Thomas White

Opinion: Could the Meltdown at Cedarville be Evangelicalism’s Chernobyl?

By Julie Roys

In 1986, following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, one Soviet scientist defied the Communist Party and told the truth about what caused the meltdown.

That man was Valery Legasov. And his testimony humiliated the Soviet Union, showing how their lies, incompetence, and cost-cutting measures led to the greatest nuclear disaster the world has known.

Legasov’s testimony also may have saved countless lives and the future of our planet.

As Legasov noted, the same design flaw that led to a meltdown at Chernobyl was present in numerous other nuclear plants throughout the Soviet Union. Yet because of Legasov’s testimony, the flaw was corrected in the other plants and multiple disasters averted.

Today, we have a Chernobyl-like disaster happening at Cedarville University. Like Chernobyl, the Cedarville meltdown has revealed a major “design flaw” that’s rampant in evangelicalism. And if it’s not corrected, these disasters will continue with regularity.

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Last Friday, the Cedarville trustees released the results of an investigation, which concluded that President Thomas White had deceived the Cedarville community about a sexual predator in their midst—Professor Anthony Moore. Yet shockingly, the trustees decided to reinstate President White, rather than fire him.

The report used rather euphemistic terms. It said that White “took steps that he knew, or should have known, clouded the specific nature of Dr. Moore’s misconduct.”

But let’s dispense with the euphemisms. White lied—or at the very least, purposefully left a false impression.

The report also says White “failed to notify the Board of the specific nature of Dr. Moore’s misconduct.”

Again, this is euphemistic language. White deceived the board. Read the leaked 2017 email I published the day before the board put White on administrative leave.

Rather than telling the board that Dr. Anthony Moore had made multiple videos of a youth pastor showering—a fact even White admits that he knew at the time—White writes: “During a dark moment of questions, temptation, and curiosity, (Moore) acted in perversion technologically with another person.”

No, Moore did not act “in perversion technologically with another person”—whatever that means. Moore acted against another person. He violated a pastor who had looked up to Moore as a mentor, which is a monumental betrayal of trust.

Moore also didn’t act in “a dark moment.” This is something White knew full well in 2017.

In my interview with White before breaking the initial story about Moore, White admitted that in 2017, the elders at The Village Church Fort Worth, who had fired Moore, had told White that Moore had recorded “multiple” secret videos. How could multiple videos be made in a “moment”?

Yet White used similar language in our initial interview, telling me, “My understanding of what happened was it was not a habitual issue.”

White similarly wrote in a blog post after my story broke that he thought Moore’s sin occurred over “a short period of time”:

I was told and believed an incomplete narrative about Anthony Moore’s sin and termination from the Village Church. . . . Instead of at most two videos, I heard there were at least five videos. Instead of this being over a short period of time, I heard that these were taken over a period of at least five months.

After White’s blog post published, I went back to the Village Church elders. And I specifically asked whether the elders had told White in 2017 that Moore had made multiple videos over a span of months. Elder Jeff Jamison replied:

Yes. Multiple videos for sure. While timing is less certain, the elders are confident that it was made clear that it wasn’t a one-time lapse in judgment on Anthony’s part. That was his false narrative that was corrected regularly.

Corrected regularly. In multiple conversations with White.

Jamison added that they also fully informed Cedarville Professor Jason Lee.

Yet now, White is asking the public to believe that he was misinformed in 2017. And that in 2020, when White learned the truth through me and other published reports, he was shocked and fired Moore.

Cedarville’s trustees are also furthering this extremely suspect narrative, claiming in their recent statement that “President White took action when he learned the full extent of Dr. Moore’s past.”

So essentially, the trustees are asking the public to believe that the elders of the Village Church are lying and White is telling the truth. This, despite the fact that an investigation found that White “clouded the specific nature of Dr. Moore’s misconduct” in the past and also misled his board.

What is much more likely is that White, who has misled the Cedarville community in the past, is misleading the community once again.

And the board, which was deceived by White before, is at best, deceived once again. What is more likely is that trustees see exactly what many of us see, but are choosing to protect their good friend, rather than hold him accountable.

In addition, the board is completely ignoring the recent testimony by Megan Lively that White participated in the cover-up of her rape in 2003. This was the same cover-up that prompted Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to fire then-president, Paige Patterson.

