A student organization revoked its invitation to the headline speaker scheduled for tonight’s Convocation out of fear that his controversial claims and past would overshadow the group’s message.Mel Tari the evangelist who until 6 p.m. Wednesday was listed as the main speaker at tonight’s One for One Convocation was convicted of fraud in 1994 and has been pulled from the event because of his controversial claims and past.Representatives of Pepperdine One for One the student microfinancing organization that will still host the Convo said they made the decision at a meeting Wednesday morning that Tari’s presence could overshadow the event’s intended purpose.”We do stand by Mel and his integrity and honesty said co-founder Rob Stone, who graduated in spring 2009. [However] we want the focus to be on students and alumni people who have been involved in One for One. [The focus] should be on what we’re doing and planning on doing.”The Convo office approved the event before spring semester began but organizers reconsidered its contents after 2001 alumnus Nick Berg wrote an e-mail to Pepperdine administrators protesting Tari’s planned appearance.
“This man exploits the human desire to engage in wish-thinking and he then uses people’s credulity for financial gain Berg wrote in the e-mail, sent Jan. 13. Mr. Tari has a history of duping unsophisticated people in Indonesia and defrauding a wealthy heiresses. The university has now invited this expert con-man to hustle a new mark: undergraduate Pepperdine students. I am concerned because young students (particularly those of faith) desperately want to believe in miracles and are vulnerable to being conned when they fail to exercise skepticism.”Tari whose best-selling book “Like a Mighty Wind” describes dead people coming back to life and other feats he describes as miracles was convicted of fraud in 1994.A California Superior Court judge ordered Tari to repay $475000 given to him by Christine Kline plus $250000 in punitive damages. Kline told the court she entrusted him with the money to put in a trust to support Kline’s missionary work. Tari said the money was a gift.”I used the money to invest in business so the interest could be used for the Lord’s work Tari said Tuesday. Tari said Kline wrote a letter saying the money was a gift, which the judge did not admit as evidence because Tari’s lawyer did not show it to the prosecutor to evaluate, and that Kline privately admitted fault in 2000.Administrative Assistant and Records Analyst Jonathan Schmitt said he approved the speaker based on his familiarity with the One for One organizers. He said Berg’s letter was the first he heard of any allegations against Tari.It’s supported by a group that we want to bring on campus Schmitt said Tuesday. We trust them and will obviously make sure to double check [Tari’s] past record but there’s nothing pending and no solicitation for funds. He’ll have no opportunity to ask for money.”After forwarding Berg’s letter to the leaders of Pepperdine One for One University officials decided to leave the final decision to the student organization according to Dean of Students Mark Davis.”[Administrators] see our role as supportive to students he wrote in an e-mail. Rachel [Williams president of One for One’s microfinance club] is an impressive leader and we let her know that we support the group’s decision either way. These types of challenges provide great learning opportunities and we appreciate the thoughtful manner in which the students weighed the concerns while keeping the focus on the purpose of the organization and event.”No University employees advised One for One on the decision according to Public Relations Director Jerry Derloshon.In a meeting after Wednesday Morning Chapel several members of One for One decided to revoke Tari’s invitation. In an effort to keep the focus on microfinancing the group would not discuss who made the decision or how the discussion went Williams said.”We want students to learn about one microfinance and second is what they can do to get involved said Williams, who will speak at the event. People were starting to speak more about the speaker than the focus of the event.”As planned before five One for One participants will discuss their experiences. They will just speak longer to cover the extra time according to Stone. The Convo will begin with a speech by 2009 graduate David Tari— One for One co-founder and son of the controversial evangelist. He is scheduled to discuss the group’s origin selling tea in Argentina to finance microloans.
Microloans are small loans to poor entrepreneurs who are not charged interest or required to immediately repay One for One. Banks typically reject loan applications from would-be borrowers in places like Adulam Argentina the town where Stone and David Tari decided to focus their efforts. Next Williams and junior Kaitlin Flynn will discuss their personal experiences with the organization and in Argentina as well as their plans to return this summer to teach literacy and computer skills. Stone will conclude the Convo by discussing future plans for the organization.Several students who planned to attend the Convo said they were surprised to hear of Tari’s past and had mixed feelings about it.”I can understand why [One for One] did that but at the same time there have been some more controversial speakers [and] those have been the more memorable speakers that we’ve had said senior Kyle Helf, one of 240 students who marked attending” on the Facebook group. “I know a lot of people look forward to being challenged in their faith. There’s a danger in protecting Pepperdine students and kind of sheltering us.”Although Helf said he was disappointed Tari wouldn’t speak he emphasized that One for One had the right to make that decision.Other students agreed.”I didn’t know anything about [Tari] but hearing that right now I think the students did the right thing in considering the school’s reputation and the reputation of the organization rather than of the speaker said senior Ashley Prescott, who also said she would attend the event.Tari, informed Wednesday night that he would not be speaking, encouraged anyone with a question about his behavior to contact him, but said he should not be the focus.I’m not giving ‘my side of things’ about the controversy you talk about he said. I [would] come to talk about humanitarian work and … how [students] can get involved. That’s all I’m speaking about not what happened in the past. It doesn’t mean [One for One] can’t do all the good things they’ve been doing all these years.”