President’s Newsletter — May 2021

Graduates walk across the road between Rodeheaver Auditorium and Founder's Memorial Amphitorium to begin the commencement ceremony

This newsletter from Bob Jones University’President Steve Pettit is intended to inform BJU’s alumni and friends of student and faculty achievements and campus programs and activities. Communication regarding this newsletter may be addressed to [email protected].

Message from the President

On Friday, May 7, Bob Jones University awarded 544 undergraduate degrees, 80 master’s degrees and three doctorates in the Class of 2021 Commencement exercises. Graduates represented 14 countries, 40 states and 78 academic majors; 261 had at least one parent who is a BJU graduate or former student and 171 have a sibling who is a current student.

As I gave a charge to the graduates, I reminded them of the words we heard repeated over and over throughout this past year — COVID-19, protocols, masks, unprecedented, unusual and hard. Having heard these words day after day, they are firmly planted in our minds, and when we hear them, we will remember the 2020–2021 academic year.

Repetition also has a spiritual application. In 2 Peter 1:12–15, Peter tells us that he is going to repeat the same truths over and over to God’s people. “Wherefore, I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things. …” There were certain things so important for God’s people that we need to be reminded of them often.

So, what were those things? In our context of Commencement, we can say they are things we taught graduating students throughout their four years at BJU.

Peter says these things are so important that they will give you confidence that you are a child of God, they will protect you from falling away, they will lead you to spiritual maturity, they will help you discern error and false teachers, and they will give you an abundant entrance into heaven. No wonder they are worth repeating!

We are to be continually learning the qualities of a godly life. We are to add to our faith virtue or moral excellence, knowledge, temperance or self-control in all areas, and perseverance where we learn to “stick it out.”

We are to continually love and exhibit these characteristics through godliness — a love for God, brotherly kindness — a love for Christians, and charity — manifest by loving and serving other people.

And we are to lead. Leaders are servants. They are humble. They seek the welfare of others. They meet needs. They are others focused. Leaders fix the broken, bind the wounded and set free from bondage.

During their four years here, we have sought to develop in students the kind of character that will make them good leaders.

Our prayer is that as they go from here, they will continue to learn, show forth God’s love, and be the leader He intends them to be. We hope they will remember and live by the words: Learn. Love. Lead.

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BJU Holds Commencement for Class of 2020

May 8, BJU held a second Commencement — this one for the Class of 2020. On March 12, 2020, President Steve Pettit announced that because of the growing pandemic, BJU would close in-person classes the next day and pivot to online learning for the remainder of the academic year.

The senior class that year was devastated as they saw their college career and plans for celebrating their graduation together as a class come abruptly to an end.

On May 8, 2020, Pettit virtually conferred degrees for the class, and the University mailed diplomas, awards and the 2020 Vintage to them. Exactly one year later we were able to hold their graduation ceremony. Over half the class — 337 of 650 — were able to return for the long-anticipated celebration.

The Class of 2020 represented 24 countries, 40 states and 85 academic majors; 280 had at least one parent who is a graduate or former student and 194 had a sibling who is a current student.

This was truly a history-making class:

  • The first class not to finish their senior year on campus.
  • The first class to finish their BJU education as a homeschooler.
  • The first class to jump into the front fountain with the University’s blessing.
  • The first class to have all diplomas mailed.
  • The first class to graduate and return one year later for their ceremony.
  • The first senior class to have a graduation party after the junior class.
  • The class to have the most members marry before their graduation ceremony.
  • The class with the largest number of soon-to-be parents at graduation.
  • The class with the largest number of alumni to gather together after graduation.

The Class of 2020 may be the strongest, most unified class in the history of BJU because of their unique, shared experiences.

As he addressed the graduates, Pettit reminded them that our disappointments are God’s appointments. Disappointments in life are real. Life is filled with the unfulfilled. But a rude awakening is intended to be a spiritual awakening. Our disappointments are to be His appointments. With God, what we lose, we gain.

He also told the 2020 graduates that their knowledge of Christ prepared them for the pandemic. It is through suffering that the likeness of Christ is produced in our lives — a likeness that is characterized by patience in tribulation, gratefulness in hardships, submission during chastening, and contentment in various situations. In disappointment, we can look to God and find joy. This is what life is all about.

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BJU to Present Drama at Ark Encounter

Bob Jones University will present “UNBELIEVABLE: Stories of Faith” at the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky, May 17–July 31. Performances are at 1 and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in the 2,500-seat Answers Center and are included in Ark Encounter admission.