But Lively’s credible testimony hasn’t even prompted a response by the Cedarville Board, let alone an investigation.

Thank God, two trustees—Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mark Vroegop of College Park Church—had the integrity to resign, rather than participate in this farce. But the rest of the board is acting shamefully. And it appears that the Cedarville community may allow this shameful behavior to go unchecked.

To my knowledge, there are no mass protests or large groups of students withdrawing from the school. I’ve heard from professors who hate what they’re seeing but they’ll likely stay silent to protect their jobs. Some supporters and alumni may stop giving. But likely the majority will plug their ears and either try to ignore the cognitive dissonance, or defend White, accusing his critics of not understanding grace.

And business in the evangelical industrial complex will continue as normal.

Until the next scandal.  

Which is certain to come.

Because the lying and corruption is rampant in evangelicalism—as is the “design flaw” exposed by the Cedarville scandal.

Just like Chernobyl, the Cedarville scandal revealed not just the misconduct of one man; it exposed the “flaw” of a board that exists to protect its leader, rather than hold him accountable. And sadly, this flaw exists in practically every church or Christian institution I’ve investigated over the past few years.

The flaw existed at the Moody Bible Institute, where the board refused to remove officers, despite overwhelming evidence against them. That is, until I began publishing. Then two officers resigned and one retired. And the Moody Board praised them as they left, begging the question: Why were they pushed out if they were so great?

The flaw existed at Harvest Bible Chapel, where the elders labeled me a gossip and sower of discord, while hailing James MacDonald as a paragon of virtue. It wasn’t until I began publishing subpoenaed documents and Mancow Muller broadcast a hot mic recording of MacDonald that the elders finally admitted the truth.

The flaw existed at Willow Creek, whose elders called the women who brought allegations against Bill Hybels liars. That is, until the number of women reached 10 and one of them told the New York Times her complete, sordid tale.

And the flaw exists now at J.D. Greear’s Summit Church.

Despite overwhelming evidence that newly-hired executive pastor, Bryan Loritts, is touting a fake doctorate and covered up sex crimes at a previous church, Summit elders are standing by their man. What’s worse, they apparently conducted a sham investigation to assuage members’ fears.

This is how it works in the evangelical machine.

A leader sins. The trustee or elder board protects. And the meltdowns continue.

My only question is: Where will the next Chernobyl occur? And how bad does it have to get before trustees and elders are willing to follow the example of Valery Legasov? 

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discussion

49 thoughts on “Opinion: Could the Meltdown at Cedarville be Evangelicalism’s Chernobyl?”

  1. I grew up in near Cedarville, Ohio and have known many Cedarville students over the years. While I didn’t attend the school, I went to another Christian college, my daughter was considering attending Cedarville next year. However, after watching the behavior of Dr. White and explanations re. Anthony Moore, she, and we, are no longer considering the university. It’s sad to us but we don’t trust the board of trustees or Dr. White at this point given their poor judgment and the lack of accountability. The euphemisms in the report demonstrate that at worst, White lied and at best, he purposefully left a false impression. Neither is good from a leader and the board of trustees should have held him to a higher standard and dismissed him. It’s sad to see this happens at such a respected university and we’re saddened that we no longer have faith in a school that we were strongly considering.

  2. I know that these scandals embody a broader issue with the way American law enforcement fails to discipline sex crimes in general. From my perspective, pedophiles and sexual assailants are so unafraid of law enforcement that they will offend knowing perfectly well that the deck is stacked against the victim. This lack of effective discipline allows church organizations to over-spiritualize gravely serious problems rather than promote accountability. I don’t know if we will see a Legasov-moment until we build a law enforcement culture that is intolerant of predatory behavior.

  3. William Cravens

    I agree that finding evidence of such conduct in the church is very grievous. Especially when it is found among people in leadership.

    But in a sinful world, we will never find any of our organizations absolutely free of all sin and imperfection. We must therefore keep in mind the realities of a sinful world, even as they apply to God’s church and the ministry to His people, and be wary of demanding an unreasonable perfection.

    If we are not careful of this, we will wind up destroying not “the worst element” of today’s evangelical church… but the best of it. We will fill with confusion, doubt and shame the very portion of the church that seeks most to remain faithful to God’s Word, while the misguided and apostate liberal factions remain comparatively unphased.

