Monday, January 16, 2012

Money Monday: Capital Campaign Looking Good -- On the Surface

By now most of you will have heard the news that a generous Shawnee couple has pledged $1 million toward the local phase of the Vision for a New Century campaign.  This is absolutely fantastic news, and we salute the donors for their generosity.  OBU is right to laud their gift and challenge others who are able to do likewise.

Yet there are important facts about the campaign's early phase that may reveal signs of trouble.  A faculty member -- one of several current and former professors who have reached out in support of Save OBU's mission -- offers an important perspective:

One of the important promotional factors in any fundraising campaign is the support of faculty and staff.  The important number is not the amount raised or whether it surpasses a target, but the percentage of current staff and faculty contributing. 
As a matter of fact, the target amount for faculty and staff has been surpassed.  However, the administration and some others had almost reached the target amount (about $50k short of it) before the faculty campaign was officially launched in August.  I and a number of others--especially senior faculty (with tenure)--opted not to contribute.  Some wrote letters to the president and/or our fundraising chairmen, indicating that they would not contribute until changes were made in the direction of the administration.   
Some of our retired colleagues and a number of traditional OBU supporters in town and elsewhere--and certainly concerned alumni--have made a similar decision, and some of those have also written letters explaining why.  
(Note: Save OBU is encouraging supporters to go on the record.  However, we are absolutely committed to preserving the anonymity of persons whose livelihoods would be in jeopardy if it was known that they supported OBU's independence from the BGCO.)

It's not the case that fundamentalist institutions are inherently unable to raise money.  There will always be true believers with deep pockets.  And there will always be wealthy people who make huge donations at the behest of their tax advisors without being concerned with whether the recipient is fanatical or out of the mainstream.

But in general, institutions that are deliberately and self-consciously fundamentalist do have a harder time surviving financially, much less expanding.  OBU is in a favorable position in many ways.  It weathered an enrollment dip in the mid-2000s and is in a position of relative strength just as the depressed national economy begins to recover.  But many of the negative changes that have occurred under most peoples' radar screens threaten to make this campaign -- and even basic survival -- much more difficult.

As the faculty member stated above, the degree of internal support sends a strong signal to prospective donors -- especially those considering major gifts.  Most institutions that undertake a campaign of this scope begin by boasting of near-universal internal support.  Apparently, OBU in its current state could never reveal those numbers without bringing embarrassment upon itself.

The Shawnee couple who graciously pledged $1 million may not know (and may not care) that professors are being unethically dismissed from OBU, that OBU administrators happily deny students access to mainstream academic materials by contracting with an anti-intellectual, fundamentalist bookseller, that administrators openly loathe longstanding faculty norms and routinely ignore faculty search committee recommendations, and that there exists among faculty, students, and alumni and unprecedented amount of discontent about these actions.

But over time, as OBU's reputation suffers and these glaring flaws become more widely known, it will be more difficult to raise money.  One fundamentalist college in Florida recently loosened its ties to the Florida Baptist Convention in recognition of its increasing dependence on non-Southern Baptist donors and institutions for financial support.  As OBU clings to the BGCO and does its fundamentalist bidding on Bison Hill, the universe of potential donors is bound to shrink.

If we are serious about such an ambitious capital campaign, we need to get honest about the problems of the past few years, rather than sweep them under the rug, as seems to be the current strategy.  The discontent is only going to grow.  These negative changes adversely impact OBU right now, and that is bad enough.  But having OBU's national rankings continue to decline and its reputation suffer the consequences of administrators' recent actions is going to seriously damage this campaign's prospects for success.

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