Friday, December 9, 2011

Plans and Stragety

So far, I have implied that there are two powerful but not very good reasons why BGCO control endures at OBU.  First, while the current arrangement is a very bad deal all around, it actually works quite nicely for a few key elites.  The Baptist Building executives and the state's powerful conservative megachurch pastors get the satisfaction of knowing that they're winning a monumental ideological struggle that exists below most people's radar screens.  And top OBU administrators know that, so long as they bow to the increasingly conservative BGCO's will, they can expect high salaries, secure employment, generous retirement, and heaps of praise from elites across the SBC.  (But, I would submit that as soon as senior OBU leadership began standing up for academic rigor, gender equality, and the values of education, knowledge, reason, etc., they would quickly be silenced and forced out.)

The second reason why BGCO control continues mostly unchallenged is simply the inertia of the status quo.  Organizations are large and complex.  Change is slow and painful.  As long as faculty paychecks keep cashing, students' degrees continue to be conferred, and parents, alumni, and donors remain quiet, no one has much incentive to seek new and better ways of doing things.  The barriers to collective action tend to be quite overwhelming, especially when change would upset current financial and power arrangements.

I have argued, though, that a split between OBU and the BGCO would be much better for everyone involved, except perhaps senior BCGO executives.  (Though I believe that, in time, even they will come to see that the BGCO is much better off without having to fret with maintaining a university, as Baptist state convention leaders in other states have realized.)

Here are a few ways I hope this blog can help start this conversation and advance this argument.  Please contact me with your assessments about these ideas, or if you have other suggestions.

Telling Other Baptist Schools' Stories
"But this is how we've always done it" is a powerful but utterly stupid reason for doing something.  Starting colleges made sense to Baptists in an earlier era.  Splitting away from colleges makes sense to Baptists today.  There are dozens of other Baptist colleges and conventions that have reassessed their relationships and decided to alter or end them.  The conventions and the schools are much better off after they split.  So it will be with OBU.  But in order to get there, we would be wise to look at evidence from other institutions.

Examining BGCO Financial Commitments
Oklahoma Baptist clergy, laypeople, and convention messengers will have to be convinced (many already are) that OBU is a lost cause, that it is a resource drain, and that the convention and its churches get precious little for their investment.  Here, we can highlight other BGCO mission priorities that are necessarily starved of critical funds because a few ideologically-driven elites want so desperately to "win" at controlling OBU.  If Oklahoma Baptists care about saving souls, they will realize quickly that OBU (which raises more than $40 million a year on its own and sits atop an $80 million endowment) is an inefficient, if not outright counterproductive, use of funds.

Reviewing the History of OBU/BGCO Cooperation... And Hostility
OBU students are taught to revere names like Scales, Hobbs, and Ingram... but whose side were these Baptist leading lights really on?  The long history of mutual suspicion and tension is one certain people would rather forget, but it must be told.

Showing that OBU Makes Students Less Orthodox and Less Conservative
Even a conservative school like OBU pulls many more students away from fundamentalism than toward it.  It's just a fact, folks.  I could use my own intellectual journey as a case in point, but I would rather find other alumni to tell their stories.  No one assigned me any "liberal" books to read in religion classes. Everything we read was right of center in terms of biblical and theological scholarship.  It wasn't the classes, the professors, or the instruction that turned me away from the doctrinal tenets of evangelical Protestantism.  It was the fact that I had the time and space to think for myself.  Once you nurture and encourage critical thought and reflection, fundamentalism loses every time.  So it was, so it is, and so it ever will be.  Now, OBU is taking steps to discourage critical thought and reflection in ways we'll soon discuss.  But even now, with OBU at an intellectual low point, students are on Bison Hill, studying in dorms, libraries, and park benches, realizing that much of what they were taught to believe as children is simply no longer tenable to them.  It happens every day.

Recruiting Supporters and Leaders for Our Effort
As I said in my first post, I considered OBU a lost cause for many years.  However, the alumni petition made me aware that literally hundreds (if not thousands) of people share some version of my concern for OBU.  This blog should provide a forum for various constituents (students, (probably retired) faculty, alumni, donors, and BGCO stakeholders to come together and organize our efforts to effect the kind of change we all know needs to happen.

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