Saturday, March 31, 2012

Graduate Education after OBU

This week, Save OBU has been exploring the wider world that OBU is involved in -- the Shawnee community as well as the worlds of Southern Baptist and Christian non-denominational higher education.  So let's get down to brass tacks.  While I believe deeply in the ideals of a liberal arts education and theological training for all, by and large colleges and universities are measured by their ability (1) to prepare students for the job world and (2) to get their students into noteworthy graduate institutions.

I was both a philosophy and biblical languages major who went on to seminary and a practicing youth minister while at OBU.  Therefore, today and tomorrow, I will be talking about how OBU prepared me for graduate school and for ministry--both expressed purposes of (what was then) the School of Christian Service.  Through each of these aspects of my time at OBU, I engaged the Shawnee community and Christian higher education.

When I left Shawnee in August of 2006, I visited my parents briefly in Texas before moving to New Jersey to attend Princeton Theological Seminary.  I was neither the first OBU graduate to take this route nor the last.  Another student from my class went with me (he is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Notre Dame), and a second colleague came after a couple of years later.  In fact, one reason my application was so well received was that OBU had been sending a steady stream of students to Princeton for several years.

What is most remarkable about my time at PTS is how fluid my transition from undergraduate to graduate education was.  In the first week on campus, I took tests to determine whether or not I would be exempt from Greek and Hebrew language courses.  Thanks to OBU, I was the only student that year to pass both tests.  One of the biggest shocks to new graduate students is the amount of reading they are expected to complete in a week.  Thanks to OBU, I found out that the reading was less than I expected and sometimes less than the religion and philosophy professors had required.  Seminary students often come from academic backgrounds other than religion, and much of their degree is taken up with introductory courses in theology and church history.  Thanks to OBU, I was exempted from nearly all of my introductory classes.  In fact, about two-thirds of my graduate coursework were electives, so long as I took the required number of hours for each area of study.

To say that OBU prepared me for work at this level would be an understatement.  I stepped immediately into Greek and Hebrew exegesis courses with second- and third-year students.  Yet, under the guidance of OBU professors, I had already read much of the New Testament in the original Greek and dabbled in the Septuagint.  I engaged the foundational theological and philosophical questions of the nature of God, evil, and human knowledge.  Still, these were not new to me.  I dug deep into the religious history of the United States, learning from one of the preeminent scholars in the nation.  But before I left OBU, I had already won the Mercer Baptist Heritage Award--open to both undergraduate and graduate students.  (The previous two winners were both OBU alumni who were studying at Princeton.)

More importantly, in all these accomplishments, I was not unique.  I was simply another graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University.

My time at OBU was the defining experience of my academic life.  Looking at my résumé, most would assume that the diploma that I am most proud of would have "Scholæ Theologicæ Princetoniensis" boldly written across it in Latin.  Actually, I keep that diploma in a drawer of my desk in a cardboard tube.  The lessons that I learned at OBU are what I carried to graduate school and what I still carry with me today.  Certainly, I learned a lot at Princeton, but that learning clarified and built upon what OBU taught me.

Where does that leave us, then, especially in regards to Save OBU's mission?  There are a couple of takeaways from my experience that I would like to leave with you:

For one, I intentionally chose not to attend a Southern Baptist seminary.  Frankly, I was not alone as most of my classmates in the religion and philosophy departments made similar decisions.  When I graduated in 2006, the SBC seminaries had long been under the influence of fundamentalism.  My original goal after OBU was to earn a Ph.D.  Southwestern, Southern, New Orleans, and Southeastern seminaries simply were not options if I wanted to be respected among Christian academics.  Whereas these were once vibrant schools (with Southwestern and Southern widely recognized for excellence), fundamentalism and ideologically-centered education were the new norms.  The professors whose teaching still defines my life had studied there (mostly before the fundamentalist takeover was complete), but if I wanted to pursue a career like theirs, I would have to look elsewhere.

The same fundamentalism that has befallen the Southern Baptist seminaries is knocking at OBU's door.  If the school hopes to remain vital and relevant to Christian higher education, separation from the BGCO is essential.  As OBU loses academic relevance, it will also lose the quality of students it has become accustomed to.  Let us be clear, OBU earned its reputation in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s.  OBU will also earn its reputation if it continues down the path towards fundamentalism and chooses ideology over scholarship.  (Already, the two forced dismissals and the faculty's mistrust of administration are becoming widely known.  So is the fact that Wheaton just hired a Princeton New Testament Ph.D. (and OBU alumna) that OBU passed over in favor of a more conservative [male] candidate against the wishes of the entire religion/philosophy faculty.)

My preparation for graduate education was equal to the best that is offered in the nation.  Many of my classmates, both in the School of Christian Service and in the other colleges, have taken advantage of that education and gone on to prestigious academic institutions in medicine, law, divinity, and other fields.  I pray and work in the hope that future OBU students are offered the same quality that we were.

Note:  Clayton graduated in 2009 with a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently earning a Master of Education through Montana State University.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Save OBU Outreach: Good Non-denominational Colleges

This week, we've made efforts to reach out to people other than our core constituency of students, parents, faculty, and alumni.  We brought attention to how OBU's devolution into a fundamentalist Bible academy would hurt the Shawnee community.  And we looked beyond OBU to the tragic story of how the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC so dramatically degraded the quality and rigor of Baptist higher education.  Though every school's story is a little different, other Baptist colleges are going through different versions of the same problems that we've seen at our beloved OBU.

Today we want to speak to another group: non-denominational Christian colleges.  in a very real sense, these institutions have benefitted from the decline of Baptist higher education.  Take the seminaries, for example.  There was a time not to long ago when some of the SBC seminaries were recognized throughout American Protestantism as quite good.  Today, the SBC seminaries have been purged of what few liberals ever existed there, as well as all moderates.  Some of them are led by loud-mouthed fundamentalist culture warriors.  As mainline Protestant seminaries have continued to occupy the moderate-to-liberal end of the spectrum, the decline of SBC seminaries has left a huge gap in evangelical theological education.  Seminaries like Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, and Asbury have stepped into that gap and picked up where Southern Baptists abandoned ideologically diverse, intellectually rigorous graduate theological education.

At the undergraduate level, the decline has been just as spectacular.  As I looked at the SBC's list of affiliated colleges yesterday, it occurred to me just how dramatically the Southern Baptists have fallen when it comes to colleges an universities.  Barely over 20 years ago, that list would have included many of the finest private universities in the South.  Today, it's actually pretty embarrassing.    Thankfully, OBU is one of the best Baptist schools by any objective measure.  But perhaps the most tragic consequence of the Fundamentalist Takeover has been the absolute degradation of Baptist academia.

As with the SBC seminaries' decline, independent colleges have stepped in to fill the massive vacuum in Baptist higher education left by the exodus of Furman, Wake Forest, Mercer, Stetson, etc. and the fundamentalists' attack on on the remaining educational institutions.  Schools like Wheaton, Biola, Whitworth, and Gordon have emerged as the standard bearers in evangelical higher education as more and more Baptist colleges have descended into outright fundamentalism.

A few weeks ago, we talked about a recent op-ed piece by two Gordon College professors about a "renaissance" in evangelical higher education.  Though they do not take up this distinction in their essay, the comparison between non-denominational colleges' renaissance and Baptist colleges' decline is stark.

Why has one subset of conservative Protestant schools flourished while another has floundered?  The answer is complicated.  But it's undeniable that the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC in the 1980s and the state conventions in the 1990s is a big part of the story.  The SBC seminaries fell quickly, and many of the better SBC colleges left their state conventions.  Those that remained, like OBU, endured varying degrees of Baptist battles in the 1990s and 2000s.  Fortunately, OBU Presidents Agee and Brister generally protected OBU from fundamentalism.  The current administration seems much more accommodating.

