Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Getting OBU Parents Involved

One of our goals is to build a diverse, broad coalition united in support of OBU's liberal arts tradition.  We know there is unprecedented discontent among students, faculty (current and retired), and alumni.  But we often forget about some of OBU's most important stakeholders: parents.  These men and women are ten times more important to OBU's revenue stream than the BGCO, and oftentimes, we do not even inform them about what is going on.

If you are a current student, talk to your parents about what is going on at OBU!  Email them a link to this page.  Get them involved in the conversation.  Our success depends in large part on their support!

We have added a section for parents to the navigation bar at right.  For your convenience, our open letter to OBU parents is printed here.


Dear Parents of OBU Students,

Welcome to the Save OBU blog!  On behalf of the many supporters who have long histories of deep affection for OBU, we are grateful to you for investing in Oklahoma Baptist University.  Though OBU is owned and operated by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (which funds about 6% of OBU's operating budget), parents and lenders provide the overwhelming majority of OBU's revenue.  You are a significant stakeholder in OBU!

As you probably know (especially if your son or daughter is an upperclassman), discontent among students, faculty, and alumni is at an all-time high.  Last spring, you may have heard about a student-produced newsletter called "The Norm."  You may also have heard about an alumni petition that circulated last fall and generated hundreds of signatures.  Perhaps your student has discussed these issues with you.  But unless you are unusually engaged in campus life, we suspect you may be wondering about what all the fuss is about.

Save OBU has an informational function in addition to an activist one.  The university, understandably, does not publicize the rather substantial discontent to prospective students and their families.  We want to provide some relevant facts and data that give evidence for our primary contention: that OBU's identity as a leading liberal arts college is perilously in danger.  In our view, the trouble has been brewing for nearly a generation, but has accelerated dramatically in just the past two or three years.

Some History
In the 1960s, after longtime President John Wesley Raley built OBU into an esteemed institution, the university established a proud tradition of offering a balanced, moderate Christian liberal arts education.  Presidents James Ralph Scales (who went on to the presidency of Wake Fores University) and Grady C. Cothen championed academic freedom, open inquiry, and Baptist values like the liberty of the conscience.  Even as fundamentalists at the national level planned and executed a takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention's boards and agencies in the 1980s, OBU remained a proud, moderate institution.

But the glory days would be short lived.  By the early 1990s, fundamentalists had taken over the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.  As an example of the extremism and paranoia, the BGCO formally censured a former executive director who had served the convention for more than two decades.  His infraction?  "Consorting with moderates."  With the election of Mark Brister to the OBU presidency in 1998, the BGCO's dream of remaking OBU in its own fundamentalist image seemed close to fruition.  Several moderate faculty were nudged into early retirement.  Student journalism was censored.  But President Brister ultimately came into his own as a leader who stood up for students and faculty, and not the puppet president the Baptist Building in Oklahoma City had hoped for.

Some Current Events
Today, the BGCO's negative influence on Bison Hill is everywhere apparent.  Two professors have been unjustly dismissed in violation of Faculty Handbook policies and basic H.R. ethics simply because of their relatively more moderate views.  Philosophy, one of the core disciplines in the liberal arts, is being replaced by courses in "Christian apologetics" and "Christian worldview" -- classes you are more likely to find at unaccredited fundamentalist Bible academies than reputable liberal arts universities.  Even the OBU bookstore, which Barnes & Noble capably managed for years, is now run by a fundamentalist company that stocks 99 cent Christian romances, but refuses to carry mainstream works in the social and natural sciences, history, literature, philosophy, and theology.

As you are aware, OBU prides itself on being well-rated by national magazines that publish annual college rankings.  While OBU is expensive, it does its best with financial aid and is a very good value compared to peer institutions.  But OBU does not tell you that in the past two years, it has fallen from #109 (2009) to #299 (2011) in the Forbes college rankings.  The unfortunate personnel, curriculum, and bookstore policies are already having an effect.  Increasingly, faculty openings will be filled by fundamentalists who lack the impressive faculty credentials that characterized OBU for decades.  The best and brightest students and professors have many options in Christian higher education.  They will not settle for the fundamentalist Bible academy OBU seems to be devolving into.  At some point, OBU's accreditation may even be at risk.  As OBU's academic reputation continues to suffer, your child's OBU degree will not have the same value on resumes and graduate school applications that it did even a decade ago.  Of course, student loans have to be repaid regardless.  As you can see, it's a dire situation.

Connecting the Dots
As Southern Baptist elites and bureaucrats have become radically more conservative in the past 30 years, they are desperately clinging to the power they hold over Baptist institutions.  OBU is being pulled from its moderate moorings and will fall into fundamentalist control unless it gains independence from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.  Many Baptist schools have already parted ways with their increasingly fundamentalist state conventions (Baylor, Wake Forest, Furman, Mercer, and Stetson, to name just a few).  Unsurprisingly, in every case both the school and the convention are much better off.  The schools are freed from fundamentalist control and can continue to provide liberal arts education in the best spirit of the Baptist tradition.  The state conventions are freed from burdensome financial obligations and can invest more effectively in their core ministries and missions.

Without BGCO control, OBU administrators would not have had to fire professors, gut curriculum areas, or dumb down the bookstore.  And without having to spend 17% of its budget on OBU, the BGCO could invest significantly in other collegiate ministries, missions, and evangelism.  At some point in the past, it probably made sense for the BGCO to operate a university.  But as the convention has changed so radically, the partnership no longer makes sense.  BGCO control is having a deleterious effect on OBU's quality, and it needs to end.

We invite you to explore our website, join our movement, and even like us on Facebookor follow us on Twitter if you wish!  Let OBU know of your concern, and, if you are anOklahoma Baptist, start a conversation in your church about why OBU and the BGCO would each be better off without one another.  Spread the word to your friends and any OBU alumni you know.  And, as always, feel free to contact us any time (SaveOBU@gmail.com).

Thank you for your consideration.  The fundamentalists are counting on your silence and inaction as they remake OBU in their own image.  We cannot let that happen.  Please make your voice heard.

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