• September 1, 2014

Former Head of Christian-College Group Sues Over His Abrupt Dismissal

[Updated (2/13/2014, 11:34 a.m.) with comment from the council.]

A former president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, who was wooed by the organization and then abruptly fired from his $303,850-a-year post last fall, barely 10 months later, is suing the group for breaching his employment contract.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday in District of Columbia Superior Court, Edward O. Blews Jr. asserts that the group had no grounds to dismiss him and that it then refused to resolve the dispute in private or "in a biblical manner," as called for in his employment agreement.

The complaint also contains allegations of financial conflicts of interest by a former vice president of the organization and "apparent gender discrimination" concerning the salaries of its vice presidents.

Council officials could not be reached for comment on Wednesday evening, but released the following statement Thursday morning: "The CCCU was surprised and disappointed to hear that Mr. Blews filed a lawsuit yesterday and then sent the complaint to news outlets, particularly since we had just recently agreed to the date he proposed for mediation of March 18. A Christian mediation process is required by his presidential contract before the filing of a lawsuit, and it is in keeping with our shared faith commitment to litigate only after exhausting all other options. The CCCU remains committed to the mediation process, but it also stands ready to defend its decision to make a presidential transition."

Mr. Blews, who was head of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Michigan for 28 years before assuming the council's presidency, in January 2013, maintains that, under his five-year contract, he is entitled to more than $2.2-million from the council for "unilateral termination without cause."

According to the lawsuit, the council’s board chair, Charles W. Pollard, sought to pressure Mr. Blews into accepting a $200,000 payment to disregard his contract by threatening to publicly release a "false report" about him. It also alleges he was told that, if he accepted, the board would issue a news release "wishing him all God’s blessings" for a mutually agreed departure as the result of "philosophical differences."

'Prayerful Consideration'

The statement the board did finally issue said it had decided to change leadership "after careful investigation and prayerful consideration." Mr. Blews, who is a lawyer by training, contends that the statement unjustly tarnished his reputation.

The council has 119 member colleges and universities in North America and 55 affiliate organizations in 20 countries.

Its employment contract with Mr. Blews includes a provision requiring the parties to try to resolve any disputes in private or "within the Christian church" by following "the principles stated in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20." If the parties cannot agree in private, the contract also calls for "nonbinding Christian mediation before pursuing litigation."

In the suit, Mr. Blews says that he attempted dispute resolution for several months and that the council has not paid him since October.

Although the council gave little indication of the reasons behind Mr. Blews’s firing at the time, the lawsuit and accompanying exhibits offer some hints. They suggest that several staff members felt he had created what a board investigation would later characterize as a "toxic" workplace, and that others were unhappy with his leadership style, which some found self-aggrandizing.

Responding to that, Mr. Blews said that he had helped the council close a budget deficit and identify management deficiencies, including one involving a former vice president for finance, who, according to Mr. Blews, authorized an $18,000 council contract with an accounting firm and then later arranged for the same firm to pay him $18,000 as a consultant.

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