While Baptist universities have had to deal with fundamentalist convention-elected trustees (particularly in the seminaries) and appease fundamentalist convention leaders, the non-denominational colleges have been able to pursue excellence in Christian higher education without such distractions.

We applaud our brothers and sisters at these schools for the very fine work they've done.  Admittedly they have outpaced us, given the retrenchment toward fundamentalism in many Baptist colleges.  We envy their freedom and independence.  We hope they realize that our students, faculty, and alumni long for academic freedom and fearless inquiry.

Denominationalism is dying in American Christianity.  While some media and scholarly commentators believe this dynamic is limited to Mainline Protestantism, we see it in evangelicalism as well.  Southern Baptist leaders are well aware that their "brand" has become irrevocably associated with fundamentalist theology, partisan politics, and anti-intellectualism.  At the same time, evangelical institutions without denominational shackles have flourished, from local churches all the way to universities.

Rather than trying to shed its Baptist identity, we want OBU to embrace it -- but in a classical sense, not in the narrow way today's fundamentalist SBC and BGCO leaders have defined it.  But given the past 20-30 years in Baptist life, we can't help but envy evangelical institutions' progress in evangelical theological education and look forward to joining that top tier as soon as we are free from our burdensome imprisonment to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Save OBU Outreach: Other Baptist Colleges

This week, we are focusing on outreach to friends and supporters outside our main constituency of students, parents, faculty, and alumni.  We looked at what OBU means to the Shawnee area and what its likely decline under fundamentalism would mean for the community.  Realizing that OBU is not a unique victim of SBC fundamentalists' aggressive lust for power and control over institutions, we want to reach out to other Baptist colleges to see if we find parallels or can offer solidarity.

Formerly Southern Baptist Colleges
When I first started the blog, I began studying formerly SBC colleges, believing that their battles for independence from fundamentalist-controlled state conventions might offer insights as to how to proceed. We looked at William Jewell College, Stetson, and Furman.  We will eventually examine the situation at the University of Richmond, Mercer, and Wake Forest.  As difficult as those schools' battles for independence were, we found out that OBU is at a distinct disadvantage because the BGCO's legal stranglehold over OBU is so all-encompassing.  (Not only does the convention elect all of the trustees, it literally owns the buildings and grounds.)

Along with their newfound independence, expanding constituencies, and broadening missions, these schools have become less exclusively and intentionally Baptist in character.  To fundamentalists, this change reinforces their fear that without strict convention control, Baptist universities will inevitably drift away from their explicitly religious founding.  While we do not believe that is necessarily the case, we have certainly maintained that we do not envision a future for OBU that is secular or less Baptist.  In fact, we have argued emphatically that the very changes we are protesting represent a radical and disappointing departure from the Baptist freedoms we hold near and dear.  If anything, we believe that an OBU free from BGCO control could be more authentically Baptist than it has been under the Norman-Whitlock administration's disappointing policy and personnel changes which, let's not kid ourselves, BGCO elites have noticed and applauded.  It is we, not they, who have held fast to Baptist distinctives.  They are the ones who have embraced authoritarianism, creedalism, and worldly politics and abandoned liberty of the conscience, local church autonomy, and the separation of church and state.

Currently Southern Baptist Colleges
The SBC maintains a list of nearly 60 colleges that are related to Baptist state conventions.  We have already heard from alumni and staff at Shorter University in Rome, GA.  Like OBU and the BGCO, Shorter's ever more fundamentalist state convention is attempting to impose its narrow agenda on the university.  If you think things have gotten ugly at OBU, take a look at Shorter's situation.  At the current rate, this appears to be the direction the BGCO wants to take OBU.  We hope it's not too late for Shorter's students, faculty, and alumni to be heard.  We've also looked at Louisiana College in Pineville, LA, which fundamentalists have taken over.

Now, we turn to the several dozen other Southern Baptist colleges in the U.S.  While they have all lurched toward fundamentalism since the 1980s and there are undoubtedly demoralized moderates at all these institutions, we believe that Save OBU is one of the largest and most comprehensive efforts to defend academic freedom and protect against fundamentalist encroachment at a Baptist college.  Even as we hope to inspire simliar efforts at these sister schools, we are seeking information we can use for our own battle.

Please forward this post to friends, colleagues, and potential supporters who are students, faculty, or alumni of these institutions.  We want to know about the relationship between the school and the state convention, whether the convention owns the university, how the trustees are elected and by whom, and what violations of academic freedom or basic ethics have taken place since fundamentalist (or fundamentalist-appeasing) leaders took over.

Colleges and Universities Affiliated with Baptist State Conventions

Judson College
Samford University
University of Mobile

Ouachita Baptist University
Williams Baptist College

California Baptist University

The Baptist College of Florida

Brewton-Parker College
Shorter University
Truett-McConnell College

Campbellsville University
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College
Georgetown College
Mid-Continent University
University of the Cumberlands

Louisiana College

Blue Mountain College
Mississippi College
William Carey University

Haniibal-LaGrange College
Southwest Baptist University

Yellowstone Baptist College

North Carolina
Campbell University
Chowan University
Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute
Gardner-Webb University
Mars Hill College
Wingate University

Cedarville University

South Carolina
Anderson University
Charleston Southern University
North Greenville University

Carson-Newman College
Union University

Baptist University of the Americas
Baylor University
Dallas Baptist University
East Texas Baptist University
Hardin-Simmons University
Houston Baptist University
Howard Payne University
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
Wayland Baptist University

Bluefield College
Virginia Intermont College

Alright, Save OBU supporters!  It's time to get active.  We are NOT alone in our fight.  It's true that some of these schools are avowedly fundamentalist and almost all faculty and students would be hostile (and are irrelevant) to our mission.  But many of these places were once bastions of Christian liberal arts education in the best of the Baptist tradition.  Like OBU, recent (or not-so-recent) fundamentalist-inspired changes have threatened their proud heritage.  Tap into your networks and let's use this opportunity not only to reach out in solidarity to Baptists in exile in our own denomination and schools, but to glean information that can help us as we pave the path toward OBU independence from the BGCO.

Remember, here is what we need to know:
1. What is the relationship between the school and the convention like?
2. Does the convention own the school?
3. Who elects the trustees?
4. What abuses of academic freedom have taken place? How has the school become less a place of learning and inquiry and more a place of indoctrination?

Please post responses to our Facebook page or email

Monday, March 26, 2012

Save OBU Outreach: Shawnee Community

After 3+ months of almost daily blogging, Save OBU decided to join OBU students, faculty, and staff in taking Spring Break off last week.  We're back with gusto and have a packed schedule for the rest of March and beyond.

We have talked at length about how the dramatic and unprecedented changes at OBU in recent years have impacted students and faculty.  We've heard from concerned alumni and friends who oppose the extremism and fundamentalism of today's SBC and BGCO.  We've even talked about what prospective students and parents are doing in light of OBU's alarming new direction.

Save OBU will spend a few days focusing on some other stakeholders we want to invite into our coalition.

Town and Gown: A Delicate Dance
It's in everyone's best interests when the relationship between a university and its wider community is mutually reinforcing.  This is especially true in small towns where the university (or universities) is a significant driver of economic and cultural activity.  Fortunately, Shawnee and OBU have enjoyed a very good relationship over the years, all things considered.  Not everyone in town stays current on OBU news and happenings, of course.  Most people drive up and down Kickapoo Street, see a construction project every few years, and assume all is well.  A lot of townies, aware of the university's conservative and traditional ethos, think of OBU as a throwback to an earlier time.  But in general, the community supports the university and OBU's presence has a positive impact on the community.

Could it be that OBU administrators' dramatic and unprecedented turn away from a liberal arts college and toward a Bible academy ethos might ultimately change the town-gown dynamic and harm the community?  I think so, and I invite Shawnee residents to learn about the negative changes over the past two years and join our growing coalition.

