Saturday, December 10, 2011

Student Saturday: Why You Should Care

Over the past few months, I've interacted with a number of OBU students and recent alumni/ae who are angry and sad about OBU's decline as an academic community.  It comes as no surprise that students are upset when the university they love experiences unfortunate changes: popular faulty members have been treated most shamefully and dismissed; other professors have opted for early retirement rather than endure an increasingly anti-intellectual mandate from the administration; legitimate student concerns have been dismissed out of hand.

Still, life goes on and students are busy people.  Furthermore, OBU is about the last place on earth I would expect a culture of protest to emerge.  (I found it to be one of the most conformist, authoritarian institutions I have ever been a part of, and that was ten years ago, before this most recent crackdown...)

So I want to take a moment and help connect the dots.  Your beloved professors are disappearing.  They are being replaced by more conservative and less academically qualified successors.  You ask why no women teach biblical studies and theology, and your questions are rebuffed.  You were taught to believe that religious worship was something you are supposed to do voluntarily, yet you are forced to attend chapel services.  You know there is a body of knowledge about science and about the history of biblical studies and Christian theology.  But all you get is material from the conservative end of the spectrum.  You want to take courses in philosophy, the core discipline in the liberal arts, but instead end up sitting in an "apologetics" class.  You are forced to buy books from a company that uses censorship, rather than market principles, to decide what books to stock.

These issues (and many others) have one thing in common (besides the fact that each is completely outrageous):  All these problems exist because OBU is owned and controlled by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.  If OBU was free from BGCO control, none of these problems would exist.

In contrast, your relatively more moderate professors would enjoy long, productive careers teaching you a balanced curriculum in the liberal arts.  You would actually have voices besides middle-aged white Southern Baptist men (not that there's anything wrong with them!) teaching Bible and theology classes.  Faculty hiring would be based on merit, not on adherence to fundamentalist doctrines.  Religious worship would be voluntary, not compulsory.  You would actually have a real bookstore on campus.  The list goes on and on.  OBU would be free to dramatically expand its scope and mission.

There is, of course, one thing you do get from the BGCO.  Because of its annual subsidy to OBU, you pay about $1,500 less in tuition each year.  But you have to decide if the modest savings are worth the immense cost in terms of academic freedom and respectability, personal liberty and autonomy, and a degree that is being devalued as OBU's intellectual decline continues.

So, today I am asking you to start a conversation.  Send this blog post to your friends and classmates.  Make sure as many OBU students as possible know about this blog.  The BGCO elites are hell-bent on making sure OBU continues its devolution into a fundamentalist Bible college.  They are well-funded and powerful men.  But they only win if we let them.  So start standing up for what you believe in!  It's your university, your degree, your mind, your life, and your future.

And, of course, please feel free to be in dialogue with me any time.

UPDATE: Thanks for tweeting this post and liking Save OBU on Facebook.  Let's make this go viral on Bison Hill!

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