Under the direction of BJU faculty member, Jeff Stegall, the cast includes Megan King, theatre graduate, Greenville, South Carolina; Kathryn Holcomb, biblical studies graduate, Marietta, Georgia; Eric Lane, theatre student, Travelers Rest, South Carolina; and Michael Cunningham, theatre student, Inman, South Carolina.

“We can’t wait to host the BJU drama team at our state-of-the-art auditorium at the Ark Encounter this summer,” said Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis, the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum.

“People ask me what’s the play about,” King said. “Well, it’s about faith. Faith starts in knowing what you believe and why you believe it and then sharing it with others.”

See Also: Summer Ministry: BJU Team Presents ‘Stories of Faith’

The script, written by former BJU faculty member Dr. David Burke for a multi-generational audience, is taken from Hebrews 11 and shows the power and importance of faith in a unique way with a modern application which ties the presentation together for the audience.

Beginning May 10, BJU science ambassador Dr. George Matzko and his wife Darlene also will be at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum presenting three programs: “Water Is the Miracle Chemical,” “Invisible Properties of Air” and “The Mysterious Electron.” Each presentation demonstrates that Christianity and sound science are compatible.

In addition, several BJU students have been offered summer positions at the Ark Encounter. “We love to have the quality of students that come from this university that stands with Answers in Genesis on the authority of God’s Word from the very first verse,” says Ham.

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BJU to Hold Summer Orientation

After missing last summer because of COVID-19, BJU is excited to again hold Summer Orientation for all incoming freshmen and transfer students and their parents. There will be two sessions, June 18–19 and 25–26.

Incoming students who attend Summer Orientation have the opportunity to take placement tests for English, languages and music; meet with their first-year advisor; work out their course schedule and register for classes for the fall semester. This eliminates much anxiety from their first week of college in the fall.

An information fair provides information on meal plans, financial aid, student employment, local churches, student organizations and the academic support structure in place to help students succeed.

Group sessions cover tips on transitioning from high school to college, selecting an academic major, and student expectations and support structure. There are sessions for students, sessions for parents and sessions for both.

Incoming students will become acquainted with other incoming students, faculty, staff and administrators. Some incoming students form friendships during Summer Orientation and request to room with that friend in the fall.

The registration deadline for this summer’s orientation sessions is June 1. More information and a link to the registration form are available at

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Alan Benson Named Executive Vice President

Last month President Steve Pettit appointed Dr. Alan Benson executive vice president for student development and ministry advancement. Benson previously served as vice president for student development and discipleship.

While Benson will continue his role with student development, his responsibilities are now expanded to include oversight of BJU Seminary. He will also direct training of men for the ministry to provide complete alignment in our undergraduate and graduate programs. Benson has assembled a ministry advancement leadership team of six key faculty and staff to accomplish this.

“In the seven years I have been president, we have intentionally positioned and prepared for the day when we could have everyone involved with ministry training on the same page,” said Pettit. “We are now at that point, and with his 25 years of experience as a pastor, Benson is the right man to lead the charge.”

Benson had made significant contributions to transforming the student experience from the student life perspective and is now working with Dr. Gary Weier, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, to fulfill the BJU strategic plan goal of focusing on student success — which involves all aspects of the student experience from academics through extracurriculars and residence hall living.

As part of the transition to his new role, Benson has announced several initiatives as part of the BJU Seminary’s strategic plan.

Before joining BJU in 2018, Benson served as youth pastor and senior pastor in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois. He earned a BA in Bible at Bob Jones University in 1992, an MDiv from Louisiana Baptist Theological Seminary in 2011 and a DMin from BJU in 2020.

See Also: Diversity Equips Benson for Role with Seminary

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2021 Vintage Dedicated to President Pettit

The 2021 Vintage staff dedicated this year’s book to President Steve Pettit in recognition and honor of his steadfast leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Due to his decisive action, BJU successfully held in-person classes throughout the 2020–2021 academic year.

As COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S. in March 2020, Pettit announced a pivot to online classes for the remainder of the semester. Because of his concern that the students stay engaged and finish the semester successfully, he livestreamed chapel, hosted podcasts and created videos. On “Commencement Day” he virtually conferred degrees and boldly announced campus would open for in-person classes in August.

Pettit immediately established a task force to thoroughly plan for a Fall 2020 opening. He led in forming health protocols for the campus, establishing Student Health Services, converting two floors of a residence hall into isolation rooms, launching a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grant to help students financially and adjusting first and second semester schedules to mitigate students bringing the virus to campus. As the semester began, he established a second task force to daily monitor campus and community status and adjust protocols as conditions changed.