    This situation… tragic as it is… is an isolated flaw. One man, found to have heeded Satan’s evil promptings, engaged in a perverse act. Another, an administrator, did not treat the matter in complete openness.

    But a “Chernobyl”? A potential “globally devastating” event? This seems to be an extreme over-reaction to this story. The enemies of the Church and the Gospel would delight in seeing these conservative organizations destroy themselves over their own imperfections.

    1. Julie mentioned other examples of similar behavior on the part of churches and Christian organizations. So, it’s not an isolated event, and it seems like we hear of something else weekly, if not daily. There will always be sin in the church, but the way in which leadership chooses to deal with it-openly confronting it, being serious about the consequences, and always facilitating restoration, but also not allowing people back into places of ministry or leadership where they can fail again (particularly true with sexual and monetary sin)-affects the future confidence of members in the leadership of that church or organization.

      I attended a church years ago where the pastor turned out to be a serial adulterer, in the church he came from, the church I attended, and the church he was “released” to (without any warning about his issues). All three churches took a decade or more to recover, and the leadership never dealt with him effectively. My current church, where one of our pastors fell into similar sin, dealt with it, notified the congregation, offered counseling, and an invitation to stay in the church, but not in leadership, with a lengthy period of supervision/accountability.We had a dismayed congregation, but not a destroyed church. The sin was identified, the consequence was given (no longer qualified for leadership), but the family was helped and, a decade later, the couple is still together and seem to be doing well.

      The hiding, the lying, the lack of consequences (not revenge) just make the leadership look bumbling and inadequate. If this is done out of love for the offender, it’s not the right kind of love. They need to know what they did wrong, they need to be accountable, and they need to have loving, Scriptural discipline.

    2. ‘Christian’ organizations that operate in the way Cedarville just did and in the way many ‘Christian’ organizations do disregard God’s word and Jesus’s teachings about leading…..having them implode clears the landscape for authentic, humble fellowship that genuinely reflects the character of Christ-not perfectly, but consistently and without cover-ups.

    3. I would not say it is an “isolated flaw” and that is what Julie is pointing out. Some of the biggest names in evangelicalism have repeatedly covered up serious “flaws”, much of it illegal. We are allowing Christ’s Church to be slandered and become disdained among non-believers.

    4. I believe you may need to do more research on this matter. It was a scandal run by multiple people in the University and in Grace Baptist Church. Not isolated but happening knowingly for almost 4 years and run by major Christian leaders in the community. I understand if you are simply ignorant to all the information, but don’t diminish something unless you fully understand it.

  4. You’re right, Julie. There’s not much else to say, sadly. I work in a ministry counseling and mentoring pastors, which I have done now for 10 years. Before this ministry, I worked in campus ministry (22 years) and church ministry (10 years). … I’ve followed all your posts for a year and I attended the Restore Chicago conference in Elgin last November. It was outstanding and your talk, by the way, was superb! I have followed very close the debacle at Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel and now at Cedarville. To be honest, this is all incredibly discouraging to me. I’m not quitting or giving up, but boy o boy. Some days as I try and counsel pastors, listening and discerning as best I can, I really feel very inadequate. Other days I just weep. … But please stay at your post, Julie. The Church community really needs what you bring to the table. I so appreciate your work and ministry.

  5. Julie,

    Thank you for reporting on this situation at Cedarville. I care a lot about the school and its integrity as a 2011 graduate. What’s transpired there over the past seven years, culminating now with this horrific revelation, has been deeply troubling to those of us with a connection to this institution.

    I’d ask all readers to join me in prayer for Cedarville and for those who will be affected going forward, particularly faculty and – most of all – traumatized students.

  6. Phil Jarvis (Cedarville alumnus)

    I believe the majority of the faculty, staff, and students are there for the right reasons, but what I have seen from the top levels of leadership has made me swear off the school until there is a change. I do not see how the only person in town (outside of Dr. Moore) to lose his job over the situation is the pastor of an officially unaffiliated organization. Pastor Miller may not have handled every detail right, but he did not bring Dr. Moore to town. That was on Dr. White and probably some on Dr. Lee.