When Colleges Fail, College Towns Decline
OBU is a long way from failing, of course.  We've already studied other colleges that are a lot further down the ugly path toward irrelevance, financial problems, and losing accreditation.  But the seeds have already been planted, and if the current leaders continue to nurture them and have a deleterious effect on OBU's reputation, curriculum, and overall success, things could get ugly in a few years.  Already, there is reason to fear that our next re-accreditation process will have to address concerns about some of the disastrous personnel and policy changes that have been unilaterally forced on OBU by senior administrators.

Since fundamentalists seized control of Louisiana College, a SBC school in Pineville, LA, in 2005 and began running it into the ground, the community of 13,000 has struggled.  Like OBU, LC has dabbled in adding programs while neglecting its core mission of Christian liberal arts education.  Its results are not promising, and offer a warning for where we may be headed if the president and provost get their way.  Likewise, Shorter University in Rome, GA, is also in the throes of a fundamenatlist purge.  The president has required all staff to sign a fundamentalist "lifestyle statement" and is prepared to fire everyone who doesn't sign it by next month.  Shorter may offer a better parallel for OBU because its community is closer to Shawnee's size and it has two colleges.  (The other, Berry College, is a highly-rated non-denominational Christian college that has sustained its commitment to liberal arts education.)  So with one stable college and one very unstable one, the Rome community is dealing with the new reality of what a fundamentalist takeover can do to a once-great college.

Shawnee, America: Help Save OBU!
In addition to the faculty-specific abuses described in this post, here are some specific issues Save OBU is concerned about:
  • While the president, Rev. Dr. David Whitlock, has done a great job of getting involved in the community (an area where President Agee had great success and President Brister struggled), he certainly has made decisions aimed at pleasing the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma rather than protecting the interests of students and faculty.
  • The current provost, Rev. Dr. Stan Norman (who luckily avoided being thrust into the Louisiana College disaster in 2005), was passed over for the religion/ministry department deanship in favor of one of BGCO Executive Director Anthony Jordan's friends.  Soon after, President Whitlock created the provost position for Norman (thereby issuing a de facto demotion of the woman who had served very capably as chief academic officer) and turned him loose to begin undermining academic freedom, interfering in curriculum decisions, and making OBU look more like a fundamentalist Bible academy than a respected Christian liberal arts university.  Though many of our supporters would like to see both leaders leave OBU and the senior faculty very nearly held a no confidence vote last fall, Save OBU has not called for anyone's ouster.  We hold fast to the hope that the provost, realizing he is a bad fit for OBU, will leave of his own accord and the president will be convinced that it is better to stand for students' and professors' interests than to be a BGCO lackey.
  • Clearly, however, the BGCO enjoys unprecedented influence over OBU affairs even as its financial investment (especially as a percentage of OBU's budget) plummets.
  • Sadly, the 33-member Board of Trustees includes only two Shawnee residents (that we know of).
  • Whereas OBU until very recently welcomed new faculty from a variety of denominational families, senior leadership has now institutionalized a very clear hierarchy of Shawnee-area churches.  Immanuel (where the minister has said that the truth of the gospel "depends on" a literal six day creation) and other fundamentalist Baptist churches stand alone at the top.  Moderate Baptist congregations are tolerable but suspect.  Judging by recent job postings, OBU's message to Christians who worship in mainline Protestant congregations (United Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran) is, quite simply: Don't bother.  So far, we have not seen anyone fired for being a Presbyterian.  But the provost has suggested that mainline Protestant faculty ought to defend or explain why they have remained in mainline Protestant denominations.  This is a radical departure from precdent at OBU, where professors have for decades enriched the worship lives and leadership of a variety of local Protestant congregations.
  • A few local educators who are aware of OBU's new direction have already reached out to us with concerns that they can no longer recommend OBU to their best students.  This does not bode well for a community that prides itself on having a first-rate university.
We want to thank Shawnee-area residents for taking time to learn about some of the recent, dramatic, and negative changes on Bison Hill.  We invite you to join our growing coalition of facutly, students, parents, and alumni.  We love OBU dearly and are hopeful that through collective action and advocacy, we can prevail over those who would turn OBU into an unaccredited fundamentalist Bible academy.  Since fundamentalists siezed control of the SBC in the 1980s and state conventions in the 1990s, SBC-affiliated colleges like OBU have struggled with the issues we've described.  Nondenominational Christian colleges have plowed ahead with excellence in Christian liberal arts education as Baptist schools have endured tiresome, distracting battles.  Bob Agee and Mark Brister (not to mention Joe Ingram and Bill Tanner at the BGCO) shielded OBU from those battles for many years.  But with the Norman-Whitlock administraion, the battle has come to Bison Hill.  We ask for your prayers and support as we stand together for the proud Christian liberal arts tradition that made OBU great and a centerpiece of the Shawnee community.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Break Reading

We've gained so many new readers and supporters over the past few weeks that I want to take a moment and point our new Save OBU audience to some blog posts of interest.  As you're finding out, the consequences of OBU's new fundamentalist takeover are wide ranging.  The posts below are organized by category.  Hopefully reading them together will give a better sense of the complicated issues we face, the stealth nature of OBU's opponents and their dramatic and unprecedented new policies, and the web of OBU constituents who are being affected.

If you agree that ending the BGCO's legal and political stranglehold of OBU is the only surefire defense against fundamentalist encroachment, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Students and faculty, you may want to bookmark this page and use Spring Break to get caught up on everything that's been going on here at the Save OBU blog.

Student Experiences Under the Norman-Whitlock Regime
Contributing Editor Veronica Pistone looks at how dismissive (and frankly inappropriate) administrators stonewalled students who asked honest questions about the unprecedented new policy changes during the 2010-11 academic year.
The New OBU Student Experience
We Will Not Be Silenced (Part 1)
We Will Not Be Silenced (Part 2)
Why Not Sit Down to a Little Fireside Chat?
Week Recap

What Makes a Good Administrator?
Veronica's first series looked broadly at the issue of administration at OBU.
My OBU Story: Veronica Pistone
Some Historical Background
What Makes a Good Administrator (Part 1)

What Makes a Good Administrator (Part 2)

What Makes a Good Administrator (Part 3)

Guest Blog Posts
The [Forgotten] Rights of Conscience Inalienable, Caitlin Dacus ('11)
My OBU Story: Clayton Mauritzen ('06)
My OBU Story (Part II): Travelers on a Journey, Clayton Mauritzen ('06)

The Administration's Ongoing War on Faculty Norms and Autonomy
Faculty Friday: Why Turnover Matters
Faculty Friday: Firing Professors a Favored Tactic Among SBC Fundamentalists
Faculty Friday: Open Hostility on Bison Hill
Faculty Friday: Games Administrators Play
Faculty Friday: The Long War
Faculty Friday: Church Affiliation Politics (Part 1)
Faculty Friday: OBU An Indoctrination Station?

Other Baptist Schools' Experiences
Sunday School: William Jewell College
Sunday School: Stetson University
Sunday School: Furman University
Sunday School: Things Can Get Worse
Sunday School: Yellowstone Baptist College
Sunday School: Reassessing Institutional Parallels

Money and Power: The Mutually Draining Side of the OBU-BGCO Relationship
Money Monday
Money Monday: Falls Creek a Better Bet for OK Baptists
Money Monday: OBU Subsidy Dwarfs BGCO's Evangelism Budget
Money Monday: Capital Campaign Looking Good -- On the Surface
Money Monday: The Cooperative Program and the Great Recession
Money Monday: BGCO Evangelism Conference
Money Monday: BGCO's OBU Subsidy Drops as Its Influence Skyrockets
Money Monday: The Truth Behind the Faculty/Staff Phase of the Capital Campaign
Money Monday: OBU -- The Baptist Building's Newest Tenant
Money Monday: OBU and the BGCO Since the 1980s

Looking Ahead
While students, faculty, and staff enjoy a well-deserved break, Save OBU will spotlight other constituencies we need to bring on board.  While students, faculty, and alumni personally have the most at stake in OBU administrators' recent decisions to run the college more like a fundamentalist Bible academy and conform to the BGCO elites' dream of purging moderates from Bison Hill, a cheapened and diminished OBU has consequences for other people and groups as well.  This week, we'll look at some of the other constituencies we hope to welcome into our growing coalition.

