’s contract renewal gained over 6,800 signatures and 400 comments from signers expressing their support.
The BJU Student Leadership Council also collected over 100 pages of letters from students and submitted them to the Board along with its own letter summarizing themes from the students’ remarks. A Facebook group gained nearly 5,000 members to organize support, including having hundreds of alumni attend the Turkey Bowl on Nov. 12 wearing “I Love BJU” pins.
Among other reasons students gave for their support, many expressed their appreciation for Pettit’s effort to emphasize discipleship over outward conformity, while still upholding biblically-based orthodoxy and lifestyle expectations. “I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Dr. Pettit does a wonderful job as President of BJU,” 2021 graduate Isabel Vosburgh Bott said in her comment on the petition. “The changes he has made have been necessary and good, while still holding true to scripture. The students love him because they respect him and his biblical stances, but they also know that he genuinely cares about them,” she said.
Men’s student body president Carson Aaron said that he was encouraged and impressed seeing the way students responded to the news that Pettit’s contract might not get renewed. “The students responded in prayer, and then [used] it as an opportunity to talk about what God has done,” Aaron said. He said the whole situation was “one of the greatest encouragements to my faith that I never saw coming.”
Following the announcement on Thursday evening that Pettit’s contract was renewed, students began celebrating. “There was rejoicing in my hallway last night when the email went out, screams in a lot of the dorms, very happy people!” Aaron said. “Some of the teachers brought doughnuts to their classes this morning in celebration.”
Leadership amid uncertainty
When news originally spread that the Board was set to consider his contract renewal, Pettit called a special meeting for all students and faculty on Oct. 27 in which he emphasized the importance of having a proper attitude toward the situation.
“Any observations and/or communication by any of us about this, which has been taking place, should show kindness, grace, honesty, patience, submission and humility,” Pettit said in the Oct. 27 meeting. He encouraged students to pray for the Board, administration, faculty and staff. “And I ask that you pray for yourselves — that in all things, God would get the glory to himself,” he told the students.
While serving as president during the past few months of uncertainty, Pettit drew on his four decades of experiencing God’s faithfulness to remain confident. “I’ve seen the Lord faithful all along the way, multiple times,” Pettit said in an interview.
In times of uncertainty, Pettit said he reminds himself that God provides what is needed when it is needed, which causes believers to have to turn to faith and prayer while awaiting the outcome. That way “when the answer comes, it’s really clear where the answer came from,” he said. “Everybody knows it was the Lord.”
Pettit graduated from BJU with a MA in pastoral studies after finishing his undergraduate degree at The Citadel. After serving five years as youth pastor for First Baptist Church in Bridgeport, Michigan, he began traveling full-time an evangelist, a ministry he continued year-round for 29 years. While an evangelist, he preached in 21 countries and hundreds of events and camps in the U.S.
Looking forward to the future
Pettit became the fifth president of BJU in 2014, and he is the first president not related to BJU founder Bob Jones Sr. Since his coming, he has helped the University gain tax-exempt status and accreditation, expand intercollegiate sports, increase fundraising efforts and remodel student residence halls, among other initiatives.
Pettit said he wants to use the momentum generated during the last few months to build on BJU’s solid biblical foundation. “I think we have momentum with donors that want to give and support the school with recruiting of new students, and I want to continue that,” Pettit said. “We want to set things up for the next generation that can continue on to be faithful to the Lord.”
Aaron said he was excited about how the process had brought the students together. “As far as the future, I think that this will be a good thing going forward because we’ll be more unified,” Aaron said. “We have been thankful together, and now we get to live that out.”