Friday, December 23, 2011

Faculty Friday: Why Turnover Matters

I'm not sure whether "Faculty Friday" will become a weekly feature on the blog like Sunday School, Money Monday, and Student Saturday.  But it is clearly the case that some of the most disconcerting and disappointing recent changes at OBU involve the faculty: unethical dismissals, invasive and irrelevant job interview questions, intolerance toward non-Southern Baptists, hiring new professors as though we're a fundamentalist Bible academy rather than a proud liberal arts college, etc.  We'll touch on all these issues and more in the coming months.

The recent alumni petition raised some concerns about turnover.  In order to add my one small voice to the vast chorus of disappointed constituents (including mostly alumni, but also students, current faculty, and former faculty), I happily signed the petition (#216).  But my concerns about faculty turnover are quite different.

There have long been elements within the BGCO that believe OBU is too liberal.  Fundamentalist pastors are afraid students will go to OBU and "lose their faith."  BGCO elites wait patiently for moderate professors to retire, so that ever more conservative administrators will fill the faculty openings with ever more conservative new hires.  Eventually, there will literally be no moderates left at OBU.  Obviously, this prospect thrills the Baptist Building power brokers.  For the most part, the BGCO has been content to remake the faculty in its own fundamentalist image through regular attrition.  Though we all know some professors were forced out along the way.

(For what its worth, until I have compelling reasons to believe otherwise [and please correct me if I'm wrong], I have no choice but to assume the administration received BGCO pressure to oust the two esteemed professors who were forced out in July 2010 and July 2011.  There is absolutely nothing about the current administrators that gives any indication that they would, of their own accord, dismiss those two gentlemen for the reasons given.  I seriously doubt they are unscrupulous enough to treat faculty so shamefully without having their hand forced.)

The problem with turnover is that OBU's faculty is being dramatically remade in the image of the increasingly fundamentalist BGCO.  With the turnover we have seen in the past decade alone, OBU is no longer the moderate Christian liberal arts college it used to be.  Almost without exception, each aging moderate has been replaced by a young conservative.  The "center" has moved so far to the right that students can no longer count on a balanced education anymore.  I can only imagine the fear and frustration the remaining moderates must feel every day, knowing that colleagues have been dismissed utterly without cause just for being ideologically or theologically centrist relative to the BGCO's radically more conservative/fundamentalist ideal.

One retiring moderate said it best: "I doubt I would be hired today."  What's startling is that very few of the faculty hired in recent years would have even been considered for positions at OBU 30 years ago.  They would have almost without exception been too fundamentalist to be a good match for the institution.  Even more alarmingly, the kind of Christian faculty we would have hired 30 years ago are not even looking at OBU because they don't to teach for an institution run by a fundamentalist convention.  And they certainly don't want to work at a school where they might be fired just for holding the "wrong" views.

Turnover is a normal part of the life of any institution.  It's how you turn a good faculty into a great one.  But because of the BGCO's radical departure from the principles of academic freedom, open inquiry, and diversity of thought that made OBU great in the late 20th century, OBU is obviously no longer living up to the highest ideals of its liberal arts tradition.

In keeping with the unifying theme of this blog and the entire Save OBU effort, I must point out that -- as with all these other negative dynamics -- the chief culprit is the BGCO.  Without BGCO fundamentalists breathing down OBU administrators' necks, we would still be hiring impeccably qualified, ideologically moderate Christian faculty from an array of Protestant denominational backgrounds.  Instead, we are replacing aging moderates with only individuals drawn a narrow subset of the most conservative evangelicals who represent the increasingly fundamentalist BGCO's theological and ideological ideal.  Even worse, we have obviously elevated the importance of doctrine and ideology at the expense of rigorous academic qualifications and demonstrated excellence in research, teaching, and scholarship.

At the rate we're going, eventually the faculty will be as fundamentalist as this, this, or this.  Is this really the future we want for OBU?  I don't think it's what any of us want.  But it seems to be what the BGCO is ultimately aiming for.  That's why we need to end our relationship with the convention -- it is truly standing in the way of OBU and excellence in Christian liberal arts education.

1 comment:

  1. Jacob it has long said "BAPTIST" not "EVAGELICAL" university.


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