    There was a young lady at my church considering CU. I went from strong advocate to firmly saying I’m glad she ultimately chose elsewhere. How can the board shrug off being lied to? Ever since Dr. White was brought in I noticed the flood of SBC people in leadership. It was a small concern for me as Cedarville is an INDEPENDENT Baptist school. I did not have a major theological complaint so I did not worry too much. Now, it reeks of cronyism when they hire someone disqualified from ministry and then look the other way when it was brought to their attention. I communicated my discontent to multiple offices while it was still an open case and now that this is their conclusion, I told them that I will no longer be a donor until things change. Instead, I split my usual Cedarville donation between the Colson Center, where previous president Dr. Bill Brown currently serves, and Southeastern Seminary, where Dr. Danny Akin is president. I expect I will make a follow up donation to Mark Vroegop’s church. I respect those two former trustees, and if there are more dissenters who stayed on the board to fight the good fight, I respect them too even though I do not know their names.

    Post Script: I am not anti-SBC at large. My support of Dr. Akin and Southeastern should make that clear. I am concerned about some issues that keep popping up within the convention and if Cedarville is an independent institution, then I do not believe they should be dominated by a single convention. For instance, I would similarly not be thrilled if every voice there was from Dallas Theological Seminary.

  7. What is happening to the Lord’s church in America? I’m sad and scared, really scared. When will the leaders in the churches wake up and go back to a level of integrity that is above reproach and that fully honors our dear Lord? When? When? When? Say again, I’m scared.

    1. Do not fear. He has not given us a spirit of fear but a Spirit of power, love and a sound mind. Perfect Love casts out fear (see 1 John) and He is calling us to be a sacred church, not a scared one. Yeah it seems scary but God is Lord and we are following Christ not men. Savior. Sanctifier. King, He’s Got this.
      Ps 46.

  8. Concerned Student

    There may not be hordes of angry students leaving the school but many of us are upset and feel betrayed by Dr. White’s lies. Unfortunately, any students who are upset by this action fear retribution for speaking out from CU administration. Some of them anonymously write on these issues at a blog https://politikblog555475425.wordpress.com/

  9. One can hope for a catalytic moment … But I admit my hope is dim.

    I know God knows what He is doing … But it sure is hard to watch.

  10. Julie, thanks for writing this opinion piece. It is not hyperbole or over reaction as there are many of us who have directly witnessed such “meltdowns” and hiding/covering behavior. Unfortunately, fallen people run organizations in ways that are unseemly under the guise of being a church/non profit and in the process, do great harm to people and the advancement of God’s kingdom. Keep up the good work and bring darkness into the light. The church in America needs a “Chernobyl” as a wake up call.

  11. Stop saying “we live in a broken world”, or all of us are sinners as if accountability will harm the school or a church. God doesn’t need our help. We all get that! White LIED and DECEIVED not only the board (who apparently are ok with that) but students, parents, alumni, and the community. He put everyone at risk. I would venture to say that if a faculty member lied or deceived, White would be the first to fire him, unless, of course, he’s a male, southern Baptist or friend.
    Shame on White and shame on that board.

  12. The parallel of Chernobyl and what is currently happening in evangelical circles is so true. If we allow sin to fester and grow within the church or organization , it will be destroyed from within. The teacher has taught his student remarkably well following his pattern of deceit and ungodliness. Paige Patterson with his spiritual son Tom White. Gilbert Bilezikian’s spiritual son in Bill Hybel and James MacDonald with his two biological sons- Luke and Landon. Weak, carnal and blind leadership boards protected Billy and Jimmy until both the board and false teachers all had to resign. I trust before the start of the school year, the CU Board and Tommy will do the honorable thing and do the same.

  13. Part of the reason that there isn’t wide-spread posting on social media or other protests about this by the Cedarville community is multifactorial.

    1) Dr. White has a cult-like following among the students where they are regurgitating the grace and restoration narrative.
    2) CU has created a culture of fear. My child would like to post things on social media about this but wants to return to CU for a final year. Posting against Cedarville could result in expulsion based upon their student code of conduct. It’s a terrible statement about the school. College students should be encouraged to find their voices.
    3) There isn’t a good way for the CU community to band together (at least that I can find). Some aren’t aware or following.

    I would never have even looked at CU for my daughter if I knew then what I know now. If you are considering Cedarville, DON’T!!

