Hobby Lobby Pledges $10M To Florida School

Thursday, January 29th 2009, 3:42 pm
By: News On 6

The Associated Press

TULSA, OK -- Southeastern University in Florida announced a $10 million pledge Thursday from the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain, a day after that school's president was named the new leader at scandal-plagued Oral Roberts University.

Billionaire Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green, heir to the Hobby Lobby fortune, is the trustees board chairman at ORU. He took the reins at the struggling, Tulsa-based evangelical school last year after a donation of $70 million of his family's wealth. Mart's father, David, is founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, which has hundreds of craft supply stores throughout the country.

On Wednesday, Southeastern University President Mark Rutland, 61, was named to ORU's top post. Rutland has led the Christian liberal-arts college in Lakeland, Fla., for 10 years, helping move the school off shaky financial footing and growing the student body from 1,000 to more than 3,000 students.

In a letter to the Southeastern trustees board, Mart Green says he was impressed with the school during recent visits to campus.

"It is our hope that the financial assistance will only increase SEU's current financial strength," he wrote.

The Green family's fortune comes from Hobby Lobby and Mardel, the Christian bookstore and office supply chain Mart started when he was 19, among other sources.

The pledge from the company is to be paid over the next five years in $2 million installments.

At ORU, Rutland will make $275,000 annually and starts July 1. 

He inherits an institution whose reputation had become tarnished in the past year after a spending scandal, lawsuits and job cuts.

The 1960s-era campus, known for its 60-foot-high bronze sculpture of praying hands, is also more than $13 million in debt.

In late 2007, televangelist and former school president Richard Roberts resigned amid allegations he and his wife, Lindsay, dropped school money on lavish vacations and home remodels at a time when the school was facing more than $50 million in debt. He has denied
any wrongdoing. 

Even with Green's infusion of cash, and a multimillion-dollar campus remodel, the school was forced earlier this month to lay off 53 employees and eliminate 40 more unfilled positions in a move to reduce the annual operating budget by about $3.5 million.

The 53 terminations included four faculty positions and 49 staff positions, and represented about 6 percent of the university's work force.

Rutland, a former pastor and author of 13 books, pledged Wednesday to immediately work to regain the public's trust, improve retention and enrollment and continue to build on the school's
"worldwide brand."

Last week, Rutland flew to California to meet school founder Oral Roberts, who gave him his blessing.