Happy Spring Break, everyone!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Week Recap

So what do we learn from posting such stories? Am I, as my critics have been so quick to decide, using emotion and hearsay to make people mad? Or is there a point?

From posting these stories about recent student/administration relations, we glean some very important things.

First and foremost, we at Save OBU have an opportunity to stand against injustice and abuse of power. The idea that it is somehow justifiable for the president of a university, especially a Christian university, to treat truth-seeking students the way that students have been treated is appalling. Even for those who don't agree with anything about our movement-- surely any decent human being can realize that it is ridiculous to expect students to kowtow to such authoritarian actions and then blame them for their own unease. Some students experienced abuse and bullying and the rest of the students were ignored and treated as if they were unthinking and easily placated. We are here to say that OBU crafts brilliant thinkers. And if the administration is not ready to deal with them as the newly-blosomed adults that they are, then they do not know who they are dealing with.

These voices may come from people who are easily dismissed and forgotten. But we, Save OBU, will not allow them to be so. Their brave actions of dissent will be recognized-- as well as the terrible treatment they received as a result.

These stories show the true state of goings-on at OBU. The problems do not lie within a few isolated cases of professors being treated unethically. Rather, OBU is living through a persistent pattern of disrespect, unethical abuses by those in power, and disregard for the true mission of the University. It was expected that both students and faculty would be placated with changes to buildings and sports, but both parties have remained unswayed and dedicated to protecting those fragile freedoms upon which OBU was founded.

So then, is the problem the administration? Why write about these things on a blog which advocates for a split with the BGCO?

After all, Jacob began with a hopeful eye toward the administration-- and perhaps you have seen that I disagree. (That's ok, we don't have to agree on everything!)

But Jacob has made a few very good points early on that hold great import for this new information. These problems are not these problems are not new at OBU. They have been around for a long time. They are, surely, reaching new heights with faculty dismissals and student disrespect, but this strong ideological power battle is not a new thing at OBU.

In fact, last summer as I moved to Texas and began to meet many who had lived through the fundamentalist takeover, my stories were not so surprising to them. One even said, "We get it. You're losing your school. We lost our entire denomination."

It turns out that lying, abusing power, working in secrecy-- these are characteristics of the leadership that has followed much of the fundamentalism in the SBC. It is militant. The ends justify the means. So what if a few students need to bullied into silence or a few liberals need to lose their jobs? We will soon have a bible-believing school again!

Sounds just like something Jesus might say.

But all of this brings me to my final point-- alluded to yesterday. If the administration is not listening to faculty and they are not listening to students, then who are they possibly listening to? Whose opinion can possibly matter?

The only solution I've found: they are hoping to impress the Baptist-higher ups. They want to look good with the BGCO. In their post-takeover SBC world, purifying OBU will be the ultimate feather in their caps.

And that is why ties need to be split. We cannot deal with the misplaced loyalties any longer. Look at what it has done to our faculty. Look at what it has done to our students. Look at what it has given us for administration. What will be the end result of our beloved school?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Why Not Sit Down to a Little Fireside Chat?

Obviously, communication attempts initiated by the students did not go well. But what steps were taken?

Some may remember a few events from that academic year called, "Fireside Chats."

In fairness, I do not remember whether administration or SGA pushed for these events. But, either way, these events were presented as an opportunity for students and administration to discuss concerns.

But allow me, for a moment, to give some personal commentary which, I believe, captures the sentiments of many students who were around me in my time at OBU.

First, by the time these events were announced, students had been repeatedly ignored and abused by the president and provost. Trust had already been broken and the current mood on campus did not bode well for discussions at all. Students were under the impression that administration did not care to hear anything they had to say so motivation to go be ignored was understandably low.

Second, instead of empowering students' voices in an official forum, this would be an informal event. Students who had tried to negotiate the available venues to be heard had been bullied and disenfranchised. But, now, the substitute being offered did not give us any sort of real recognition and felt very much like being talked down to.

Third, these events were often scheduled at times which were inconvenient for many students. One, specifically, I remember, was scheduled for the night before a school break. Also, I remember more than one occasion of rescheduling and very little communication about the new times.

Fourth, each chat was supposed to have a designated topic. The first topic was men's housing.

Men's housing.

If I look over the letter to the editor which had come out or think about the things which the five students had presented to the president and provost, I get the feeling that men's housing was not even on the radar. And, if I did want to talk about housing, I probably wouldn't bring those concerns to the president or the provost.

So what are students supposed to do when the overwhelming question is, "Do you support academic freedom?" -- an incredibly important and serious question-- and the only option is an informal "chat?"

There were other times the administration did specifically ask for student input.

That was also the year during which OBU made the decision to restart the football team. Now, let me be clear, I have zero opinion on OBU having a football team or not. (Or, none other than: GO BISON!) At some point before the decision was announced there was an open-mic student forum where students could ask questions and voice concerns. Many felt the administration seemed surprised that the response of the students was not overwhelmingly positive.

Again, no personal opinion. But, after more negative sentiments than positive were expressed, the decision rolled on as if no one had said anything.

Is it the students' job to have an opinion about whether or not the school has the financial ability to support a football team? Probably not.

But this is the bottom line: if you don't want my opinion, don't ask for it. If you don't care what students have to say, don't go through the farce of pretending like their concerns have any sort of value for real decisions. It is disrespectful and a waste of everyone's time.

If the only opinion worth working for is that of the BGCO, why even bother talking to students at all?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We Will Not Be Silenced (Part 2)

Although the first attempt at dialogue went disastrously, students continued an attempt at dialogue with the administration. The first student had been bullied, but hopes were high that if, perhaps, administration was approached directly the result might be more profitable.

Five seniors, involved in various activities and organizations across campus, all exemplary students, decided to try to schedule a meeting with Dr. Whitlock and Dr. Norman. This group intentionally included two SGA representatives. The goal of this meeting was to bring to the attention of the administration what was perceived to be concerns of the student body. The group did not want their questions answered, but rather, intended to suggest an avenue which could put the administration directly into dialogue with the students. The unrest among the student body, which they sensed, was great enough to warrant direct address by the administration. Basically the students wanted to say, "You've got to let the students know what is going on or they're going to riot."

This sentiment was not unwarranted. There had already been proposed ideas for peaceful protests among the students. But in favor of moving forward in unity, these five decided to try to make ways for dialogue.

In preparation for this meeting the five students reviewed the 2020 plan as well as Dr. Whitlock's 2010 convocation address. Because they wanted to discuss the future of the University, they arrived knowing both what the administration had already presented as their vision for the future, as well as the concerns of the student body.

This student group wished to propose an open forum where students would be empowered to ask administrators about their concerns. Furthermore, they explained, this forum could have pre-selected questions, submitted by students in advance to an email account created for this event. This way the students could get the answers they wanted while the administration could maintain the decorum of a well-organized official event, they thought.

But before this meeting could take place, the students were forced to reschedule two or three times. Granted, it is hard to get seven busy schedules to line up. But when the time was finally set, it had not been rescheduled to a more opportune time to give them plenty of time to talk, but was scheduled for the 10:00 hour (which is free because of chapel), meaning the students had about 45 minutes to present weeks' worth of preparation.

The meeting began with the students individually introducing who they were, what they did around campus, and why they were there. They talked openly about students' concerns with the state of the University, each of them having prepared a part of the presentation.

