A batch of e-mail messages obtained by the Tulsa World allegedly show that Richard Roberts, former president of Oral Roberts University (ORU), repeatedly received advice on how to increase his political influence by affecting the outcome of city and state elections.
ORU has been rocked by a growing scandal, with charges flying that Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, spent university money extravagantly and that she had inappropriate contacts with male students. Richard Roberts resigned as president in November after the tenured faculty passed a no-confidence vote on his leadership.
But there have also been allegations of improper partisan politicking. ORU, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity, is not permitted to intervene in elections. Yet the e-mails indicate that Roberts had a great interest in using the school to affect politics.
One professor, Tim Brooker, claims he was fired after he informed the ORU Board of Regents that he had been ordered by Roberts to prod his students into helping Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller’s unsuccessful 2006 Tulsa mayoral campaign.
In one of the alleged messages, Stephanie Cantees, Lindsay Roberts’ sister, urges Richard Roberts to contact Tulsa officials, including the mayor, about placing “ORU affiliates” on key city boards. Cantees had been hired by Roberts to provide him with regular reports on government and community matters.
“Richard if you have enough people on boards you will be far more likely to get the projects you need supported and funded,” states the e-mail.
Another e-mail from Cantees’ address reportedly advises Roberts that if 80 percent of ORU students were registered voters and politicians knew it, the university’s political muscle would be greatly strengthened.
“They come now to have a chance to speak to the students, now make it so they come with the same desire to bring gifts and highly desirous to be given a seat at your table to become a part of the ‘gift giving’ … fearful if they do not keep their word or include you equally they will face consequences in their next term,” the e-mail states.
In another message, dated Oct. 23, 2006, Cantees implores Roberts to run “the same dog and pony show in chapel.” She advises Roberts to say, “I need 80 percent of you to vote if you want your president to go forth on your behalf.”
Getting friendly people appointed to local planning boards was a constant theme in the e-mails. One recommends that Roberts “become a key player in who is consulted for appointments. With an all Republican County Commission [it’s] time they get out the Democrats who have no love for ORU….”
Cantees’ attorney, Gerald Hilsher, told the World that Cantees remembers some of the topics addressed in the e-mails, but there is at least one she did not write.