When I was a student at OBU from 1999 to 2002, the guest speakers who occasionally visited our campus greatly enhanced my intellectual horizons. Phyllis Trible of Wake Forest Divinity School headlined a particularly memorable academic conference in 2000 or 2001. The annual Schusterman Lecture in Jewish History and Culture was inaugurated my freshman year. I got to participate in discussions with noted scholars such as Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green, and Judith Baskin. On a personal note, I had breakfast one morning at the (then new) Cracker Barrel with Professor Green. With great interest and patience, he helped introduce me to the world of non-fundamentalist academia -- a world that has given me many years of challenges, joy, and a true sense of vocation. I have always been grateful that OBU afforded students such opportunities.
Especially contrasted with how little we got out of the unending stream of fundamentalist ministers that OBU trotted into Raley Chapel week after week, it was always a joy to experience guest speakers who nurtured and honored the life of the mind as opposed to fearing and denigrating it.
Given the recent obvious and extreme crackdown on academic freedom at OBU, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that some of these events still take place. Considering the administration's unprecedented lurch toward fundamentalism, it takes more courage than ever for faculty to sponsor and endorse these valuable events.
Just last week, OBU welcomed two notable guests -- historian Philip Jenkins and journalist David Shipler. Credit where credit is due: I salute OBU administrators for not cracking down on these vital learning opportunities that so richly elevate and bolster the university's intellectual community.
I do not know definitively, but I assume these two particular guests are godless liberals who will soon burn in the fiery pits of Hell for all eternity. I find it interesting that while OBU values their distinctive scholarly and professional accomplishments enough to welcome them onto our campus, neither of these speakers -- in spite of their impeccable credentials -- could ever get hired to teach at today's OBU.
It makes me wonder what point there is in bringing them to campus at all. It seems to send a very mixed message to students and the broader Oklahoma Baptist constituency. Are students supposed to admire them? Witness to them? Pity them for being hell-bound? I also wonder if most Oklahoma Baptists know or care that OBU continues to privilege worldly knowledge and experience by exposing students to experts and scholars "outside the fold." It seems strange that the university says to students, "We want you to listen to these people -- they are some of the best experts in their fields, but we would never allow them to be your professors. We care less about expertise than we do about total agreement with a narrow set of doctrinal beliefs."
For now, I suppose it is enough to be grateful that these exciting and valuable learning opportunities still exist, even as learning is slowly but deliberately stifled in OBU classrooms through losing mostly moderate professors and gaining mostly fundamentalist ones, not to mention administrative meddling in curriculum decisions. Still, the broader disconnect that these kinds of events represent is worth considering.