Dr. Whitlock and Dr. Norman wanted to simply answer these concerns, but the students had not come for answers. They knew that the student body needed to hear these answers for themselves. They came in solidarity with the student body as their representatives asking for openness.

Dr. Whitlock and Dr. Norman spent most of the meeting pushing the responsibility for communication back on to the students asking things like, "Why aren't you dispelling these rumors?"

But these students did not know the answers to the questions the student body was asking. How were they supposed to stop rumors when there were no answers to be had?

Why was the administration's secrecy suddenly the burden of these students?

Besides, this meeting was not about answers. It was about empowering students in a formal venue. But the overarching feeling the students were confronted with in the meeting was, "Why aren't you doing something about this?"

In the final five minutes, three students clarified what seemed to be a misunderstanding on the part of the administrators, explaining that they were not SGA representatives (the first thing which they had said in the meeting). From there, the meeting went totally downhill.

"Who are you again?"
"We're here to represent the student body."
"You're not in SGA; you don't represent anybody."

It seemed as if any communication made throughout the meeting had been completely undermined. The students left feeling blown off, as if, because they were mostly humanities majors, they somehow only represented a small sect of the school.

Each of them left feeling like they had no say in the future of their own institution and that the administration did not care.

At 12:44 PM that day, David Whitlock tweeted:
Click here to read about the administration's little P.R. event, ostensibly to address students' concerns.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We Will Not Be Silenced (Part 1)

As I mentioned in the last post, suspicion arose for most upperclassmen upon arrival to Welcome Week, August 2010. After many lengthy discussions of where the students' voices properly fit into the university atmosphere and what sorts of actions should be taken, the first action came by the brave pen of one student as a letter to the editor of the Bison.

This letter mentioned concerns for the University's future, citing that although the 2020 plan seemed to propose a lofty vision of University prosperity, the means to that end seemed to be "relieving [professors] of their professorial duties," as well as demoting a beloved administrator "masked behind a simple, titular change." The dates and figures for the student's knowledge came from his leadership in the Welcome Week Steering Committee, something openly discussed in the letter. In short, this letter asked for more information, specifically, asking the Bison to write stories which would address what this student perceived to be the concerns of the student body.

This letter came out in v. 94, issue 6, of the Bison on October, 20, 2010. This issue of the newspaper came out the day before Fall Break. Upon return to Bison Hill (10-25-10), the student received a call from Dr. Whitlock's secretary on his cell phone, expressing an urgent desire that he meet with the president. It was understood from that conversation that the meeting would be that day. After all, the secretary seemed to have his schedule in front of her while conferring with the student about a time to meet.

After spending the morning looking up words used in the letter to make sure that the time between Welcome Week and Fall Break in which the letter had been crafted, had indeed been sufficient time to make sure that every word was the correct one, he felt sure in his decision to put his name on such a letter in such a forum.

After taking a test, the student arrived at Dr. Whitlock's office and was told it would be just a moment before the president would see him. When he walked into the front door of the president's office, Dr. Whitlock was walking in the side, a copy of the Bison in hand.

Dr. Whitlock positioned the two on two chairs which were placed parallel to one another, the national championship basketball between them. This made eye contact very difficult as the two were either facing the same way or separated by a basketball.

After a handshake, initiated by the student-- not the president, Dr. Whitlock began the meeting with a series of statements which revealed clearly the hostile nature of the meeting. This involved statements like: "I was wrong about you." "I thought you would come to me if you had concerns instead of writing a letter like this." "This kind of information is not for students to know." "I was out of town last week, I just got a copy of this this morning." As well as a repetition of the statement, "I misjudged you."

When Dr. Whitlock finished with this invective, he looked to the student for an answer. Having realized that this diatribe contained no question, the student calmly began to state, "My purpose in writing the letter..." But he was never able to finish explaining his thought. In his first opportunity to speak in this meeting he was interrupted by Dr. Whitlock reading the expressed purpose as written in the letter. Dr. Whitlock then looked to the student for an answer.

He tried again. "I wrote the letter because..." At this point, he was again interrupted. Dr. Whitlock stopped him from speaking and demanded, "The only thing I need to know is, do you think everything written in this letter is true?" Obviously, confronted with such a question, the student began to second guess himself. But he remembered that all morning he had rechecked every word of that letter, not to mention that he had spent two months writing it in the first place (a fact mentioned in the letter itself). Feeling empowered by these things, the student replied, "Yes." At this point he was attacked with another onslaught of "I misjudged you." etc.

At this point, Dr. Whitlock put the paper down on the table and stood up; he was now literally talking down to the student. Here he asked a few questions, putting the burden of administrative secrecy onto the student. "Why didn't you talk to someone?" "Don't you know who you are and what it means to put your name on a letter like this?" It was very clear that Dr. Whitlock thought the letter was written unthinkingly, in a fit of rage-- perhaps like the one which had inspired this meeting.

Finally, Dr. Whitlock asked, "Do you think every hiring decision needs to go through students?" To this, the student responded, "No, and I said that in the letter. I was only asking for more information." To this, Dr. Whitlock replied by laughing at the student and asking, "Oh, so if you don't know about something, then no student does?"

Of course, at this point in time, that student was currently reading every single post which appeared on the OBU website. So the answer was probably, yes. But that is beside the point.

After laughing at the student, Dr. Whitlock walked to his desk-- perhaps 8 or 9 yards away, sat down, and started writing. Feeling dismissed, the student stood up, got his backpack and walked to the door. At this point, Dr. Whitlock started talking again.

"Admissions is probably a hard place to work for you with such a duplicitous attitude towards the university."

The student recalls that at this point he had little to say to the president. He had been literally talked down to, laughed at, and now, Dr. Whitlock was making it clear that he did not know what a student worker did in the Admissions office. Student workers are not on the front lines convincing students to come to OBU, they are most often in the back folding t-shirts. Furthermore, this student had been doing this job quite competently for nearly 4 years.

From here, Dr. Whitlock managed to mention that the issues with an ex-professor, whose name he said incorrectly, did not concern the student. Already sitting at his desk, he turned to face his computer.

Certain he was now dismissed, the student again walked to the door and managed to open it this time. Again, Dr. Whitlock resumed speaking.

"You should talk to the head of admissions about position reassignment."

In shock, from the doorway, the student simply responded, "My job?"

"Yes. Something with the same wages and the same hours, but a different job because it must be hard for you to work in Admissions when you hate the University so much."

Unable to stand anymore, the student nodded and left.

Click here for Part 2 in this series.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The New OBU Student Experience

Sometimes it starts to feel like this is only an ideological power battle-- and it is certainly that. But that kind of battle is exhausting. I'd like to take this week on the blog to give us all time to refuel and remember why this cause is important to us.

We have already discussed that the current administration's loyalty to the BGCO has caused them not to understand the culture of OBU. But what has that meant for the student body?

If the product of OBU is students, then we students and alumni have a lot invested in the future of OBU. We have focused a lot on how this takeover is affecting the faculty, and rightfully so. These problems are the most visible. The faculty have invested the most time-- their whole careers and lives-- in OBU. Their concerns are, indeed, pressing.

But what about those of us who invested a very developmentally significant four years to OBU? What about those of us who are beginning to see our investment add up to close to $100,000? That's a significant chunk of change to put into one experience and piece of paper. We should be concerned with OBU's reputation and with what kinds of students it is producing.

After all, my degree will always say Oklahoma Baptist University on it, whether the values which that names stands for changes or not.

So I want to take this week to share some of the stories of students (or recent alumni) and their experiences since all of these changes started taking place at OBU. Students' voices are the easiest to silence. They hold very little power at the university. If you wait long enough, they'll be gone. After all, those of us who picked up on the changes most quickly were Juniors and Seniors. Come May, most of us will be gone. And in our place will be a new generation of students who do not know what kind of place OBU used to be.