    Thank you for your work here. It is important in order to prevent continued sexual abuse in the Christian community.

  14. Jack Bailey (Class of 2001)

    Dr. Paul Dixon, former president of Cedarville for 25 years and current Chancellor, always taught us that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” How then will Cedarville proceed in its leadership choices in the coming days?

    Chernobyl, or any nuclear meltdown, is an apt analogy and warning.

    I’d like to be proud of my alma mater. Hopefully that day will return…

  15. My niece attends CU and is currently searching for a new school to attend. You know what searching for a college is like, it’s a process. But in light of current events, most notably the decision to retain Dr. White, she is leaving. I wonder how many other students are doing the same. To lie or shade the truth is a poor example for young adults!

  16. Expulsion for breaking the code of conduct. EXACTLY!

    WHITE???

    Tyrannical ruler who is to be rewarded with a 9000SF mansion?!

    Who is in favor of this madness/King of hypocrisy??

  17. Chick-fil-A should reconsider their decision to partner with Cedarville by opening an outlet on campus. Why would they want their brand associated with a University (or President to thereof) that knowingly employed a sexual predator and doesn’t take the safety and welfare of its students, staff or staff seriously?

    This is brand damaging for Chick-fil-A, unless they take a stand by walking away, which would make a strong statement that support for abusers at the expense of others is immoral and inexcusable. There must be clauses in any contact that allow them to walk away for valid reasons such as this, if only to protect the reputation of their brand.

    The loss of the high profile partnership with Chick-fil-A might cause the trustees to take notice and do the right thing.

    A petition might help?

  18. My daughter was accepted at Cedarville, starting as a freshman this fall. She was going to study nursing. It was going to be a stretch financially but we were willing to make the sacrifice for a Christian education and a biblical worldview, when it came to her field of study. I’ve been following all of your reporting for months and it clarified a few uneasy feelings I had during our campus tour and visit. It was a great tour but I had a few red flags and more than a couple “something’s off” moments. My daughter has two years tuition free at our local secular university and she can stay at home and receive a nursing degree. It wasn’t a hard decision for our family. We’ll keep her close for another four years, save LOTS of money, and continue to build her faith in our home. I feel like it’s much easier to be deceived at a Christian school because you let your guard down and believe you’re surrounded by like minded individuals. In the secular world, you can see the devil. He hides a little easier in Christian circles.

  19. It could be a Chernobyl event, or this could be an immense opportunity for fundagelicals. As an MSU graduate who’s been following the Nassar case with horror, it strikes me that everybody screws things up about the same way. First, you go in assuming that when someone disrupts external harmony, that that is the problem, not necessarily the reasons why they’re disrupting that harmony. In other words, if the victim is mad or crying, they’ve got a problem that needs to be dealt with–not necessarily the victimizer. Then add an assumption that what happened is “not that bad”, and an assumption that “we can handle this inside.” The big difference, really, is in the first part; my experience is that we fundagelicals value external harmony a lot more than the average.

    Notice; if you learn to understand that there are reasons that victims are disruptive, that you’ve got to get at those reasons, that what happened really is a violation, and that it needs to go to the police if it’s a criminal act (basically any sexual contact with a minor or any nonconsensual contact), then you have a huge opportunity to bring comfort and healing to victims–and justice to perpetrators.

    It’s not an easy about face, and you’ve got to train people to abandon their prior assumptions, but this is a huge, huge opportunity.

  20. Jon wonderful idea about Chick-fil-A! CU Parent happy to hear you notified Corporate headquarters!

    The current students and parents who are HAPPY White is staying would most likely be OUTRAGED if Chick-fil-A leaves. Sad but probably true.
    Praying Chick-fil-A takes a stance AND HLC follows through.

    NO Chick-fil-A + NO Accredtion = WAKE UP CALL

  21. justicecollective

    Thank you, Julie, for a piercing op-ed that hits the nail on the head. Keeping focus on the main points of corruption is key at this point. Keep hammering those nails!

    Thank you as well to those of you who’ve contacted Chick-Fil-A, trustees, the alumni office, etc.; sharing articles like these on social media; and filed complaints with the Higher Learning Commission against CU. We’ve been doing likewise.

