Monday, April 30, 2012

OBU's Peers: What Schools Are in the Same Boat?

OBU's Peers Series:
Intro: Who's In the Same Boat?
OBU's Peers: Nondenominational Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Nearby Baptist Colleges (Ouachita and Southwest Baptist)?
OBU's Peers: Texas Baptist Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Union University?

When I first started the Save OBU blog, I knew we would have to carefully study many of the Baptist colleges that have struggled against fundamentalist encroachment in recent decades.  I immediately turned my attention to schools like Stetson and Furman, which broke ties with their state conventions in the aftermath of the Takeover.  But I soon discovered that we might actually learn more from schools that remained affiliated with state conventions, as OBU has.  Thus the case of William Jewell College, which remained affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention until 2003, was instructive (and hopeful).

We have seen that, while they devolve at varying speeds, SBC colleges have only moved in one direction since the Takeover -- and that is in the direction of doctrinal rigidity, ever more stringent control, and restricted academic freedom.  If anything, OBU has fared better than most in this regard, thanks in large part to the sensitive and strong leadership of President Bob Agee (1982-1998).

We know that OBU's situation is qualitatively different than insignificant, thoroughly fundamentalist schools like Parker-Brewton and Truett-McConnell.  And we concede that, while recent eventas at OBU are troubling, we are in much better shape than Shorter, which is facing outright war and destruction at the hands of its president, trustees, and the Georgia Baptist Convention.

All this brings up the question we will consider this week: What schools are in the same boat as OBU?  Where else is there comparable tension between outside forces insisting on "doctrinal accountability" and students/faculty whose experience depends on academic freedom and open inquiry?  How do our fellow travelers navigate the tension?  What can we learn from their experiences, and, conversely, what might they learn from ours?

OBU is never going to be Stetson or Furman.  It will always be more explicitly Christian.  Likewise, it will never be a large research university like Baylor or Wake Forest.  On the other hand, OBU will hopefully never be like the fundamentalist Bible academies that sadly make up most of Southern Baptist educational life these days.

So who are our peers?  This week we'll consider a number of possible candidates.  Unfortunately, I don't have time to research each of them as extensively as I did in the Downward Spiral series, which examined three Georgia Baptist Convention schools that seem to be in a race to the bottom in an effort to appease GBC fundamentalists.  But to the degree that we find common ground between OBU and this week's slate of schools, we will return to them again and again on the blog, continuing to learn as much as we can.

To give a sneak preview, here are a few of the options we'll consider:

  • Non-denominational Christian colleges
  • BGCT colleges
  • Nearby state convention-controlled colleges
  • Union University in Jackson, TN

As the week progresses, please share our movement with friends and colleagues at these other schools. I look forward to further narrowing our search for people who are fighting the same battle we are.  The goal is to share information, stories, and strategies so that academic freedom, open inquiry, and authentically Baptist Christian liberal arts education can once again flourish -- not only at OBU, but elsewhere as well.

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