Over the coming days I will share the experience of my classmates in our attempt to understand and/or sway the administration.

In August 2010 when I showed up on Bison Hill, I began to ask questions when I realized a beloved professor had been dismissed-- for reasons no one could seem to account. I was not the only student who was alarmed. As we began to pull together our resources-- calling alumni, talking to faculty and staff-- we began to see that the changes at OBU were indicative of a much larger problem, a problem against which we needed to stand.

Many things happened over the course of that school year. There was an underground newspaper. There was much discussion over possibilities for peaceful demonstrations. There were many phone calls, many meetings-- trying as hard as we could to get our story straight and figure out what to do.

Any upperclassmen could see that Owen's Hall was buzzing with fury.

We knew we needed to maintain an effort to save our dear University.

Some students, at different times in the year, acted boldly and directly. Before these students are forgotten as graduates who, like all of us must, have moved their lives elsewhere, I would like to empower their voices. Over the rest of this week, look for their stories.

If you have a story you would like to contribute, please email me at

Monday, March 12, 2012

Money Monday: OBU and the BGCO Since the 1980s

Here at Save OBU, we believe that OBU and the BGCO should part ways.  The only way to guard against the kinds of abuses and bad policy changes we've seen the past 2 years is to get the BGCO out of the higher education area altogether.  Even if the faculty and trustees put a little more pressure on President Whitlock and Provost Norman moved on, there would just be another over-zealous administrator eroding academic freedom down the line.  Maybe in a year, maybe in ten.  Whenever the Baptist Building decided to crack down, we would see a new hatchet man.

By now, the laundry list of grievances, violations, and offenses against academic freedom are well known to friends and foes alike.  But a big part of our argument is financial and administrative.  For instance, we've noted that in the past few years, the BGCO's annual subsidy to OBU has fallen.  Even more significantly, the subsidy as a percentage of OBU's total operating budget has declined substantially, from 6.8% to 4.7% in just three years (a 30% decline).

But let's dig a little deeper into the annals of OBU's mutually draining and frequently difficult relationship with the BGCO.  The convention, of course, would prefer that Oklahoma Baptists and OBU community members not think too hard about its relationship to OBU, through which it wields immense power for only a token contribution to the university's budget.  Unfortunately for them, all the data we need are still available in back issues of a publication called The Anvil, an OBU publication that ran from 1965-2003.  Presumably these magazines are available for you to review in the archives.

If you look back 30 years ago, you will probably be stunned to realize that in 1982, the BGCO funded fully a quarter of OBU's operating budget.  25%!  By 1989, that number had declined to 18.8%.  When President Bob Agee announced his retirement in 1997, the BGCO's share of OBU's budget had plummeted to 11.5%, which is still more than double what it is today.

Has OBU gained any autonomy in return for the BGCO failing to keep up with the university's budget needs?  Of course not.  OBU administrators still have to bow to the ideological wishes of BGCO elites -- evidently now more than ever.

Now, some will point out that the actual cash value of the convention's annual check to OBU has not declined nearly as precipitously as the dramatic decline as a percentage of the budget, from 24.6% in 1982 to 4.7% today.  Still the convention's inability and unwillingness to even come close to keeping up with the university's expenses should make people question whether the convention really has the capability and competence to run a university that is much larger, complicated, and costly to operate than it was 30 years ago when Joe L. Ingram ran the BGCO (he was later formerly censured for "consorting with moderates.")

At a minimum, if OBU has permanently entered an era where it is raising fully 95% of its revenue on its own, it should certainly expect to have some autonomy and independence in its governance and affairs.  How about we begin by letting the university elect 95% of its own trustees?  If the BGCO wants to kick in a token 5% of our budget, maybe we'll tolerate them electing 5% of the trustees.

Instead of any reasonable distribution of power and influence, the convention continues to have OBU in a legal and institutional stranglehold.  Even though Dr. Jordan is technically only an ex officio member of the committee that interviews presidential candidates, his influence is profound because of the power he holds to help determine a) who chairs the search committee and b) the 32 trustees who vote to elect the president.

Just as the convention realized in the 1980s that the Baptist Hospital system had grown too large, too complicated, and only tangentially related to the BGCO's mission, it's time for us to face the fact that the BGCO is no longer an honest, helpful, or capable partner in OBU's mission.  It's dishonest because its true desire for OBU is veiled in secrecy.  It's unhelpful because its fundamentalist ministers won't recommend OBU to students because of a paranoid fear that OBU is liberal, and we're soon getting to the point where its moderate ministers (if there are any) won't be able to recommend it in good conscience because it's too fundamentalist.  And it's incapable because the convention is now only able to provide a token subsidy, yet expects total ownership and control -- a completely unreasonable and unfair expectation.

The BGCO holds power and influence over OBU out of all proportion to its quite small contribution.  That is wrong, unjust, and needs to change.  It may have been bearable when OBU was still free to be a true liberal arts university.  But if the price of that 4.7% subsidy is the situation we presently have under the Norman-Whitlock administration, then we're ready to let the BGCO spend its cash on other, more efficient and fruitful ministry priorities and leave OBU alone.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Does OBU Make Students More Liberal? (Part 1)

For decades, pastors in Oklahoma Baptist churches large and small have warned high school seniors and their families, "Don't go to OBU.  It's liberal.  And if you go there, you'll lose your faith."  Please excuse me for a few moments while I laugh hysterically at the ridiculous, paranoid, and hopelessly incorrect assertion that Oklahoma Baptist University's doctrinal/ideological/theological/political ethos could accurately be described as liberal.

[I've actually been trying to write this post for two weeks, but the notion that OBU is liberal is so outrageous that it's difficult to even discuss this topic.]

Okay, I'm back.  As someone with a modest amount of theological training and some background in social science methodology, I find this question to be one of those maddening cases where the answer is obvious and intuitive, but the language we use to discuss the issue is imprecise and the complicated and important distinctions between correlation and causality make it difficult to say anything definitive.

So let's start with language.  First, there's the issue of the liberal-moderate conservative spectrum.  For our purposes, let's put politics aside.  We're not talking about whether OBU makes you more likely to vote Republican or Democratic.  Furthermore, the literature on political ideology and educational attainment is complicated and contradictory.  Race, parents' partisanship, income, and religiosity are among the variables that are better at predicting an individual's political ideology than what kind of college s/he attended.  Let's just skip the political element of the "spectrum" for now.

When good candidates for jobs steer clear of OBU because it's gone off-the-deep-end conservative and pastors preach against OBU as a liberal bastion, the spectrum is theological.  The language is imprecise because the spectrum is so relative.  We say the BGCO is run by fundamentalists.  They say anyone who defends academic freedom or opposes their agenda is a liberal.  Neither of those labels is entirely accurate in every case.  And what you see depends on where you stand.

If you're a fundamentalist pastor in Oklahoma, everyone looks like a liberal.  If you were at OBU in the 1970s-1990s as it was earning a reputation for excellence in Christian higher education and you see the professors who are being hired and the leaders who are calling the shots today, everyone looks like a fundamentalist.  The matter is even more complicated because the relative distance between both sides has increased as those who call themselves conservatives in this debate have moved so dramatically to the right as those who call themselves moderates have stayed the same.  Another complication is that this theological spectrum has different dimensions, such as where you stand on classical Baptist freedoms such as liberty of the conscience.  With their pastor-as-pope model, their creedalism, their authoritarianism, and their unqualified embrace of partisan politics, the modern-day SBC and BGCO have undeniably retreated from our cherished freedoms.  Thus, even if their literalist view of the Bible hasn't changed much, their rightward lurches on these other dimensions has a cumulative effect of moving them dramatically to the right on the spectrum.

