As Moody Bible Institute launches an investigation into claims the school mishandled claims of sexual misconduct, one administrator abruptly retired last week and another was placed on leave by the religious college on the Near North Side.
Longtime dean of students Timothy Arens retired Nov. 1, and Title IX coordinator and assistant dean of student life Rachel Puente was put on administrative leave, effective immediately, a spokesperson for the school confirmed to the Sun-Times in an email.
Arens and Puente have been accused of mishandling complaints by current and former students in an online petition that has garnered more than 3,100 signatures since it was created last month.
Arens, an employee at Moody since 1984, had previously planned to retire next June. Puente, who’s been at Moody since 2007, had initially been moved out of her position as Title IX coordinator but remained on campus. Moody said the two weren’t available for interviews, and neither could be reached for comment.
These changes come as at least 11 current and former Moody students have claimed in an open letter to Moody Bible President Mark Jobe they were victims of sexual misconduct or emotional abuse. And some said the two administrators did not inform victims of their rights and in some cases discouraged them from filing complaints under Title IX, the federal civil rights law, which could trigger investigations of the allegations.
‘World’s most influential bible school’
Moody Bible, which has roots in Chicago that date back to the 19th century, refers to itself as “the world’s most influential bible school” with high moral standards.
Anna Heyward, of Chicago, said she was excited to join the community when she was accepted at the school in fall 2014.
But in 2017, she said she was pressured into drinking alcohol on her 21st birthday by someone she was in a relationship with. She says she blacked out and then was subjected to non-consensual sexual activities.
After the relationship ended, Heyward met with Arens about her claims, but rather than explaining her rights to her, Arens allegedly didn’t encourage her to file a Title IX complaint, Heyward and a source familiar with the situation said. He also encouraged her not to go public with her allegations, the two said.
She was placed on probation for her final semester and a half for breaking school rules forbidding students from drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital sexual activities, Heyward and the source said. She was allegedly told not to date any other male students or hang out with them one on one.
Heyward said she nevertheless met with Puente after her meeting with Arens but was not encouraged to file a report, she said. She didn’t.
“I began to feel a lot of shame and didn’t feel as though it would be right of me to pursue any legal action,” Heyward recalled.
President ‘deeply troubled’ by allegations
In response to the open letter from students, Jobe released a statement last month, saying as a father of a daughter and two sons, the allegations “deeply trouble me.”
“As President of Moody Bible Institute, and an alum, I am committed to ensuring that all of our campuses are not only safe for all students, but also a place that takes seriously the voice of victims and follows through on dealing with abuse of any kind,” said Jobe, Moody’s president since early 2019. “If our community has failed to uphold that commitment in the past, I am profoundly sorry for the pain and wounds this may have caused students and their loved ones.”
The school then announced it was launching an investigation and taking other steps, including temporarily removing Arens and Puente from their respective roles with student discipline and Title IX.
At the time, Jobe said, “This temporary reassignment of a portion of their responsibilities does not mean, and let us be clear, that we have determined that Dr. Arens, Mrs. Puente, or anyone else involved in these issues have done anything inappropriate.”
No similar statement was included in an email to students last week announcing Arens’ retirement and Puente’s leave.
Moody on Thursday announced it had appointed Grand River Solutions to conduct the investigation into the school’s Title IX office and related practices for responding to reports of sexual misconduct.
A community of survivors
While Heyward originally felt like her situation was an isolated event, she has since realized — as complaints against Moody unfolded on social media — the problems are more widespread.
“It just shows that it’s such a deep issue,” Heyward said.
She hopes she and other victims will get “closure” from coming forward after some officials “didn’t exhibit Christian morals.”
“Seeing the people that have abused you, whether that is emotionally or spiritually, or an abuse of power, be held accountable does feel like closure,” Heyward said. “ ... So I want to fight for that.”