Monday, April 16, 2012

The Downward Spiral: Louisiana College Forcibly Taken Over

This series began with a victory for academic freedom at OBU.  Though this should go without saying, we now project that OBU will not carry out any ideologically-motivated dismissals this summer.  In addition, we are hopeful that the faculty will be able to fill vacancies in the usual manner, rather than having a Stan Norman-led doctrinal inquisition designed to bring more fundamentalists to OBU.

As it turns out, this is no small feat.  We need only look at other SBC-related colleges where fundamentalists wield even more control to see how bad things can get.  On Saturday, we examined the case of Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, which recently purged all faculty who did not agree with every word of the Baptist Faith and Message (edited in 2000 to be explicitly sexist and to remove Christ as the lens through which the Bible should be interpreted).  The Georgia Baptist Convention now boasts on its website that TMC has eroded academic freedom (not to mention Baptist freedoms like liberty of the conscience and soul competency).

Not to be outdone, Brewton-Parker College (also in Georgia) no longer even pretends to be a legitimate academic institution.  Even in the face of devastating financial problems and likely loss of accreditation, BPC has elevated adherence to fundamentalist doctrines over responsibility to students and faculty.

We'll return to Georgia tomorrow.  But first let us consider the case of Louisiana College in Pineville, LA -- yet another state convention-run college whose descent into fundamentalism and irrelevance is much more advanced than OBU's.

Louisiana College
LC is a little closer to OBU geographically, with more OBU faculty and administrators having cycled through LC over the years than any of the Georgia Baptist institutions.  Like Oklahoma, Georgia, and every state except Texas and Virginia, fundamentalists have taken control of the Louisiana Baptist Convention over the past 20 years.  LC was doing quite well under the presidential leadership of former OBU Interim President Robert G. Lynn.  But things have deteriorated badly.  We've already profiled Louisiana College in a blog post about the specter of schools choosing adherence to fundamentalist policies even when it may eventually lead to loss of accreditation.

In spite of having its application for reaccreditation rejected and being placed on warning by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, LC has buried its head in the sand, waging bizarre political and cultural battles rather than making sure the school does not lose its accreditation.  LC has found time to cozy up to political activists within and beyond Baptist life, as well as sue the federal government over a requirement that certain religious schools offer contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans.  Right now, LC is basking in the glow of a favorable court ruling that it can be as fundamentalist as it wants.  (Just because you can does not mean you should.)

In addition to massive physical plant and financial problems, LC has had a great deal of trouble attracting and retaining quality faculty and administrators.  Even one avowedly conservative professor has said that LC has gone off the reservation.

Yet, in spite of the specter of losing its accreditation, it is difficult to find any evidence at all that Louisiana College cares anything at all about academic freedom, integrity, or respectability.

Louisiana College clearly belongs in our Downward Spiral series.  As with the Georgia schools, OBU is in much better shape than LC.  But just as we are tempted to say "This could never happen here," there was a time when Southern Baptists in Louisiana and elsewhere never would have believed this coud happen at LC.  Yet here we are.  This is the byproduct of a runaway fundamentalist state convention, trustees who care more about convention politics than the school's interest, administrators who badly overstep their bounds (sadly, that part is familiar to OBU), and students, faculty, and alumni who wait just a little too long to unite and raise their voices in protest.  Let's learn from these disastrous situations and make sure we stand ready to defend academic freedom, integrity, and respectability against encroachment from the convention and administrators tempted to take our school over the cliff in order to stay in the convention's good graces.

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