Back to our original question: What happens when a student comes to OBU?  How does s/he move along this theological spectrum.  The only way to establish a causal link between an OBU education and students' placement on the liberal-conservative spectrum is to survey them before they matriculate and then after they graduate and using statistical techniques to control for students who transfer, drop out, etc.  To my knowledge, this has never been done at OBU or any other Christian college.  If you know about where we can find this kind of data, please let us know.

For now, the best I can do is point to a study done 20 years ago by a prominent sociologist (herself an alumna of Southwest Baptist College in Missouri).  She does a good job of taking politics out of the conservative-liberal spectrum and showing the association between "theological parties" and educational attainment:
But notice that she has not distinguished between different types of education.  Take a look at the chart below.  Here, we see membership in theological parties broken down by type of college attended:
According to these data, Southern Baptist laypeople who attended secular universities are more likely to be fundamentalists or conservatives (81%) than Baptist college graduates (67%).  Conversely, Baptist college grads are much more likely to be moderates or moderate conservatives (32%) than Baptist who went to secular universities (19%).

These results suggest that Baptist colleges have a substantial moderating influence on students' theological positions.  Over time, we can speculate as to why.  But I think that whenever students have access to the books, the intellectual tools, and the encouragement from faithful Christian scholars that OBU until recently prided itself on providing, the inevitable result is that few will remain fundamentalists for long.

Findings such as these poke huge holes in the increasingly fundamentalist BGCO's entire rationale for operating a college in the first place.  It turns out that those demonic secular universities that people worship on autumn Saturdays but rail against every other day of the week actually do a better job of keeping Christian young people in the fold.  This is no surprise when you consider the masterful job Baptist and parachurch organizations have done at creating fundamentalist enclaves within state universities.  And the fruits of this trend (theologically conservative state school grads and theologically moderate Baptist college grads) is evident throughout the BGCO today.  I have not been able to find even one BCM campus minister (besides OBU's own) that came from OBU.  In any event, it's a certainty that no more than a handful of the people the BGCO pays to minister to Oklahoma college students are actually OBU grads.  Then there is the matter of how, for all the BGCO's desire to only hire pastors from the SBC's fundamentalist seminaries, a shockingly high proportion of OBU ministry grads would never dream of attending today's SBC seminaries and the ones that do tend to be quite a bit more moderate than the BGCO would prefer.  That's why the pipeline into BGCO pulpits usually runs from state schools and Southwestern Seminary, and not nearly as much as you would expect from OBU.  Anecdotally, it seems that the OBU brain drain results in a stunning proportion of graduates ministering and working outside Oklahoma.  I'm sure the BGCO would never allow OBU to publish a report on its ministry grads because it would be such a colossal embarrassment to the convention and would undermine a huge part of OBU's reason for existing.

Despite the BGCO's fervent wishes and best efforts, it seems undeniable that, in the aggregate, OBU has a moderating influence on students' theological views.  Given the stunning lack of OBU graduates in the BGCO hierarchy and the surprisingly low numbers of OBU grads in BGCO pulpits, it's clear that the pastors who have been OBU's detractors were onto something.  Their paranoid fears that OBU is liberal are, of course, ridiculous.  But their sense that OBU's mission and the BGCO's goals are contradictory if not outright hostile to one another is right on target.

What can you do about it?

  • Let Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laypeople know about Save OBU.  They will want to protect their hard-earned offering plate dollars from being used as a subsidy to an institution with an $80 million endowment.  Their interests are best advanced through BCM, evangelism, and Falls Creek.  OBU devours Cooperative Program resources that could be used in these vital ministry areas.  Instead, $2.5 million per year is being funneled into OBU, and Oklahoma Baptists have shockingly little to show for it.
  • Speaking of spreading the word about Save OBU, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  This will help dramatically expand our social reach.
  • If you are an Oklahoma Baptist, start a conversation in your church about whether OBU is really the kind of investment the BGCO should be making.  A number of very fine Baptist schools have parted company with their state conventions.  Years after they split, the colleges and the conventions are much better off.
  • We'll be ramping up our activism in the weeks and months to come.  But for now, we need help getting our message out and letting the BGCO know that there are actually two camps that see the convention's ownership of OBU as disastrous.  The protectors of academic freedom and the Christian liberal arts heritage, obviously, will not abide OBU administrators' recent policy changes.  But, equally as significantly, there are plenty of Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laypeople who have known for decades that this partnership is mutually draining and not very fruitful given its huge cost and the battles it has fomented through the years.
  • If the BGCO is so desperate to run a fundamentalist Bible academy, maybe it can throw its millions behind struggling dumps like this or this.  I know of a couple administrators who might fit right in.
  • Just for fun, take the poll at the top-right part of our home page.

We'll take up this topic again from time to time as new evidence and arguments arise.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My OBU Story, Part II: Travelers on a Journey

“We are trav’lers on a journey, fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”
—“The Servant Song,”
The Baptist Hymnal (1991), no. 613

In the summer of 2004, I returned to East Texas.  I was twenty years old and two years into my OBU education.  A semester before, I switched from a major in Applied Youth Ministry to a double-major in Philosophy and Religion.  East Texas had changed little, but I had changed in ways I was only beginning to understand—without the tools to negotiate the difference.
I returned home to make peace with that good ol’-time religion, but peace was not to be found. After a summer under the tutelage of the pastor of my youth, I left his church more confused and disenchanted than ever.  As I drove through the empty land of southeastern Oklahoma, its loneliness echoed in my heart.  Frustrated and weary, I quit.  Finding God only in the classroom, I resolved to make my studies my religion.
Like all religion majors, I was required to take Baptist History and Theology, and I was registered for the fall of that year.  No longer believing that I was a Baptist, my only concern was that my distaste would not affect my grade point average.  Instead, I discovered that I had become more of a Baptist than I ever realized.
Presented with a series of Baptist distinctives on the first day of class, I was incredulous.  Historic Baptist commitments to freedom of religious expression, the separation of church and state, the freedom of the conscience, and healthy suspicion of religious and political authority were unknown to me.  I was used to pastors drumming from the pulpit for the invasion of Iraq.  I was used to having petitions to congressmen ready for my signature in the foyer after Sunday sermons.  I was used to hearing that the Lord’s supper was closed and that the consciences of church members should submit to their pastor’s authority.
Yet my incredulity concerning Baptist history soon turned to interest.  Interest became fascination, and fascination passion.  Here was a world unknown to me, a heritage I had not known to claim.  Like the junction of great rivers, Baptist history is broad with tributaries and eddying currents aplenty.  As these streams merge into one, with all their conflict and particularity, a common identity flows forward.  I poured myself into these waters.
            Soon, I realized that the guidance of the philosophy and religion department toward radical honesty in biblical and philosophical inquiry connected me to the historic principles of the Baptist tradition.  I began to understand that the school’s commitment to liberal arts flowed out of the foundational Baptist doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.  Just as all must respond to God with no mediator save Christ, so all must respond to God’s truth.  This rock is the foundation upon which OBU empowered young minds.
Western Civ, Sociology, Psychology, Epistemology, Baptist History and Theology, Ancient Philosophy and Aesthetics, Greek and Hebrew—all these courses became a means of grace, a way of knowing a God that I loved but did not understand.  In the words of Clement of Alexandria, the patron saint of the Christian liberal arts tradition:

“I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that from geometry, music, grammar, and philosophy itself, he culls what is useful and guards the faith against assault.  And he who brings everything to bear on a right life …this man is an experienced searcher after truth.”

            At OBU I learned both to be a disciple of Christ and a Baptist. I would be remiss not to mention the role that the local church played in the formation of my Baptist identity, but that is a story unto itself.  As a traveler on the road of discipleship, I have found my identity.  I am Baptist, and what is more Baptist than the honest, radical search for God’s truth?

