Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Tree of Life" Bookstore

If you've read the blog much over the past six weeks, you know that I've come down pretty hard on the fact that OBU contracted with a fundamentalist company to run the university bookstore.  Without even getting into the textbook side of the business, just the fact that OBU administrators have denied students, faculty, and, frankly, the entire Shawnee community, a place to buy mainstream books is disconcerting.

But -- as always -- I could be badly mistaken here.  It may be the case that this new arrangement is better for students, faculty, and a better financial arrangement with the university.  I simply don't know.  There's plenty of evidence of encroaching fundamentalism at OBU without the bookstore change.  If I'm way off base here, please let me know.

Here are a few reasons the new bookstore situation stinks.  Whether this move (along with the firing of excellent professors, the gutting of core curriculum areas, the open hostility toward faculty norms and search committee recommendations, the suppression of dissent, the censorship of student journalism, the hijacking of great moderates' namesakes for fundamentalist purposes, the incessant cozying up to BGCO and SBC elites, etc. etc. ad nauseam) is part of the deliberate move toward fundamentalism is something you will have to judge for yourselves.

  • As a rule, what today passes for "Christian bookstores" is horrible.  Even when I was a youth, I remember feeling creeped out just walking into these places.  You feel like your IQ goes down  20 points within a few minutes of walking through the door.  They contract almost exclusively with fundamentalist publishing houses.  You will never find mainstream fiction books in a Christian bookstore.  You will also never find nonfiction books from places like Cambridge University Press, the University of Chicago press, or pretty much any university press other than Bob Jones (not even kidding).  These institutions create and nurture the idea that "Christian" is a totally separate category.  Whether intentionally or not, they define the parameters of that category and make into a consumer commodity.  They are openly anti-intellectual.  God knows  the books in Christian bookstores are not going to make you think too hard.  Thinking is the devil's business.  Aside from that, a random sampling of titles usually reveals that these bookstores are extremely sexist, not to mention bigoted and ignorant with respect to other religious traditions.  In general, I think it is safe to say that these places have no business on a university campus, Christian or otherwise.
  • OBU students quickly picked up on the fact that this move seemed in line with other efforts to change the definition of Christian higher education that had existed at OBU for decades.  The second edition of "The Norm," a student-produced newsletter, asks: "Is it purely coincidental that the OBU bookstore has moved from Barnes and Noble, a store that along with textbooks, stocked a variety of books, some of which were secular in nature, to Tree of Life, a store that, other than textboks, only stocks Christian books, many of which focus on Christian dating and courtship?"  Given the students' other concerns, I can see why this aroused suspicion.
  • The other colleges Tree of Life lists as its clients (here and here) are almost without exception avowedly fundamentalist.  It would be a major step down for OBU if we suddenly consider these places our peer institutions in any way.  (Although given our precipitous drop in the Forbes college rankings over the past two years, we may actually become their peer institutions, whether we like it or not.)
  • Tree of Life's stated values seem strange.  "What's good for business is good for ministry and what's good for ministry is good for business."  Really?
  • Their list of "Innovative Services" seems pretty sketchy, too.  They have something called a "Textbook Butler" service, a ministry whereby their employees shop for textbooks for you.  Basically, this means that students are not allowed to physically go check textbook prices in the store (though this can be done online if you can get reliable internet service at OBU, which is apparently not a given these days).  Tree of Life will even deliver the books to students' dorm rooms.  They say students and parents appreciate the service.  I don't know about you, but when I was in college, my parents appreciated me finding the best prices on books, not paying full retail on every book and having them delivered to my door.  Tree of Life takes unprecedented steps to prevent students from getting better deals on their course materials.
  • They also have an "innovative service" by which the university charges students a fee for textbooks, thus prohibiting them from finding books cheaper online or elsewhere.  This is a flat fee for all students, regardless of major or number of credits enrolled.  To my knowledge, this has not been instituted at OBU yet.  If it ever is, hopefully OBU parents will light up the switchboard.  Even if patrons lose 20 IQ points when they enter Tree of Life, they still are not stupid enough to fall for this "innovative" trick.
  • As we have already discussed, women at OBU have enough challenges.  I shudder to even think about how many books at Tree of Life reinforce fundamentalist gender roles.
  • Now that Waldenbooks in the mall is closing, there is literally nowhere the literate people of Shawnee (a town of more than 30,000 people) can go to buy non-fundamentalist books.
Just out of curiosity, I can't help but wonder if any long-serving employees of the OBU bookstore lost their jobs so that OBU could make reading safe for its students.

Again, the university may be making a lot more money under this arrangement than with Barnes & Noble.  I doubt it, though.  But even if it is, given the significant drawbacks, it's hard to imagine it's worth it.

Bookstore Scavenger Hunt -- Saturday, January 21
To help determine whether the new bookstore is a total joke, or just an unfortunate change, Save OBU is sponsoring a Bookstore Scavenger Hunt this Saturday!  At 8:00 am, we will post a list of books that any college bookstore should stock.  For each one Tree of Life carries, I will personally donate $10 to OBU and $10 to the first student who posts a picture of the book to our Facebook page.  You could earn up to $100 toward your spring semester books!  And, just to keep things interesting, please feel free to post pictures of the most ridiculous titles for everyone's amusement.


  1. Actually, I am pretty sure that the two women who had run the bookstore for years both lost their jobs on the switch. I don't remember all of the details but there was something about the story got published in the bison before the people working at the bookstore knew about all of the changes.

  2. christian life bookstore is world's leading christian life bookstore, offering a wide selection of Christian books, including bible reference books, Christian fiction and much more.So being with christian life bookstore for exclusive collections.


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