Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday School: Yellowstone Baptist College

On Sundays, we often take a look at Baptist schools that have flourished after splitting from their fundamentalist-controlled state conventions.  Already, we've profiled William Jewell College (MO), Stetson University (FL), and Furman University (SC).  In the weeks to come, we'll take a look at Mercer and Wake Forest.

Today we take a break from the usual Sunday routine and investigate an altogether different phenomenon.  At last week's Board of Trustees meeting, OBU announced that it is probably going to take over a struggling college in Montana.  Please excuse me if this is common knowledge or has been in the works for a long time.  Friday was the first I had heard of it.  The relevant text from OBU's press release states:
Trustees also unanimously approved “exploration of the viability of Yellowstone Baptist College becoming an extension of OBU.” 
In his state-of-the-university report, OBU President David W. Whitlock told board members the university has been asked to consider administrative operation of the private college in Billings, Mont. Affiliated with the Montana Baptist Convention, Yellowstone Baptist College opened in 1974. The college has had a cooperating relationship with OBU since 1993, when the Yellowstone began offering OBU’s college-level Ministry Training Institute courses on its campus. 
“We have continued to partner with them and provide support in offering a regionally accredited degree program,” Whitlock said. “As they look at the need to expand their course offerings, particularly in areas like business and education, and as they look at requirements for accreditation as a self-standing institution they realize they have a long road ahead unless they merge and become a part of the Oklahoma Baptist University system.” 
With the trustees’ vote to explore the relationship, OBU will hire the consulting firm of Allen, Stewart and Agee to investigate the possible merger of educational entities. 
“The consulting group has agreed to assign former OBU President Bob Agee to visit YBC with OBU administrators in February and consider whether or not to move forward with this,” Whitlock said. “There are a lot of wonderful opportunities for us to expand the mission of Christian higher education in the northwest United States.” 
Whitlock told the trustees that if the schools enter into the agreement, the Montana college will be governed by the OBU board. 
“There are some marvelous advantages” for OBU faculty and students to utilize Yellowstone Baptist College facilities for summer programs, Whitlock said.
So, it looks like A) YBC is eventually going to close unless we rescue them and B) the decision has pretty much already been made.  At this point, I wouldn't look to the consulting company to dissuade OBU from this venture.  Its principal, former OBU President Bob Agee, was instrumental in paving the way for David Whitlock to become president of OBU (a political thriller for another day).  His fine work in and writing about Christian higher education notwithstanding, many OBU faculty suspect Dr. Agee's involvement in convincing the BGCO that Dr. Whitlock could be counted on to advance a fundamentalist agenda at OBU is evidence that Agee is more comfortable with fundamentalism than we previously supposed.

As with the football program and expanding graduate programs, Save OBU is inclined to not take positions issues that are peripheral to our primary concern of protecting academic freedom and OBU's great liberal arts tradition.  We are less interested in debating the pros and cons of rescuing an unaccredited fundamentalist Bible academy than in making sure OBU never becomes one.

YBC looks to be a an unaccredited, fundamentalist Bible academy.  Not only is YBC unable to attain accreditation through mainstream accrediting bodies, it is not even a full member of the Association for Biblical Higher Education, a sham organization that "accredits" fundamentalist dumps and degree mills.  If you think OBU is authoritarian, check out YBC's Code of Student Conduct.  Also, like so many other Baptist colleges, YBC has turned its back on Baptist distinctives like liberty of the conscience and soul competency, having embraced creedalism through enforcing a "community covenant" that all faculty and students must sign.

My belief is that there are good reasons why these kinds of places go bankrupt.  All YBC has going for it is its location in a spectacularly beautiful part of the country.  (The campus itself is not so spectacular, as you can see.)  It would be a neat place for summer programs, though.  Couple that with OBU's sense that we can capitalize on the relative sparseness of Christian colleges in the Mountain West, and apparently we now have an attractive takeover target.

Again, our only concern is with OBU's fledgling commitment to academic freedom, open inquiry, and true liberal arts education.  Given the horrible problems we've had maintaining those commitments lately, a lot of these peripheral issues like football programs, graduate degrees, and extension campuses seem like distractions from a mission OBU seems to be turning its back on.  Given that YBC is already pretty far along the path administrators' seem so determined to take OBU down, we can't help but fear this takeover might be used as a chance to impose YBC norms on OBU rather than the other way around.  And that would be truly disastrous.

Right now, confidence in OBU administration is at a low ebb, to put it mildly.  The thought that we are going to consider "administrative operation" of a financially troubled, unaccredited college seems troubling.  It makes me wonder if, even after everything students, alumni, and faculty have done to register their lack of confidence in current leaders' stewardship of our beloved OBU, they still aren't listening and don't realize just how widespread the discontent has become.  Sure, the students and faculty in Billings, MT might be comfortable with the "new" OBU.  But there are a lot of people on Bison Hill and around the world who want to see some acknowledgement that things have gotten off track and who need some reasons to believe things will be better from now on.  Thus far, things seem to be getting worse, not better.  And the YBC takeover cannot and will not change that widely-held perception.

All it tells me is that if we're so flush with cash that we can afford to bail out a failing college a thousand miles away, we truly don't need the BGCO's money.  And we obviously don't need the horrendous strings attached to their annual institutional welfare check.  Without those strings, literally none of the problems we've raised on this blog would exist.  None.

1 comment:

  1. My understanding is that YBC is essentially self-sufficient. However, it has remained small rather than blossom. YBC has a longstanding relationship with OBU that goes back to the Agee administration.

    YBC's belief is that by asking OBU to absorb it, YBC will benefit from OBU's existing technology structure (Banner, Zimbra, Moodle, etc.) OBU's recruiting infrastructure (which includes expensive analytics software) and OBU's digital library holdings (which would more than double the body of work available to YBC students.) All these are accomplished at little to no cost to OBU (the whole project is predicated on the economic principle of economies of scale.)

    There are many reasons OBU's trustees and administration are interested but I will leave them up to your imagination, since that is where everyone is at this point.

    The ongoing investigation by the administration and Dr. Agee's firm will attempt to establish the financial viability of the project. I have been told that should OBU decide that absorbing YBC is in its best interests, every precaution will be taken to ensure that any failure will not reverberate back to endanger OBU.

    Sorry for the long post and all the in text notes. I understand if you're thinking TL:DR.


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