Editor's Note: This beautiful testimony is a sequel to Clayton's previous post.  Other diaries in the My OBU Story series can be found here and here.  If you would like to have your OBU story considered for publication here, you can email us.  We can provide a template or, if you like, you can submit your entry in essay form.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My OBU Story: Clayton Mauritzen

“All truth is God’s truth, wherever it be found.”
—Arthur Holmes

My OBU story began as so many others before and after—with Welcome Week. I wore the beanie, I played games like the second coming of Falls Creek, and I was given a slim, purple book. I am ashamed to admit that, even to this day, I did not actually read the purple book. Even so, Arthur Holmes’ The Idea of a Christian College laid the foundation for my story at Bison Hill.
I was raised in East Texas as an active member of a Southern Baptist church. In our family, there was no clear line between religion and daily life. I was saved at the age of six, praying with my mother in my parents’ bedroom. We went to church twice on Sundays and on Wednesday evenings, and we spent our summers in the church daycare or the youth group. By the time I was in fourth grade, I could find any verse in the Bible in ten seconds or less, and I read the Bible cover to cover before high school graduation.
I came to Oklahoma Baptist University safe and comfortable in my faith. And why not? I had already mastered the fundamental truths of Christianity. Yet, before I left East Texas, my pastor admonished me from the pulpit one Sunday evening not to lose my faith at OBU. The thought was absurd, of course. OBU was a safe place. My professors might teach me little I did not already know, but I could trust them not to lead me astray.
So when I was told during Welcome Week that “all truth is God’s truth, wherever it be found,” I believed it. Suddenly, my mind opened. I remember walking through the midday August heat, the phrase “all truth is God’s truth” breaking through my mind like waves upon a rocky coast. Suddenly, the classes that I believed were merely a series of hoops on the way to a degree became vital to my awakening as a Christian: Sociology, philosophy, Spanish, psychology, history, and literature became integral to my faith, but I was naïvely unafraid of the challenges that they would bring—unable to leave discussions and lectures in the classroom. As I learned, the cocksure boy became the eager student. If I were to know God, then I would need to integrate my faith with learning.
Until the winter break of my sophomore year, I believed that these two could coexist. Then my faith in the institution of the church began to falter. I switched from majoring in Applied Youth Ministry to both Philosophy and Religion.
My memories of the months and semesters that followed are ones of highs and lows. My classes introduced me to the Bible and to critical thought, as if for the first time. They exhilarated and excited me, and my mind let go of childlike trust. I began to question the fundamentals my pastor admonished so fervently even as I held on to God’s truth wherever I found it.
I remember the darkness the most. The island of my former faith was assailed by a hurricane of new learning, and my relationship with God changed. I remember wandering the sidewalks at one or two o’clock in the morning, restless and unable to sleep. I remember shouting at God in the cold, dark rain. I remember how palpable the mist was, how it shrouded the world in the eerie half-light of the streetlamps. I remember searching for meaning as I attempted to reorient my life around a God I no longer understood. As the floodwaters rose, my house, built upon sand, collapsed.
But my OBU story does not end there: Just as the gospels would end prematurely with Jesus on the cross, so it would to leave me on sidewalks at midnight. Many shy away from tales of fear and doubt, but these are the very essence of Christ at work within us. At times the narrow road descends into darkness, seeming never to rise again. One of the hallmarks of early Baptist thought was the radical notion that all believers—anyone who trusted Jesus—were priests. No one could mediate faith save Christ. Following Jesus on the road of discipleship is not about the destination—it is about the journey.
Had my professors forced me into a narrow understanding of God—whether liberal or conservative—I would have left Christianity. Rather, they gave me tools for the road of discipleship. All of my life since OBU—seminary, working with homeless persons, and finally teaching in public education—has been a desire to love a God that I do not understand. Because they taught me that all truth is God’s truth, wherever it is found, I am still on the road, following Jesus to Jerusalem. My journey led back to a faith that belongs to me instead of another.
OBU has been more to me than an education. Through my struggles, it has been a revelation.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Progress Report on Save OBU Updates and Changes

So much has been happening at Save OBU, it's hard to keep track of it all.  About two weeks ago, I announced some changes to the blog designed to give voice to a new generation of OBU alumni.  Today I'll briefly report on some new initiatives and lay out a sketch of our vision going forward into the spring.

New Contributing Editor
After researching and writing 72 blog posts and generating more than 12,000 pageviews on the website, I invited Veronica Pistone ('11) to join me as a Contributing Editor.  Already, Veronica has impressed our readers with her knowledge, insight, and clarity.  She has not shied away from difficult topics, and her commitment to Baptist freedom and her love of OBU shines through in every post.

Veronica receiving an award for outstanding academic
achievement from SCS Dean Mark McClellan in 2011

Guest Bloggers
On Sunday, we ran our first in a series of occasional guest blog posts.  Caitlin Dacus ('11) shared an informative and passionately written essay on early Baptist hero John Leland.  Her connections to OBU's current situation show how far our alma mater has fallen.  Tomorrow and Friday, I am pleased to welcome Clayton Mauritzen ('06) as he shares his OBU story.  Look for more guest posts in the weeks and months to come.  If you have a perspective or story and would like to be considered for publication here, be sure to email us at  Remember, our focus is on protecting academic freedom at OBU and advocating for independence from the BGCO.

Spotlight on Recent OBU Disasters
In giving voice to a younger generation of OBU alumni, we are hearing from people who had a front row seat for the Norman-Whitlock administration's authoritarianism, new fundamentalist-inspired direction, and assaults on Baptist freedom.  If you missed it last week, take a look at our three part series on administration at OBU.

A Broad View of Evangelical Academia
Initially, I invested a lot of time in learning about other Southern Baptist colleges that parted company with their state conventions.  As inspiring as those stories are, OBU's situation is unique in that the convention literally owns the university.  The BGCO has OBU in a legal straitjacket from which we cannot easily escape.  That's why they are able to advocate for a fundamentalist agenda with such impunity -- we really have no recourse (which is why our protests must be loud, passionate, and unyielding).  For now, we just have to hope and pray that current leaders will not do any more damage to OBU and its reputation than they already have.

But it occurs to me that while many Baptist schools were fighting battles from which Joe Ingram, Bill Tanner, and Bob Agee wisely and deftly shielded OBU during the Fundamentalist Takeover era, OBU quietly established itself as one of the premier evangelical colleges in the U.S.  Sadly, we are losing ground to other fine colleges like Wheaton, Gordon, Biola, and Whitworth -- institutions that do not have to kowtow to fundamentalists like OBU unfortunately does.  Some are suggesting that we are witnessing an "evangelical renaissance" in academia.  Not only is OBU not taking part, we are actually regressing.  In fact, we just received word that Wheaton hired an outstanding young New Testament professor that OBU passed over for a job in 2009 in spite of her being unanimously recommended by the search committee.

Next Steps
Now that I have help with the daily blogging duties, I am going to start assembling an advisory board for Save OBU.  I'm looking for a handful of people with ties to SBC churches (both BGCO and CBFO) in Oklahoma.

Then, we'll work on compiling a dossier of issues that we can submit to OBU trustees later this spring.

One idea that seems fun and might be effective is to hold a Save OBU rally in Shawnee sometime this year or next.

And we'll begin investigating the politics and processes involved in trustee selection.  With luck and extensive planning, we'll be able to influence trustee election at the BGCO meeting in November.  Given all the student, faculty, alumni, and retired faculty protests, Anthony Jordan is not going to let any non-fundamentalists on the Board from now on.  We need to make sure OBU continues to have good trustees who understand Baptist freedom, academic freedom, and the importance of not ruining an institution's hard-earned and well-deserved reputation for excellence just to satisfy a few Baptist power brokers in OKC and Nashville.

A Word of Thanks
We have received invaluable support and encouragement from Bill Jones ('73) of Texas Baptists Committed.  Bill featured Save OBU on the TBC blog yesterday and we really appreciate all he's done.

And, of course, thank to all of you for your kind words and assistance in spreading the word.

God bless OBU!