Thursday, February 16, 2012

Friday, February 17: Be a Bison Day

Like many of us did a few years (or a few decades...) ago, hundreds of prospective OBU students will convene on Bison Hill tomorrow for the university's most significant event for high school students considering OBU.  Some will be seniors who are 100% sure they are going to OBU.  Others are testing the waters.  All will get to attend a class, eat in the cafeteria, tour the dorms, and get a feel for OBU's compulsory chapel.

But, whether you first set foot on Bison Hill in 2009 or 1959, you went to a very different Oklahoma Baptist University than the students who will enroll in 2012.  Since 2009, we know that

  • Two professors were unethically forced out of their positions and denied rights guaranteed under the Faculty Handbook.  OBU's reputation has suffered, and the university is extremely lucky it avoided a lawsuit.
  • A normal bookstore has been replaced by a fundamentalist one, constituting a de facto censorship of mainstream books.  (There are also plans afoot to use a textbook fee to force students to patronize this new bookstore rather than price-shopping and buying books online or elsewhere.  All students and parents need to raise holy hell if this insane policy is enacted.)
  • Administrators have intervened in curriculum matters.
  • The philosophy department has been gutted to accomodate Christian apologetics
  • Faculty morale has sunk to an all-time low.
  • When interviews are conducted to fill faculty vacancies, the administration has ignored search committee recommendations and hired people who the committees simply did not want, further exacerbating tensions.
  • Protests from students, faculty, alumni, and retired faculty have not resulted in a single apology or policy reversal, signaling a dangerous deafness to stakeholders whose disillusionment is at an all-time high.  Even more alarming, these significant protests have been apparently viewed more as P.R. crises than as serious concerns from people whose affection for OBU will long outlast the tenure of any one president or administrator.

Here at Save OBU, we have not yet called for our supporters to advise prospective students against attending or withdraw their financial support (though untold hundreds if not thousands of alumni are already doing these things).  Instead, we settled on being a source of information for prospective students and their families.  They don't need us to urge a boycott.  But they do need to know the facts about what has been happening -- facts that OBU is keen to hide.  Our open letter to prospective students reviews the pros and cons of attending OBU at a time like this.

It is in all our interests that the brightest and most capable students continue to enroll at OBU.  But the OBU that earned a solid reputation for excellence in Christian higher education over the decades is increasingly not the OBU of today.  Administrators and backers laud OBU's great heritage even as they have sometimes worked to undermine it.

Sadly, OBU's owner/operator, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, has drifted far from the ideals of OBU's liberal arts tradition.  The BGCO is frankly no longer an honest partner in the task of higher education -- a task that requires academic freedom, open inquiry, and Baptist hallmarks like the priesthood of the believer, soul competency, and the liberty of the conscience.  Unfortunately, the Christian intellectual's conscience is no longer free in Southern Baptist life today.

Rather than set OBU free to continue the mission the BGCO abandoned as it became anti-intellectual and fundamentalist over the past 30 years, the BGCO is clinging ever more tightly to OBU.  Even as its annual subsidy continues to cover less and less of OBU's annual budget, the BGCO's influence in OBU personnel and policy decisions is stronger than ever, and that influence is taking a toll.

Quietly, there is a war brewing between the OBU that has always existed and the OBU the BGCO desires to create.  It's a battle that some OBU administrators would rather you not see, because they themselves are waging it.  It happens in small increments and over a long period of time.  It's often covert, under the radar, and off the front pages.  But prospective students should be warned: At the current rate, the quality of the faculty and the rigor of your academic program is certain to decline (along with OBU's reputation) during your college years unless we can reverse many of the negative changes described above.

If you decide to attend OBU, we urge you to join with the faculty, students, and alumni who are pressing hard to oppose administrative actions that are taking OBU in the wrong direction.  We are here for you, and we welcome your support.  Should you have any questions, you can contact us at SaveOBU@gmail.com

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