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.