    It is clear to us that the trustees could have written their “WHEREAS” resolution prior to the start of both investigations. It seems as though their minds were made up ahead of time. In fact, we’ve heard from multiple sources that a few trustees were spending time with White during the administrative leave–scuba diving, golfing, and/or hunting with him. If true, such behavior is highly unethical and quite outrageous.

    Likewise, Todd Wilhelm’s article published on The Wartburg Watch shows that trustee Jason Duesing is a close friend of White’s from way back.

    Furthermore, we received information this week showing that NINE trustees have TEN children enjoying tuition remission benefits at CU right now. Neither Akin nor Vroegop are on that list (Vroegop’s children graduated from CU recently).

    The CU bylaws state, in Article XVI, “Conflicts of Interest,” the following:

    “A trustee shall be considered to have a conflict of interest if:

    “Such trustee has existing or potential financial or other interests which impair or might reasonably appear to impair such member’s independent, unbiased judgment in the discharge of his or her responsibilities.”

    Obviously, TR benefits would count as such a conflict of interest, especially because of the wording, “might reasonably appear to impair.”

    Considering such wording, Jason Duesing’s friendship, as investigated by Todd Wilhelm over at The Wartburg Watch, certainly counts as a conflict of interest, too. (Thus the reason Wilhelm wrote that Duesing should recuse himself from the vote.)

    And whoever went hunting, scubing diving, and/or golfing with White while he was on administrative leave (word is, it was a couple of wealthy trustees-donors) certainly have a conflict of interest, too.

    If those were all different trustees, that’d make at least 12 trustees with conflicts of interests. The CU bylaws also state a quorum of the trustee board is defined as “not less than 51%” (so half the trustees + 1). As long as there’s a quorum, that quorum counts as the full board, including any vote taken (see Article IX, Section 3).

    The CU Board at the time of the vote was composed of 24 members (according to the website), including Akin and Vroegop. That means, 13 needed to vote on whether to reinstate (or fire) White to have a quorum. But if 12 trustees had integrity and did recuse themselves, that would mean the trustees did not have a quorum. So was the vote even legal?

    If all those trustees did vote–all 24 of them–that would mean at least 10 votes are suspect, especially if they were in favor of reinstating White. If there were 11, 12, or 13 suspect, that, of course, is even worse. Any one of the men mentioned above should have recused themselves. (Deforia Lane, the only woman on the board, doesn’t have children at CU and certainly was not hunting, scuba diving, or golfing with White. That’s a good, ol’ boys club, after all.)

    So questions remain: Who voted to reinstate White exactly? How many trustees were involved in the vote? 24? 18? 15? 13? 12? 10? Did anyone other than Akin and Vroegop vote to fire White yet not resign from the board? If so, who? And why weren’t we told? And most of all, did the Board of Trustees abide by their own bylaws?

    We believe CU faculty and staff, at the very least, have the right to know.

  22. What happened in my opinion is that the type of leadership that was taught by Christian experts in the 1980’s and 1990’s changed the direction and culture of Christian leadership. We need to go back to servant leadership that was taught by Jesus and Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Leadership.

  23. Abusive pastors/ministers/priests have always existed. Technology has changed the exit strategy. No longer may one escape his past just to repeat the pattern in a new location, if anyone is paying attention. Just as technology has impacted abusive police; so it has with abusive clergy. Holding the chain of command accountable for the cover ups? Outstanding and long overdue.

  24. The Board of Trustees stated that Dr. White was “remorseful” and “had apologized”. I haven’t seen any apology from Dr. White to the Cedarville community. He is remorseful to his boy’s club but not to the community that he has so damaged. If was truly humbled and remorseful, I think that he would have been QUICK to apologize. It’s hard for a narcissist to say “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong”.

    1. Dr. White issued an apology before the trustees put him on administrative leave. In all the inaccuracies in these comments at least don’t by blatantly untruthful.

      1. He apologized for “bringing Anthony Moore to Cedarville”. The investigation found that Dr. White “clouded the specific nature of Dr. Moore’s conduct” and “failed to notify the Board of the specific nature of Dr. Moore’s misconduct. If I am wrong that he did apologize for these things, please share. I would be interested.

        1. Still no apology for being dishonest to the Board and CU Community……”Integrity In Conduct’ indeed.

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