Saturday, December 24, 2011

Student Saturday: "The Norm"

The scores (soon to be hundreds) of current OBU students who read this blog will know this story much better than I do. So please, correct me where necessary.

Since the transformation of an institution takes decades and happens in fits and spurts, OBU's devolution into a fundamentalist Bible academy has not been linear. Some years are fairly stable, while other years feature one or more significant events that greatly accelerate the transformation.

Students who are freshmen now will know nothing of professors being unethically terminated (though there may yet be more). They will think taking courses in "apologetics" is normal in an academic religion department. They will think that buying textbooks from a fundamentalist Christian bookstore is a normal part of university life. (But hey, at least they can dance...)

On the other hand, students who are seniors today, or who graduated in the past year or two, will have seen a lot of unfortunate changes on Bison Hill: unethical faculty dismissals, curriculum areas being gutted, an ever more authoritarian ethos on campus, etc.

Anyway, last April then again in June (I believe), a individual student or a group of students produced a short newsletter called "The Norm." To my knowledge, they used the document to (anonymously) question the wisdom of some recent personnel and/or policy changes.  You can view the first edition here and the second edition here.

Questioning authority is actually a normal part of coming of age. But being at OBU (and being a very conservative Christian, in general) greatly retards this part of human development. When you are in a heavily authoritarian environment (as most fundamentalist churches, colleges, and families are) that rewards conformity and ostracizes dissenters, it is a lot easier to just stay quiet. When you live in an environment where being different or thinking differently is not only considered unusual, but also morally wrong, it takes a lot of courage to speak out.

So, in general, I have to commend "The Norm" writer(s) for speaking their minds in spite of significant environmental conditioning not to.  Given how shamefully some faculty have been treated for no reason other than the opinions they held, it is no surprise that students would feel the need to air their grievances anonymously.  However, there is strength in numbers, and they actually can't do anything to you for speaking out publicly.  You might be surprised to know just how many people feel the same way you do.  I've already heard from dozens of students and alumni.  The alumni petition got 300+ signatures in a matter of weeks, and I bet fewer than 5% of alumni even knew about it.

The only point I want to make today is that all the problems "The Norm" highlights arise from OBU's relationship with the BGCO.  If OBU were free from BGCO control, we would not have to see professors dismissed without cause, fundamentalist bookstores institutionalized on campus, curriculum areas like philosophy and theater completely gutted, or a fundamentalist interpretation of "Christian worldview" being used as a justification for all these horrible changes that break faith with our liberal arts heritage and devalue our hard-earned diplomas.

My only word of caution is this: For now, I think we should give the current administration the benefit of the doubt.  Some of you will disagree, and you may be right.  David Whitlock may be the villan here, and maybe he gets Stan Norman to do his dirty work for him.  But I'm not convinced.  I really just don't have any reason to believe that President Whitlock woke up one day and decided that we need to replace philosophy, a core discipline in the liberal arts, with "apologetics."  At the next Q&A session, someone needs to ask which of these policy changes were mandated by the BGCO and which of them originated with the administrators themselves.  I have a feeling someone else may be calling the shots when it comes to OBU's slide toward fundamentalism.  Not that this makes the administrators' actions okay, but it does prove the point that the BGCO is the problem.

Therefore I urge all students and alumni to join our effort.  Spread the word.  Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SaveOBU_Blog).  There needs to be more activism, more speaking out, more demanding answers to fair and reasonable questions about disastrous personnel and policy decisions.  The BGCO elites are counting on you remaining silent.  They are counting on you not joining this movement.  So will you go along with their dream of turning OBU into a barely-accredited Bible college?  Or will you spread the word and fight for the vision of Christian liberal arts education that propelled OBU to greatness before fundamentalists took over the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma?

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