NGU trustees regret ‘confusion and hurt’ in communicating Epting retirement

The North Greenville University Board of Trustees Sept. 16 expressed regret over “any confusion and hurt our past communications may have caused our community” after announcing in January 2015 that former university president Jimmy Epting would retire in May 2015.

“We made our messaging decision based on what we believed to be best for the university at the time,” a school spokesman told The Courier in a written response to questions submitted to the board. “Our intent was not to mislead, but to be humane and honorable to all involved.”

When Epting’s retirement was announced Jan. 6, NGU board chairwoman Beverly Hawkins praised Epting “for the miracles God has performed at the university under his leadership.” At the time of the announcement, Epting had served as president for more than 23 years.

On Aug. 27, a video titled “Epting Exposed” surfaced on the website YouTube, raising questions about the circumstances that might have led to Epting’s retirement. On the same day, NGU’s board of trustees issued a statement that said school leaders “are expected to lead Christ-centered lives” and that current administrative staff and faculty members reflect the Baptist university’s “legal, moral and ethical expectations” and are held to “the highest of standards.”

University spokesman LaVerne Howell confirmed that the leadership of the school’s board of trustees first received the video in mid-November 2014.

Epting has not commented publicly since the posting of the two-minute video, which appears to show him and a woman being confronted in a private home by a member of Epting’s family. It is unclear who posted the original video, which has since been removed and reposted under various YouTube accounts.

In declining to discuss “personnel matters,” university officials would not say if other information in addition to the video was presented to the board in late 2014 or early 2015.

Also citing “personnel matters,” the university declined to discuss the following:
• Whether the university and Epting have signed non-disclosure agreements
• Whether the university or any current or former employee is named in a sexual harassment lawsuit
• Whether any current or former employee was the subject of a Title 9 federal investigation
• The cash value of Epting’s severance package

North Greenville officials have been asked to appear before the South Carolina Baptist Convention Executive Board Oct. 13 to answer questions about the university’s actions related to Epting’s departure.

Dwight Easler, SCBC Executive Board chairman, requested that leaders of the university’s board of trustees, along with the school’s interim president, attend the fall meeting of the Executive Board in order to “give explanation of actions taken, and future actions to be taken to improve accountability and processes.”

Easler said he and Richard Harris, interim SCBC executive director-treasurer, met for two hours with NGU leaders Aug. 31 and asked them to “address … the many rumors about what has transpired at NGU.”

“We are engaged and very concerned about this situation,” Easler said in a Sept. 3 letter to Executive Board members. “We want to assure you that we desire godly integrity, appropriate accountability, cooperation and healthy collaboration with our universities.”

Easler said the Executive Board will delay payment of Cooperative Program funds to North Greenville until the board’s budget and finance committee can determine an “appropriate recommendation” to the Executive Board.

Easler said Executive Board leaders will have “other dialogues and meetings” with NGU officials until the full Executive Board meets.

NGU spokesman Howell confirmed to The Courier that university leaders were scheduled to meet with the SCBC’s Budget, Finance & Audit Committee on Sept. 17. He also said the board’s chairwoman, Beverly Hawkins, along with interim president Randall Pannell and the board’s vice chairman, Bill Tyler, will attend the Oct. 13 meeting of the SCBC Executive Board.

The full NGU board is scheduled to meet Sept. 24 for its regular fall session.