Monday, August 6, 2012

2012 Forbes Rankings (Part 1): OBU Falls off a Cliff

This is one post I definitely did not want to write.  But given the events of the past few years, no one will be surprised at the embarrassing news I am reporting.  The annual Forbes rankings of America's top colleges came out last week.  OBU's precipitous decline is not only continuing, it is accelerating.  As recently as 2009, Forbes ranked OBU #109 on its list of top colleges, just behind Wheaton, Duke, Cornell, and Georgetown and ahead of Carson-Newman (TN), Bates (ME), Wake Forest, and Southern Methodist, not to mention literally every other Southern Baptist-affiliated college in the United States.

In the Whitlock-Norman era, OBU has gone from elite to embarrassment, at least as far as these rankings are concerned.  In 2010, OBU slid to #233.  By 2011, we were down to #299.  This year, we're all the way down to #390.  At the rate we're going, we won't have to worry about the slide in another 2 or 3 years because -- like the other Baptist colleges the fundamentalists have destroyed -- we simply won't be ranked at all.

I waited until this week to draw attention to this disappointing news because I was curious how the OBU P.R. shop would try to spin it.  In past years, there were gleeful press releases gushing with pride and joy about OBU faring relatively well in the Forbes rankings, which emerged in 2008 as an alternative to U.S. News, which had been publishing college rankings for years that relied more on reputation than actual outcomes.  If you want to see a sampling of past OBU press releases boasting of our placement in the Forbes Top Colleges rankings, click here.

At this point, it looks like there will be no attempt to spin this embarrassing news.  As a good friend of mine often says, "You can't polish a turd."  And OBU's devastating decline is definitely a stinker.  So much for being the "top college in Oklahoma," or even the highest rated private college.  Now we have been eclipsed by the University of Tulsa, OU, and OSU.  We're barely ahead of crazy-ass Oral Roberts University.

In January, I wrote a short blog post about the rankings decline from 2009 to 2011.  My original fears ring even more true in light of the 2012 rankings:
Friends, sliding wholesale into fundamentalism has its costs in terms of academic respectability.  At this rate, we will soon struggle to attract the best and brightest students and faculty.  And once word gets out that professors are being fired for ideological reasons and that philosophy (a core discipline in the liberal arts) is being gutted in favor of Christian apologetics, the decline is only going to get worse.  In a few short years, OBU is devolving from one of the most desirable small liberal arts colleges in America (religious or otherwise) to just another fundamentalist Bible academy.

I hope OBU does not have to slide even further before people start to realize that the BGCO's fundamentalist stranglehold on OBU has grave consequences for students, faculty, and alumni.  Not only is the current trend robbing students of the balanced, moderate Christian liberal arts education that made OBU great.  It is also devaluing their expensive and hard-earned diplomas.  Unless we demand that OBU return to its proud liberal arts heritage, I'm afraid this trend will continue.
Later in the week, I'll be presenting some data showing that a robust commitment to a Christian identity does not have to involve an institution's descent into fundamentalism.  Other Christian colleges -- Baptist and otherwise -- including a number of CCCU members, have managed to maintain reputations for excellence and thwart state conventions' plans to strip their colleges of academic freedom, respectability, and integrity.  But in Oklahoma, this devastating decline is only gaining steam.

Until then, I think it's well past time for us to let OBU administrators and trustees know that we are concerned.  We've been saying that Rev. Dr. Whitlock and Rev. Dr. Norman owe apologies to the professors they wrongfully dismissed.  But now it's clear that the new fundamentalists are doing serious damage to OBU.  They owe everyone in Bison Nation an apology.  This fate could have easily been avoided.  The sad thing is, they're not sorry.  And I don't think they even care.

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