Friday, April 13, 2012

The Downward Spiral: Activism Thwarts Imminent Disaster at OBU

This weekend, we'll examine what the incremental devolution of a Christian liberal arts university looks like.  I like the way Veronica has organized her posts into brief, topical series (see posts on administration here, here, and here; students' experiences under the new regime here, here, here, here, and here; gender here, here, and here; and diversity here, here, here, and here).  I'm going to follow that pattern this weekend as we look at schools that have been taken over and are in various stages of destruction at the hands of state convention power brokers and their lakeys in university administration.

But before we turn to our attention to Baptist colleges that fundamentalists are presently wrecking, I think we've finally earned the right to brag a little.  In the midst of all the sinking ships and in the context of non-denominational colleges supplanting Baptist ones as leaders in Christian higher education, OBU refuses to lay down and die the death that all six SBC seminaries and many Baptist colleges suffered at the hands of the Takeover architects and their henchmen.

Activism On Many Fronts
Here's how it all started.  When a very accomplished, well-loved, and exceedingly devoted Christian philosopher was forced out of his position at OBU (the administration offered him a steaming pile of crap instead of the contract he deserved according to basic fairness and the Faculty Handbook), the faculty quickly realized something was badly amiss.  About a year ago, once it became clear that the administration wanted to scale back philosophy (a core discipline in the liberal arts) and replace it with "Christian apologetics," a group of concerned students started an underground newspaper to raise awareness of this unprecedented new direction and to protest the negative changes.  After another professor was unjustly forced out, faculty anger intensified.  An alumni petition circulated, further raising awareness about OBU's alarming and unprecedented new direction.  Retired faculty documented the administration's abuses and stood up for their friends and former colleagues.  Only after all that did Save OBU emerge.

Eight or nine months ago, OBU's path to becoming just another marginally accredited preacher boy camp and teacher/nurse vo-tech looked like a sure thing.  It would take time, of course, but the wheels were in motion.  Today, that march has slowed almost to a halt.  Sure, the provost might still be screening applicants with his theological, social, and political litmus tests.  Apparently the new policy is mainline Protestants need not apply.  He's still the chief academic officer, but now literally thousands of OBU stakeholders know how grossly he overestimated his mandate, such as it was.  His zeal for waging ideological warfare is most unwelcome at OBU, and  he has definitely backed down for now (faculty report that he barely spoke in a recent meeting for fear of being "misinterpreted" later).

Claiming a Victory in the Battle, but the War Rages On
There will be no ideologically-motivated firings this summer.  Too many people are paying attention now.  I seriously doubt they will override any faculty search committees this year, either.  Dr. Norman's wholesale disregard for faculty committees' expertise and judgment has created a huge embarrassment for the university and an impediment to maintaining an excellent faculty over the long term.  We will closely monitor the process this year.  Even amid the excitement (distraction?) of adding programs and conducting a capital campaign, administrators have had to focus more deliberately on their relationships with students and faculty -- relationships they took for granted and carelessly sacrificed in order to please people in the BGCO who have long had it out for the OBU religion department which, in spite of being thoroughly conservative by any objective standard, just isn't conservative enough for today's post-Takeover BGCO.  President Whitlock has endured a "brutal" trustees' executive session and has had to abandon other plans in order to demonstrate that he is on campus showing leadership and proving that he understands the difference between a liberal arts college and a Bible academy.  Just as President Brister once complained, "Anthony thinks he's my boss," we trust that President Whitlock now knows that there are a lot of people not named Rev. Dr. Anthony Jordan whose opinions also matter.

So yes, we're claiming a victory, albeit a tentative one.  As we'll see over the next few days, it's nothing short of remarkable that we've disrupted the fundamentalists' agenda for OBU.  But the way we've done it is just as remarkable.  We have no staff and no budget.  A few writers have shared their time and skills.  A few people have donated $30 for Facebook and Google ad campaigns.  And hundreds of stakeholders have shared information, expressed interest and support through Facebook and Twitter, and spread the word to classmates, colleagues, and friends.  Also, there are so many things we could have done but haven't.  We have not sought any media attention.  We have not encouraged the wrongfully dismissed professors to seek legal recourse or financial damages against OBU for their shameful treatment.  We have not contacted major donors or encouraged anyone to stop giving to OBU.  We remain hopeful that providing information, offering commentary/analysis, and slowly building a movement are superior to hardball tactics.

