Friday, January 13, 2012

Faculty Friday: Firing Professors a Favored Tactic among SBC Fundamentalists

OBU has seen its fair share of professors harrassed, marginalized, and even nudged into early retirment for not being fundamentalists.  This certainly happened in the early days of the Brister Administration, though I do not know if it happened much in the later years of his presidency.  Many of us thought academic freedom was under attack then -- how strange it seems now to look back at the early 2000s as the "good ol' days!"

As you probably know, OBU has only recently made it a practice to dismiss professors for ideological reasons.  As a private, religious instition, there is no recourse.  That's why it is important that we change the culture of the institution -- before even more outstanding, qualified, and dedicated Christian professors have their lives and careers disrupted in the coming years.

As a tactic of institutional warfare, firing academics for being insufficiently fundamentalist has a long and ugly history in Baptist politics.  Fundamentalists have been using this unilateral power for years.  First, they employed deplorable, unchristian tactics to fire seminary presidents.  Then, once they installed fundamentalists in administrative posts, they declared open season on moderate professors.

In 1994, Professor Molly Marshall, a distinguished and well-loved professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, was forced to resign.  Even though the faculty voted 44-8 in favor of a resolution opposing the action, newly-installed President Al Mohler used the dismissal to showcase his willingness to pervert his unilateral power to show SBC leaders that he was up to the task of making Southern a fundamentalist seminary, which he accomplished in fairly short order.  Today, Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.  Hopefully, we will have more to say about Professor Marshall's story.  Like many fine Baptist academics that the fundamentalists love to hate, she is an OBU graduate.

In 1999, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary fired Professors Alan Brehm and Dan Kent, who objected to signing off on the Baptist Faith and Message, which emphasized female submission.  (Five years earlier, Southwestern trustees fired the long-serving and well-loved President Russell Dilday for allegedly being a moderate.)  In 2001, two more professors lost their jobs for refusing to sign the newly-updated (and more conservative) Baptist Faith and Message.

While all these stories (and more) are very well known to people who followed the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, the stories of professors forced out of colleges like OBU, run by the state conventions, and much more numerous.  OBU avoided these embarrassing headlines because of relatively moderate administration and a university culture committed to a balanced, Christian liberal arts education.  Frankly I'm surprised the recent firings did not generate media attention.

Thankfully, OBU's descent into ideological cleansing has generated enough anger and protest from faculty, students, and alumni that the administration will think twice before firing more professors.  However, make no mistake: there are professors the BGCO would like to see fired from OBU tomorrow.  Though we are all righteously angry about the absolutely shameful treatment some of our beloved professors and colleagues received (and the fact that faculty search committee recommendations are routinely ignored, thus allowing more fundamentalists to be hired), we have sent a signal that in the future, administrators should consider siding with us rather than siding with the BGCO.  The BGCO's fundamentalist dream for OBU is simply out of line with the OBU community's vision of itself as a proud inheritor of the very best in Christian liberal arts education.  Administrators can no longer servce both interests.  They have to choose.

Later in his presidency, Mark Brister finally realized that Dr. Anthony Jordan was not his boss.  Hopefully the current president will get the message before too many more professors lose their jobs.


  1. Well done, again. Just curious, how did Brister show that he realized Jordan wasn't his boss?

    1. He once complained to a faculty member, "Anthony thinks he's my boss." Kind of makes me wonder what was going on behind the scenes before he retired. Maybe he got tired of doing the BGCO's dirty work and said he wouldn't do it any more -- I don't know.

  2. Maybe enrollment was in decline and now it is up?

    1. Well that is obviously true. Not sure I understand your point, though...

  3. The reason Brister left enrollment was in decline and now it is up with a fundy

  4. Souls are more important than a liberal theology. People cant become Christians when they are being taught stuff that is not the gospel. Thus the firing of Molly Marshal. Its funny though. SBTS is an extremely successful seminary now. And it is loaded with one of the very best faculties in the world. Like I said who cares about your so called "liberal arts" (btw, learn what liberal arts actually means, not todays faulty view) when human souls are at stake. People need the gospel. And the gospel should be the mission of OBU

  5. "Balanced" and "Academic Freedom" is just code for liberals teaching heresy at Baptist Institutions. The churches of Oklahoma own OBU, thus have the right to shape it as thy see fit. For far too long liberals, who do not even believe the sacred text..Molly Marshall...have been allowed to run rampant. SBTS was saved by those who hols to biblical orthodox rather than dead academic liberalism. I am proud that Oklahoma Baptists will not allow their university to go down the liberal drain.

    - Tad Thompson
    1997 OBU Grad
    MDIV and DMIN from Southern Seminary


We invite you to join in the conversation. However, anonymous comments are unwelcome.