The Vintage also cited several major accomplishments during his first seven years as president. During his tenure, BJU was granted regional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, achieved tax exemption, entered crosstown partnerships with Furman University and Clemson University for Army and Air Force ROTC respectively and obtained provisional membership with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) DIII.

Pettit has also led a number of strategic initiatives to improve academic offerings including launching the School of Health Professions and the School for Continuing, Online and Professional Education and adding a number of other academic programs. In 2016 he established the Center for Global Opportunities to coordinate ministry and outreach service opportunities. He has tirelessly worked to enhance the total BJU experience for students and to personally get to know many students.

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2021 EDUcamps Still Available

Many of Bob Jones University’s academic and sports camps for elementary, middle school and high schoolers beginning the week of June 6 and going through the week of July 25 still have openings.

Check out camp offerings, general camp information and safety protocols at and register your student today. Let your camper explore what they love, meet new friends and have fun in a Christian environment this summer.

Camps for elementary and middle school students are day camps; high schoolers stay overnight for the week in BJU’s residence halls.

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President Steve Pettit’s Speaking Schedule

May 30, Sun. a.m.
Grace Baptist Church
West Valley City, Utah

June 13, Sun. p.m.
Florence Baptist Temple
Florence, S.C.

June 20, Sun. a.m.
Faith Baptist Church
Fredericksburg, Va.

July 2–5
Ark Encounter
Williamstown, Ky.

July 11, Sun. p.m.
Beryl Baptist Church
Vilonia, Ark.

July 12–17, Mon.–Sat.
The WILDS Teen Camp
1000 Wilds Ridge Road
Brevard, N.C.

July 18–23, Sun.–Fri.
Camp Kanesatake Teen Camp
4976 Camp Kanesatake Lane
Spruce Creek, Penn.

July 25, Sun. a.m.
Freedom Baptist Church
Keystone Heights, Fla.

July 25, Sun. p.m.
Bible Baptist Church
Kissimmee, Fla.

July 26–31, Mon.–Sat.
The WILDS of New England
1181 Deering Center Road
Deering, N.H.

Aug. 1, Sun. a.m.
Bucksport Bible Church
18 Central Street
Bucksport, Maine

Aug. 1, Sun. p.m.
West Hampden Baptist Church
Hampden, Maine

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TRACS Reaffirms BJU Accreditation

In April, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools reaffirmed BJU’s national accreditation for a second time, effective through 2031.

TRACS offers accreditation to higher education institutions offering associate, baccalaureate and graduate degrees who hold to an evangelical statement of faith. Since BJU received regional accreditation in 2017, the institution holds dual accreditation by both TRACS and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Some question why BJU continues to go to the effort of maintaining dual accreditation. While SACSCOC is our primary accreditor, BJU desires to demonstrate its commitment to Christian higher education by maintaining membership in TRACS. BJU Provost Dr. Gary Weier serves on the TRACS Board of Commissioners, another way BJU provides leadership among Christian educators.

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BJU Launches New Political Science BA Program

This fall the Division of History, Government and Social Science will launch a new bachelor of arts program in political science. The program is made possible by the addition of a new faculty member with a terminal degree.

Dr. Jonathan Arnett, retired U.S. Air Force officer with a PhD in political science from the State University of New York at Albany taught as an adjunct professor this spring and will join the BJU faculty full time this fall. Arnett has extensive experience at the Pentagon and with foreign policy in Europe and the Middle East along with teaching assignments in the Department of Defense.

All students in the program will take courses in national government, political science research and international relations. Students will also have a choice of two concentrations. The first is American Government and Policy which includes courses in public policy, political partisan groups and the foundations of the American political system. The second concentration is in National Security and Foreign Policy which includes courses in strategic theory, political violence and comparative politics. Students may take electives in political communications, law and homeland security.

Each semester BJU has a number of current and prospective students who are interested in studying political science. We praise the Lord for His provision and look forward to sending out qualified students in political science to stand for the Gospel and honor Christ.

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BJU Students Present at Communication Conference

Three graduate students in BJU’s communications studies program — Katie Stodola, Allison Gibbs and Samantha Pfieffer — presented academic papers on virtual panels at the 91st annual Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) Convention in April.

