Tuesday, December 6, 2011

OBU's Problem: The BGCO (Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma)

Welcome to the Save OBU blog!  Like many of you, I have become quite disillusioned with the direction of my beloved alma mater, Oklahoma Baptist University.  For many years, I felt like I was alone in my concern.  Yet in the past few months, I have learned that there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of OBU stakeholders (students, faculty, alumni, donors, etc.) who feel some version of the sadness and anger I feel about OBU's distressing decline from a very fine liberal arts university to a fundamentalist Bible academy.  Through the recent alumni petition and hints of student activism, I am heartened to learn that disenchanted OBU constituents now know of each other's existence.  Maybe awareness can be the first step toward collective action.

There may be dozens of valid reasons to be concerned about OBU's direction.  Maybe you have heard horror stories from Bison Hill about insufficiently orthodox professors being nudged into early retirement or forced out altogether.  Maybe you are upset about OBU's harmful and reactionary policies on gender and sexuality.  Are you passionate about a field of study that is being pushed out of the OBU curriculum?  Or do you just find the entire campus community to be a bit too authoritarian for your tastes?

The first purpose of this blog is to submit for your consideration that none of these problems will ever be solved (and, indeed, they will only become worse) as long as OBU is owned and controlled by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.  I am thus advocating a complete and total split between OBU and the BGCO.  Short of that, I believe at a minimum that the BGCO should only be allowed to elect a fraction of OBU's trustees.  Given the fundamentalist takeover of Southern Baptist institutions since the late 1970s, the OBU-BGCO partnership no longer makes sense.  The Convention is fundamentally at odds with the aims of a true liberal arts university.  Frankly, I hope Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laypeople will soon realize that their $2.8 million annual subsidy to OBU could be much better spent elsewhere.

For most of the past decade, I have felt that OBU was a lost cause -- that the fundamentalists had won.  But as I reflect on my time there and what it meant to me, I decided I was not willing to give up so easily, especially since I know I'm not alone.  Do I honestly believe that OBU will achieve a total separation from the BGCO?  Let's just say I wouldn't bet on it.  But I care passionately enough about this issue that I am willing to do what I can to start this conversation.

I am not and never have been an Oklahoma Baptist.  This is not my crusade.  My only commitment is to provide one month of daily blog posts in an effort to raise awareness among OBU stakeholders and advance the argument that, until OBU is free from BGCO control, we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  I hope that leaders for this movement will emerge -- from the student body, from the ranks of alumni and retired faculty, and from donors.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a half dozen Baptist universities that have renegotiated the terms of their relationships to their Baptist state conventions: Baylor, Wake Forest, Stetson, Furman, Mercer, and the University of Richmond.  The processes were different in each case, but in all cases were long and painful.  Yet in the end, I believe the universities and the Baptist state conventions are better off.  In general, these are the kinds of institutions I believe OBU should seek to emulate.  There are, of course, dozens of fledgling, nominally-accredited and unaccredited Baptist colleges around the U.S. that continue to allow their increasingly fundamentalist state conventions to call the shots.  Maybe that is OBU's destiny, but I hope not.  Like I said, I'm afraid OBU might be beyond saving.  Please help prove me wrong.

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