Wednesday, August 8, 2012

2012 Forbes Data (Part 2): OBU's Decline in Context

Earlier this week, I reported that OBU had fallen to #390 in the Forbes college rankings.  While Forbes (methodology here) has improved on U.S. News & World Report (which dominated the college rankings game for many years), I would be the first to admit that these rankings are imperfect and it is impossible to perfectly quantify the experience/quality/outcome these magazines are trying to rank.

Still, these rankings are enough to reveal all kinds of problems with the current direction of OBU and in Baptist higher education across the board.

First, the ugly picture:
The defenders of OBU's new fundamentalist regime really can't argue with this.  The best they can do is say, "Hey, the rankings go from 1 to 650!  By only showing 100 to 400 on the y axis, Jacob is making the slope of the line look worse than it actually is."

Fair enough.  But is this really any better?
When you consider that the 400s and 500s are populated by schools like Oral Roberts and Liberty, this shouldn't make you feel any better.  This is a stunning decline.

How are other Baptist schools faring?  I wondered the same thing.  The chart below shows OBU's decline in bold along with the rankings of several other state convention-affiliated schools.  Some of these peers are relatively fundamentalist, while others are relatively moderate.  But it's clear that OBU's decline is unique, even among Baptist peers:
Samford dipped but is doing alright and Baylor is on a clear upward trajectory.  Ouachita and Union are holding their own.  Southwest Baptist University has never been ranked.  (For what it's worth, Southwest Baptist is also the school from which David Whitlock came to OBU.  Coming to OBU was a huge professional leap and the opportunity of a lifetime for Whitlock, as I'm sure he would be the first to acknowledge.)

The picture above presents a different narrative about what was going on in 2008 and 2009 than what we usually hear.  We were in an enrollment crisis!  We had to make tough financial decisions!  Maybe so.  But for all the hand wringing, it turns out that OBU was actually in much better shape at the end of the Brister presidency and during the Parrish interim than it is today.  Remember, as opposed to U.S. News, Forbes is trying to measure quality and outcomes, not just reputation.  One can only wonder how much better off we'd be if Whitlock, Norman, and McClellan had never come to Bison Hill.  Or if President Whitlock had made it clear from the beginning that he would not abide a fundamentalist takeover instead of letting it happen with his blessing.

I don't know exactly how Whitlock can undo the damage his hatchet men have already done.  But I'm afraid it will take more than a capital campaign, a football team, and a few new degree programs.  He could start by apologizing for past missteps (why is that so hard for people to do?), urging his friend the provost (who long ago lost the faculty's confidence, if he ever actually had it) to find another job, and doing more to address faculty concerns about past and present problems than having an occasional lunch with a few faculty leaders.  Some search committees have been able to bring top-rate junior professors to OBU.  But in other departments (Theology and Ministry being the most egregious but perhaps not the only example), the process is a joke and the administrators bring in whoever they want without even consulting relevant faculty colleagues.  Speaking of jokes, the bookstore restricts access to all books not produced by Tree of Life's approved list of fundamentalist publishing houses.  The list of books you can't find in OBU's bookstore is mind-boggling.

Anyway, back to the rankings.

Later in the week, I'll speak specifically to how OBU is faring with respect to other evangelical colleges, as well as institutions that were formerly affiliated with Baptist state conventions.  Also, if I have time, I might build a data set that includes the Forbes rankings of every CCCU institution.  I have a feeling that doing so might provide a compelling visualization of the fact that maintaining a Christian identity does not have to mean sacrificing quality.  It might also help reveal the fact that Christian institutions that are controlled by fundamentalists are destined for mediocrity (if not outright ruin), while those run by moderates (or at least people who are sensitive to the importance of rigor, quality, and ethical/professional standards) can continue to achieve excellence.

More on all that later in the week.  Please keep your friends, classmates, and interested colleagues informed about the work we are doing here at Save OBU.

1 comment:

We invite you to join in the conversation. However, anonymous comments are unwelcome.