Prior to the convention, students across the Southeast submitted papers for consideration in SSCA’s competitive, blind review process. Katie Stodola of Greenville, South Carolina, (“Control the War: An Overview and Application of Framing” and “Survival through Commitment: A Deeper Look at the Importance and Processes of Trust and Commitment in a Non-Profit Organization”); Samantha Pfeiffer of Romulus, Michigan, (“Sustainability as a Lifestyle: An Examination of Individual Experiences” and “The Public’s Reaction to Kobe Bryant’s Death as an Example of Parasocial Mourning”); and Allison Gibbs of Las Vegas, Nevada, (“Image Repair Theory: Response to Southwest Flight 1380”) were chosen to present their research in panel discussions.

Pfeiffer and Stodola both presented on Top Paper panels with Pfeiffer going on to win the award of Top Paper in the category of Mass Communications.

“This conference is an opportunity to take academic work to the next level. Presenting at a conference allows a student to experience what it is like to be a scholar among scholars,” said Dr. Charlotte Burke of the BJU communication faculty. “When our graduate student work is anonymously reviewed and compared with the work of other graduate students, then selected for presentation as a top paper, that is confirmation of the quality of our BJU graduate education in communication.”

Southern States is a regional association of communication scholars. The Southern States Communication Association’s purpose is to promote the study, criticism, research, teaching and application of the artistic, humanistic and scientific principles of communication.

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BJU Seminary Announces Strategic Vision

BJU Seminary has announced a new strategic vision to address the nationwide pastor shortage by putting 500 men on the path to the pulpit in the next five years — and every five years after that.

This follows BJU President Steve Pettit’s naming of Dr. Alan Benson to the expanded role of executive vice president for student development and ministry advancement in which he joined BJU Seminary Dean Dr. Neal Cushman in planning and executing this vision.

“Ministry education is on the move at BJU with Dr. Alan Benson taking on a new, expanded role and joining Dr. Neal Cushman to develop a compelling new vision for BJU Seminary,” stated Pettit. “Their 500x5x5 vision and 5-point plan to achieve it are the culmination of seven years of preparation and positioning by the University’s leadership to elevate ministry training and firmly establish BJU Seminary as a premier theological seminary.”

Many churches across the U.S. are unable to find a well-trained, full-time pastor. According to Barna research, there are more pastors over 65 today than under 40, presenting churches with a burden for the Great Commission with a major challenge. “To respond to the challenge, BJU Seminary must be more committed than ever to serving the church, not only by providing pastors but also by listening to and supporting church leaders facing isolation, doctrinal drift and financial need,” stated Benson.

BJU Seminary’s 5-point plan includes extensive innovations and investment in:

  • Programs — making sure the Seminary offerings are affordable and accessible to both residential and distance learners and meeting the demand for high-level pastoral, biblical counseling and theological studies training while at the same time providing opportunities to earn certificates and badges.
  • Partnerships with leading theologically conservative ministries enabling unique, exclusive course offerings and off-campus training opportunities.
  • People — building on an internationally known and respected faculty, and improving customer service.
  • Plant — upgrading classrooms and digital technology to enhance the student experience.
  • Profile — confirming BJU Seminary’s emerging status as a top-tier institution and leader in advancing a biblical worldview.

“We’ll capitalize on BJU’s outstanding resources and reputation and our increased autonomy to stake out a higher profile in advancing a conservative theological perspective,” added Benson. “We’ll provide thought leadership in the areas of theology and ministry as well as resources churches can use to encourage their congregations toward personal holiness, prayer and outreach.”

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BJU Recognized for On-campus Exercise Program

BJU earned a bronze designation from the Exercise Is Medicine On-Campus program. BJU is one of only 153 universities and colleges around the world recognized by Exercise Is Medicine for promoting campus health.

The School of Health Professions received the honor by implementing several wellness measures and activities, including group fitness classes and personal training sessions open to students, faculty and staff. The school also offered opportunities for free health assessments. The BJU Exercise and Sport Science Association hosted lectures and workshops on health and wellness-related topics, and BJU faculty and students published articles on wellness in the campus newspaper, The Collegian.

“We are very passionate about fitness and wellness, and it is our honor to share this passion with the Bob Jones University family,” says Vickie Britton, assistant professor in the School of Health Professions. “We are very proud of our students for their hard work and diligence in sharing the message that exercise really is the best medicine.”

All gold, silver and bronze colleges and universities will be officially recognized in June as part of the 2021 virtual Exercise Is Medicine World Congress held in conjunction with the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting.

“We are thrilled to recognize these campuses’ commitment to make movement a part of daily campus culture and equip students with tools to cultivate lifelong physical activity habits, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Robyn Stuhr, vice president of Exercise Is Medicine. “These campus programs are nurturing future leaders who will advance a key tenet of Exercise Is Medicine: making physical activity assessment and promotion a standard in health care.”

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