The Bad News: Things Will Get Worse
Just because we don't expect any firings this year does not mean we are out of the woods.  The provost's office still seems intent on incrementally remaking the faculty in the image of the post-Takeover SBC and BGCO.  We still face a dramatically limited faculty applicant pool and the constant threat that OBU will hire based on ideological purity rather than accomplishment or academic promise.  We will continue not to have a legitimate bookstore on campus.  Whether President Whitlock continues to give his blessing to Dr. Norman's war on OBU and his weapons for waging it remains to be seen.  But it will be impossible to drive a wedge between those two.

The only thing keeping OBU from going down the path of schools we'll discuss over the next few days is YOU.  Our network of concerned stakeholders is large and growing -- and we are ever on alert.  We're confident that the trustees would not abide another unethical dismissal by the administration.  But mainly we're confident that if administrators forced someone else out, they will awaken a sleeping giant.  The Bison Nation is not prepared to sit idly by while their beloved OBU is destroyed from the inside, its legacy of excellence in Christian liberal arts education dismantled piece by piece.

The moment we let up -- the moment we think we've won -- the agenda we're opposing will start moving again.  This will continue indefinitely as long as the BGCO is in charge.  As we'll see over the next few days, the pressure to make Baptist colleges fundamentalist always originates within the state convention.  After we see how badly some of these schools have suffered, we trust that our argument for independence from the BGCO will be more persuasive than ever.

But for now -- maybe for today only -- celebrate!  You have truly made a difference.  Tomorrow, we get back to work.


  1. You’ve made a big mistake paralleling our nursing program to a vo-tech. OBU nurses are among the brightest, most thorough, and most rigorously trained nurses in the region. The political lean of the administration has nothing to do with how hard we work.

    1. Whoa there... Not what I am saying at all. My point is that if fundamentalists degrade the overall quality of OBU, how will we maintain a nationally-recognized nursing program? Look no further than Shorter University in GA. Their nursing faculty left in protest after the administration forced all employees to sign a fundamentalist "lifestyle statement." I seriously doubt OBU's excellent nursing faculty would stay if OBU goes down that road.

  2. You sure are patting yourselves on the back with no facts to prove it.

  3. So... How much money does OBU get from the BGCO? As long as they receive funding - it would seem appropriate to hold to the same doctrinal convictions.

    Therefore, you need to start protesting the funding issue as well.

    Then you can be excited about a Mercer-type program in OK --- top academics with wide-open lifestyle issues amongst faculty, staff and students. Far from its "original" purpose!

    1. OBU gets $2.5M/yr, less than 5% of its operating budget. On the BGCO's end, the subsidy is about 1/6 of its Oklahoma CP allocation. 30 years ago, the BGCO funded a quarter of OBU's budget... that proportion has declined five-fold and yet the BGCO wields more influence than ever. We would love to see OBU tell the BGCO to keep its money and fund ministry and mission priorities that are starved for funds like evangelism, church planting, statewide BCM, and Falls Creek -- all of which are significantly more effective and efficient at soul-winning than OBU.

      Heck, let the BGCO start a college if it wants. Our position has always been that the costs far outweigh the tiny financial benefits of BGCO affiliation. Let the convention go play doctrinal witch hunt games somewhere else. SBC elites have moved so dramatically to the right in the past generation (and taken their seminaries over the cliff with them) that it really doen't make sense for state conventions to operate legitimate colleges anymore. The ideals of open inquiry and academic freedom are so contrary to the convention's dogmatic authoritarianism and politics. State conventions are destroying Baptist colleges. That's the point we make in this Downward Spiral series.


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