Bob Jones University President Stephen Jones plans to resign, the school said Friday, citing health issues.
The university said in a statement Jones submitted his resignation at the regular meeting of the BJU Board of Trustees.
“The persistence of my health issues over the last three years is preventing me from providing the leadership the University needs at this time and prompted my personal decision to resign,” Jones, 43, said in a statement.
“The BJU mission is more important than I. Serving the BJU family for over eight years has been one of the great gifts of God to my wife and me, and I am looking forward to serving here in whatever new role God has for me.”
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A university spokesman said Jones declined to be interviewed.
Larry Jackson, chairman of the university trustees, said the board accepted his resignation as president effective at the end of commencement, May 9, 2014.
“The Board fully understands the effects of Dr. Jones’ continuing health issues as they relate to the demands of the position,” Jackson said, “and we appreciate his leadership in giving priority to the mission of the University. The Board is grateful for his significant contributions to the ministry of BJU, his dedication to its mission and his love for the faculty, staff and students during his tenure as president.”
In a statement, school officials said trustees will immediately establish a search committee to identify candidates for president and “will prayerfully fill the position as soon as God leads us to a qualified person.”
“The Board of Trustees is completely committed to the historic position and mission of Bob Jones University and to maintaining the University’s firm stand on the absolute authority of Scripture,” Jackson said. “The board will seek a new president equally committed to our mission and biblical position.”
In 2012, university officials said Jones had been on medical leave and was dealing with an incapacitating illness.
His wife, Erin, said at the time his health problems started during a trip to China in June 2010. He suffered from vertigo and nausea and was discovered to have nerve damage in his inner ear, she said.
His health worsened in the weeks and months that followed and he spent most of his time sleeping, she said.
He saw several specialists in Greenville, Florida and Cleveland, she said. A gastroenterologist thought the nausea was caused by his gall bladder, which was removed in December 2010, she said.
But the nausea and vertigo were back the next month when he returned to campus, she said.
His doctors then believed the vertigo was related to migraines, she said.
In his absence, the university, known worldwide as a bastion of fundamentalist Christianity, was run by two vice presidents, according to a member of the BJU executive board.
At the same time, the university moved ahead on initiatives Jones had a hand in prior to going on leave.
Those included plans to initiate intercollegiate athletics programs for the first time in the school's history and efforts to become accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools after decades of resisting outside influence.
Association officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
On the school’s website, under national accreditation, BJU officials say the university is a member of the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
Last year, after several former and current BJU students and faculty protested the way the school had handled sex abuse allegations on campus, university officials said they contracted with GRACE, or Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, for “an open and objective analysis.”
A final report should be issued early next year, according to officials from Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE and BJU.
Jones, great-grandson of the school’s founder, became BJU president in 2005. He was the first leader of the fundamentalist Christian school with no direct contact to the evangelist who started the college in Florida, moved it to Tennessee and to Greenville more than 65 years ago.
According to his biography on the university’s website, Stephen Jones was a residence hall supervisor, a faculty member and vice president for administration before becoming president.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in public speaking, a master of divinity and a doctorate in liberal arts students from BJU, according to the biography.
In 2005, the change in leadership, according to then-president, Dr. Bob Jones III, was being conducted in part to put the institution more in touch with young people.
The university mission statement has been "to grow Christlike character that is scripturally disciplined, others-serving, God-loving, Christ-proclaiming, and focused above."
At the time he took the presidency, Stephen Jones said he was acutely aware that he was the first to be asked to carry the torch without having received the teaching directly from "the founder."
"We're having to learn it from our predecessors, from what was written by and about him, and what his burden was for starting this place," he said. "I think my burden is to communicate that to all of us here, to show what's our reason for being."
Jones said he didn't seek the job of leading the university. "It's a job I've always run from, actually," he said.
But even as a child, he had an "inkling" that this was where the Lord wanted him.
"I would be extremely happy in a classroom for the rest of my life," he said. "But I submitted to it, and there's no better group to work with than the folks the Lord's called here, and the student body he's gathered."
His brother and namesake of the founder, Bob Jones IV, took a different path.
He became national editor for World Magazine, a conservative Christian publication based in Asheville.
"Dad and mom never pushed us into this," Stephen Jones said. "They wanted us to pursue our calling and do what's right for us."